The glowing light of a laptop screen on a student’s face has become a familiar scene to anyone inside a university class. How students are using electronics in classrooms has been heavily debated recently at universities across North America. With studies suggesting using electronics during a class can be distracting, some Ryerson professors have struggled with the idea of banning the use of electronics in his lectures.
Joshua Kitchen, a fourth-year history student, finds classmates using their electronics for activities unrelated to class distracting and agrees with his teacher’s seating arrangements during lectures.
“Anyone with a laptop had to sit in the back few rows of class, so they wouldn’t distract those who were writing. It was awesome,” Kitchen said.
It’s no surprise that electronics can be distracting to students during lectures. A study in 2013 concluded that students who used electronics to take notes in class were less distracted than students who took a pen and paper approach to note taking. The results stated the traditional note takers were more distracted than their classmates with laptops.
Even if professors do prohibit the use of laptops, phones and tablets in classrooms, there will always be students who will continue to challenge the rules. While laptops may be distracting for the students sitting behind them, one professor says cellphones are more disruptive.
“When they’re looking at their cellphone and not paying attention, it’s distracting for the student,” said Norman Shaw, a business professor at Ryerson.” “Worst of all, it’s distracting for the student next to them.”
Shaw has tried a number of different things when it comes to restricting the use of electronics in his classes, but he admits he’s torn on whether or not to let students continue to use their personal electronics during class.
“I have banned, I’ve had them in the last row and now I’m very open and the students can use them. But I’m really very tempted next semester to basically ban them … I haven’t decided yet,” Shaw said.
According to Shaw, when students are multi-tasking – using laptops, checking their social media accounts and using the Internet – it becomes distracting for the other students around them.
Bridget Makela is a mature student in the philosophy program. The 29-year-old said the use of electronics has changed drastically since the first time she was in school.
“The first time I went to college laptops were not nearly as popular and tablets didn’t exist,” Makela said.
And though they may be distracting, Makela believes that electronics do benefit the student in the end.
“Students can look up information on the fly. They have access to (course management) documents. They might save money in certain circumstances by not having to print everything out,” Makela said.
Electronics can be useful for both students and faculty, but constantly monitoring how they’re being used during classes would be hard to do. Shaw said it is unlikely Ryerson will ever place a school-wide ban on electronics, but said teachers should treat restricting technology in classrooms on a class-by-class basis.
“Each professor has got their own philosophy,” Shaw said. “Some professors think it’s up to the students. If they want to be on Facebook the whole time in my lecture, they’ve paid the $500 for the course. It’s up to them.”