Technically Teaching

It’s a common occurrence here at Loras: Minutes before class starts, there is a room filled with students gazing at their laptop screens. Some are on Facebook, some are sending an e-mail, and some are catching up on a little work. The minute hand on the clock stands up straight and the professor strides in.

“Close your laptops,” they announce as they set their belongings down. The students grumble a little at having their activities halted, and they return their beloved laptops to their bags.

The common sentiment among students at Loras is that, because they are paying a recurring technology fee for laptops they won’t be allowed to keep, they should have the right to use their laptops in class at their own will. Professors have a more diversified opinion of the subject, some agreeing and other disagreeing with the students.

One common approach for professors is to give direction as to when laptop usage is or is not appropriate. Professor Breyan Strickler, associate professor of English, is one such person. Her policy is simply, “Use it, but don’t abuse it.”

As an educator at Loras, Strickler values participation in the learning community, particularly within the classroom. Her approach to the laptop issue is a simple one.
“They aren’t participating in the learning community, which is a big component of the Loras experience, so they don’t receive credit for being engaged in class.”

Dr. Sharron Hope, assistant professor of Communication Arts, also values the power of laptops in the learning environment. Her opinion has evolved over her time teaching, changing from “laptops are fine under all circumstances” to “laptops are acceptable under certain circumstances.”

“To me, using a laptop for solitaire or Facebook in class is a waste.”

That isn’t to say that laptops have no place in education, of course. From a teaching perspective, she appreciates the power of services such as eLearn. She also understands that they’re necessary for writing papers and doing research.

However, there are some habits she doesn’t want her students falling into. As one of the professors teaching a course in public speaking, which first-year students are required to take, Hope knows first-hand the kind of distraction the Internet can be to incoming students.

She prefers her students in that class not use their laptop, even for note-taking.

“I don’t want the first-years to get into the habit of paying attention to the diversions on the laptop rather than what’s going on in class.”

Some professors find themselves in a more difficult position when it comes to laptop standards. Professor William Hitchcock teaches computing and information technology at Loras, which makes putting laptops away a difficult decision. He requires his students to bring their laptops to class every day for purposes such as working on applications and searching for information in real-time, as well as quizzes, tests and feedback online.

“Students need to be mature and professional enough to manage their own activities in class. If they choose to do something non-class related, it’s their choice, but they shouldn’t waste their professor’s, nor their classmates’, time asking a question about something that was covered when they weren’t paying attention.”
Dr. Marcie Hinton, assistant professor in Communication Arts, feels similarly. From the front of her classroom, she sees many things that students believe they are getting away with.

She does, however, understand that people tend to take little breaks. As long as they come “back” quickly.
enough, she doesn’t take action. If it becomes repetitive, however, she’ll begin teaching from the back of the room or talk to the student directly about the problem.

“It’s not my responsibility to be the thought police or control everything a student is doing in my classroom.”
While some students would argue that their payment to the college in return for their laptops should justify their usage in class, Hinton and several other like-minded professors would disagree. While one of the purposes of the laptops is to serve as an educational tool in the classroom, that is neither the only purpose nor is it the most important one. Their opinion is that they have a right to control laptop usage in their own classrooms, and students can use the laptops for a variety of other educational purposes outside of class.

The usage of laptops in the education environment is a fairly recent one, and its purpose is still evolving. Hinton has expressed an interest in taking their purposes to greater levels, such as using Twitter to ask questions both in and out of class. Classes such as Hitchcock’s Computing and Info Tech Basics class rely heavily on the capabilities for laptops for hands-on experience. Many more educators, not only at Loras, are looking for more ways to use technology for education.

While technology in the classrooms may still be finding its wings in the eyes of students and faculty, the future looks brighter for the system with every passing day. No doubt there will be a system developed in coming years that addresses the problems students and faculty have experienced — improving our laptop campus in more ways than one.

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