Are Laptops Being Used Wisely In Classrooms?


by Scott Grech, Teacher at UWCM
March 13th, 2018


[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]As debate rages about the dangers and implications of an over-reliance on technology in everyday life, there is one particular conversation that I had with a student a few years ago which remains imprinted in my memory.
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As new and excited students trickled into C207 for their first ever DP class on a September Monday at 8 am, one of the students decided to switch on his laptop moments after taking one of the few remaining chairs at the back row of the classroom. This he did automatically, without asking whether he may do so, which, truth be told, might seem old-fashioned and archaic these days, but which is also protocol.   
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“Why are you switching on your laptop?” I asked, somewhat incredulously, without even asking how his summer holidays were, or before I could offer him a proper welcome to our class. I just could not fathom why this student felt the need to switch on a laptop without us having crossed paths in a classroom before.
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“To take down notes,” he replied curtly and matter-of-factly.
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“Notes?!” I exclaimed, in surprise. “This is our very first class together, and you have no idea what I’m about to do or say. Why do you think that you will need to take down notes?”
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The student then, somewhat sheepishly, decided to close away his laptop and stow it away for his later classes. When I glanced at him taking part in the getting-to-know-each-other activity moments later, he did not exhibit any desperate signs of laptop need. Nor was he itching to type his reflections at my dry explanation of the English Language and Literature syllabus.
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Fast forward a few years later, and it is now common sight to see the majority of students plonk their laptop right in front of them as soon as they sit down in class, even if they are unsure whether they will be using the laptop at all in that period.  Some students are able to give quite the contemptuous look when the teacher has the audacity to politely ask the student to switch off their laptop and give the class their full attention. The fact that teachers now have to ask students to put away their laptops leads one to question why some students feel so compelled to switch on their laptops the moment they enter class in the first place.
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From experience, it appears that there are three main reasons why. The first, and perhaps the most convenient of the three, is that there is work generally assigned on Google Classroom these days, and which most certainly requires the need of a laptop.
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So far so good. But when it is not to work on Google Classroom, the second reason given, and which is arguably the most bandied about, is that the laptop will be used “to take down notes”. This sounds like a good enough reason, if only it were always true. Walk into any classroom when a teacher is giving an explanation about a particular topic or other, and a significant proportion of those looking at their screen at that point are doing a lot of things but taking down notes. In recent months, to give an example, I have caught students during class time typing away at their university applications, updating their Extended Essays, finishing their IPC and TOK workshop PowerPoints and sending emails to their residence mentors and tutors. Frantic keyboard banging is probably an indication that a student is working on something completely different to what is being discussed in class.
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Lastly, one other reason why some students are so assiduously looking at their screens during class time is because they are browsing online for any additional content to supplement what is being taught by their teacher at that present moment in time. And in fact, throughout the years, scores of emails have been sent to me by students during lesson time with links to websites containing invaluable information which have acted as very useful resources.
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Yet it is also debatable whether such browsing actually needs to take place during class time. Classrooms are healthier places if they are filled with active participants, of students contributing to discussions, answering each other’s’ questions, and offering new perspectives on topics to those being put forward by their teachers.
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Some might say that the onus is on the teachers to create engaging and entertaining lessons which arouse curiosity and spark debate. Though this is a fair point to make, it is also unfair to resort to a laptop for solace or entertainment the moment the lesson has lost a bit of energy. Therefore, here’s a challenge for all DP students. Every time you are on the tenterhooks of boredom, do not resort to your laptop. Refrain from using it. Try and be a bit more active in class. Ask questions. Immerse yourself in the activities, even on a Friday period 6. Speak more to your peers, and make eye-contact with your teacher more frequently. Look at people, rather than screens. Reflect on what is being taught, and see if you can share a different perspective. Use the laptop more frequently after school, rather than during school. Be more proactive. Who knows, you might soon discover that some lessons are not that boring after all.

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