Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Shut that laptop! 

I have noticed, more in my introductory classes than with my majors, a surprising number of students with laptops. Some faculty have wondered aloud whether it would be better if all our students had them. But according to a study by faculty at Carnegie-Mellon University, it ain't necessarily so. The following observerations come from a Chronicle of Higher Education article I read first (subscriber link):

In fact, a report on the study says, students with laptops tend to spend "significantly more time" working on assignments than other students do. But that extra time is not reflected in their finished products: Students with laptops get roughly the same grades as those who trek to computer labs. Instead of saving time, the report argues, laptop users are often killing it -- firing off e-mail messages, sending instant messages, and surfing the Web.

What's more, students with laptops may grow overly reliant on them, as instructors in one typography course at a Midwestern university found out. "Students reported spending long periods of time searching the Web for pictures rather than sketching and then scanning what they needed," says the report. "Instructors had to sometimes tell students to use paper rather than their computers to store ideas."

A student today, on the other hand, talks to me about his assignment and shows it to me on his laptop. But it won't save to his hard disk so he can mail it. He logs into our campus wireless internet, copies and pastes it in an email to me, while I watch, and then see it pop into my mailbox at the instructor's station. Is this a good use of the resource? I don't know; that's the best one I had seen in some time though, and it ain't much.