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Professor Bans Laptops from the Classroom 1260

An anonymous reader writes "USAToday is reporting that students are up in arms over a University of Memphis Professor who has decided to ban laptops from her classroom. Earlier this month Professor Entman sent an email warning to her students to bring paper and pens to take notes and leave the laptops at home. From the article: '"My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing," Entman said Monday. "The computers interfere with making eye contact. You've got this picket fence between you and the students."'"
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Professor Bans Laptops from the Classroom

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  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:09PM (#14973279) Homepage Journal
    I'd call her a free thinker. We need more of them in the world.
    • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:21PM (#14973464)
      I'd call her a free thinker.

      Most free thinkers make bad sheep/employees/citizens/etc. That is why it is shunned so much in the US educational system and workforce.

      I work with computers for a living, but honestly, my personal problems or interests don't need the scale of computers I work with.

      To me, staring at a screen, typing every word that a prof says into a Word document is a stupid waste of technology. Isn't that what sound and video recorders are for? Although its been a while since I've been in a college classroom, when I was there, most of my professors taught from PowerPoint presentations and I scribbled the extra information on the slide printouts that were given before the class or at the beginning of the semester/section or whatever.

      Personally, I learned more by asking questions of a professor and interacting with them inside and outside of the classroom. But then again, I was/am a free thinker.

      • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @03:03PM (#14974027) Journal
        To me, staring at a screen, typing every word that a prof says into a Word document is a stupid waste of technology.

        It's a way to convince yourself that you're doing work, without actually doing work. Then, when you fail the course, you can whine about how much work you did, and how hard the course must be, and how evil the prof is, and how it's everybody but your fault. Not that that's the reason, of course, but it's one of the effects.

        A lot of people confuse "work" with "progress". Not all work is equally valuable. Some, like what you mention, is downright worthless.

        (You also get a lot of people mixing up the two concepts when they talk about the "fairness" of MMORPGs. "Fair" becomes defined as everybody doing the same amount of work, not being able to make the same amount of progress. This is one concise way of expressing the fundamental flaw in nearly all current MMORPGs that makes me completely uninterested in them, because this is the root cause of the "grind". And I don't care how MM a game is, I've got way better things to do with my time than pay somebody for the ability to grind.)
  • by klenwell ( 960296 ) <klenwell@gmail.COBOLcom minus language> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:09PM (#14973284) Homepage Journal
    Requiring students to actually show up to class?
  • don't fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flynt ( 248848 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:10PM (#14973301)
    My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing

    Oh, I'm sure they were thinking and analyzing, but more likely about how to win the current game of Minesweeper or Solitaire.
  • obvious solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:10PM (#14973302) Homepage Journal
    People should just take audio recordings of lectures instead. Then you can automate transcription. If you record video or snapshots of the white/black board then you're really covered. At that point, you can fully involve yourself with the lecture, without having to worry about the risk of failing to record something you'll need to pass the final. Every school should encourage this.
    • Re:obvious solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by garcia ( 6573 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:15PM (#14973380)
      People should just take audio recordings of lectures instead.

      It's a growing trend for schools to offer podcasts [] of lectures as well as information about the admissions process.
    • by dougmc ( 70836 )

      People should just take audio recordings of lectures instead. Then you can automate transcription.

      Good luck with that. Sure, dictation programs do exist, but they generally can't just take spoken words and accurately convert them to text. You'll be doing this yourself, manually. Which means that your one hour class will now take at least two hours. Granted, you might learn something by doing the transcription, but maybe not.

      Seems to me the most effective method would be to go to class, take spar

  • by u16084 ( 832406 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:10PM (#14973303)
    Since Students were not making eye contact while taking notes, she emailed them again, stating pencils and pens are now banned also.
  • Ridiculous (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:12PM (#14973323)
    I can type a lot faster than I can write with a pen.

    Why didn't the Prof mandate voice recorders, if that was really the concern?

  • Can I say "good" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:12PM (#14973325) Homepage Journal
    I've taught a number of classes at university level, and I hate people note taking with laptops, for the following reasons:
    i) Too few of them are good enough typists to focus on whats being said properly.
    ii) It's almost impossible for them to copy down diagrams or any complex equations, or make decent marginal notes.
    iii) It's much noisier than pen and paper, and paper is easier to highlight and annotate.
    iv) They remember the content better if they make pencil notes, and type them up later.
    • by xRelisH ( 647464 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:27PM (#14973556)
      I've been taking notes with my laptop for over a year now, and it's worked out well for me. All I use are some macros and a laptop mouse to help with doing diagrams. I think laptops have advantages for these reasons:
      1) It's easier to bring along one laptop instead of several binders full of dog-eared papers to take notes.
      2) I use Perforce to keep what's on my laptop in sync with what's on my desktop, so there isn't much of a fear of suddenly losing my notes.
      3) There's no shuffling around binders and pages of notes to find the note you're looking for with a laptop, everything is organized directories and I can search through them.
      4) I can easily refer to supporting material during the lecture. Profs often have the class slides posted online, and sometimes we're stuck with a horrible projector that won't focus, I can simply download the notes and follow along on my own screen without having to sit at the front of the class.
    • by garcia ( 6573 )
      iv) They remember the content better if they make pencil notes, and type them up later.

      Wake me up when professors learn to understand that students have schedules that do not usually permit triplicate work.
  • by timster ( 32400 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:12PM (#14973329)
    Often students seem to believe that lecture time is when the professor Speaks and the students are supposed to Remember. I'd guess this is due to poor teaching methods in public high schools, where there is a focus on rote.

    Ideally the purpose of class time is for the professor to lead the students to understanding. The book has the facts and figures and whatnot, but for many students just reading the book doesn't make things click. Every group of students will need to be led to understanding a slightly different way, and class time with the professor is a chance for that to happen. It's supposed to be a session of brain activity, not mere transcription.
    • by dsci ( 658278 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:19PM (#14973442) Homepage
      I agree. In fact, I'd go one step further than this prof when I was teaching. Sure, there were things that wanted my students write down: solutions to sample exercises worked in class, etc. But often, I wanted to explain something - to communicate. So, I'd tell my students to put their pens down and look UP.

      And, provide me feedback if they are getting "it" or not. As a teacher, you don't get that 'real time' if the students are blindly trying to transcribe every word or copy every mark on the board.
    • Absolutly right.

      But its a university, the students are expected to take the responsibility of ensuring their understanding. Banning laptops is simply patronizing. If somebody wants to focus on rote transcription, that's his perogative, and she should let him be.
  • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:13PM (#14973349) Homepage Journal

    I recently went back to school after a long time (10 years) off campus, and I was expecting laptops to be a much bigger deal than they are. For the most part it looks to me like the folks that are actually taking notes are still using paper. The folks with laptops appear to spend most of their time either surfing the web or chatting online.

    I suppose I can understand a teacher wanting her students to actually pay attention. Of course, if she gets paid either way...

  • I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:13PM (#14973352) Homepage Journal
    I totally agree with this professor. When I teach I often feel like I am in a room full of stenographers. It's a distraction to me, and definitely is not the kind of interaction I want to have with a student. It's also counterproductive in my opinion since the best way to really remember something is to process it at the deepest level you can - think about it, connect it with other thoughts and knowledge, etc. That cannot happen when one is focused on the low level aspects of the information, e.g. translating the sounds into written text. The visual barrier the laptop screen forms is also a problem. Not only does it prevent me from seeing the student's reactions, but it's hard to compete with all that light for a student's visual attention.

    To counteract this I try and provide as much material as I can - lecture slides available on line before class for example, so they don't feel there is a ton of information that will be lost if it isn't written down immediately. This improves classes immensely.
  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:14PM (#14973354) Journal
    I agree with her that students should be spending their time thinking about what she's saying, but writing notes on paper doesn't facilitate that any more than laptops do. My favourite lecturer at university gave us printed notes for every lecture, precisely so we didn't have to write anything down, and could focus on thinking about the subject. I did great in that class, and to this day I don't understand why many lecturers still insist on making people take notes instead of following suit.
    • The best lectures I've attended also used this method. Before class, you downloaded and printed out the powerpoint slides and brought them to class. As the lecture progressed, you sat and listened and scribbled on the printouts of the slides to add extra explanations, comments, etc.

      The important thing to note was that the lecturers were very well organized, and put a lot of thought and effort to put the slides and the lecture together. If they hadn't done it right, the result would have been awful.
  • Next step (Score:3, Funny)

    by iMaple ( 769378 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:15PM (#14973381)
    The professor announced that his next step was to ban all the paper and pencils in the class.

    "My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing, The notebooks interfere with making eye contact. You've got this picket fence between you and the students. Even since paper and writing was invented teaching has been hindered. I propose that we abolish the alphabet once and for all"

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:16PM (#14973400) Homepage Journal
    You've got to concentrate on what is being described, not on what is being said. The students are not there to be secretaries - unless it's a secretarial class. However, pen and paper alone won't fix the problem, as the students will just transcribe that way.

    In this day and age, the simplest thing would be to have the lecturer set up a webcam that can view the lecturn and blackboard/whiteboard, with a microphone to record what is said. The students could then be issued with a DVD of the lecture, which covers the notes angle. In order for the students to bother turning up - and stay awake - the lecture then has to become more interactive, with students actually solving problems (for example) for which they are graded.

    The best way to learn is to do, the best notes are the ones NOT made in a rush in real-time, the best classes are the ones where students learn more than what is presented - but also where you are not penalized for not mind-reading what "more" you are "supposed" to learn.

    • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:27PM (#14973561) Homepage Journal
      The best way to learn is to do, the best notes are the ones NOT made in a rush in real-time, the best classes are the ones where students learn more than what is presented

      For courses I had difficulty with, or where a large volume of mateial was being covered, I found the most effective way to understanding was to take handwritten notes during the class and then, in the evenings, transcribe them onto computer (in my case, as I was doing math courses, into LaTeX). The act of going through and transcribing, while it sounds like needless work, was actually when I learned the most. To translate scrawled notes into detailed LaTeX notes required thinking about and understanding each concept so I could translate it correctly.

      The benefit of course was having a nice set of notes fully written up at the end of the course. It's a great way to learn if you're so inclined.

    • by Asic Eng ( 193332 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @03:00PM (#14973995)
      When I was in university we had a class on field theory. The script was available as a bound book, which everybody bought (though technically it wasn't required). Nevertheless there was a student in class taking notes . The lecturer asked her "Why are you taking notes? You have the book, right?". (It was in fact quite visible on her desk.) She explained that taking notes allowed her to better focus on the lecture. I never took notes during that class, preferring to listen. At the end of the term I got a good grade - so did she.

      Thing is - people are learning in different ways, what works well for her may not work so well for me and vice versa.

  • by ironwill96 ( 736883 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:17PM (#14973411) Homepage Journal
    Contrary to what the media and Bill Gates or Steve Jobs would like you to believe, sometimes technology in the classroom can be a distraction.

    I graduated just a year ago from a decent size University (10,000 students) and since I was getting a Computer Science degree I saw laptops in use in a lot of my classes. I'd say that 50% of the time people were playing video games of some sort or another, playing FreeCell or Solitaire, watching DVDs and generally using the laptop to do anything *but* take notes. This in turn distracted everyone else around them as they focused on whatever the person on the laptop was screwing around doing instead of on class.

    I'll be honest, some of these classes were boring and I was occasionally envious of the people with laptops, but when I went to do homework or study for a test, I actually had some notes since with just pen and paper there is not a lot you can do to amuse yourself unless you have a really active imagination or like doing the box game or playing Tic-Tac-Toe for hours on end.

    Now, some will say "but not everyone will use the laptop to screw around", and that's not my point. The point is, SOMEONE will, and that will distract everyone else. I've seen it happen and anyone claiming that it doesn't happen is lying.

    So basically, I applaud her move and think that not every class should allow laptops in the classroom as sometimes technology is more of a hindrance than a help.
  • by ShyGuy91284 ( 701108 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:19PM (#14973445)
    I've had professors that don't like laptops, and probably a few that have stated no laptops in their syllabi. Why didn't they make the news? I'm in the middle of a class right now (although a 10 minute break), and I can say that this is more distracting then it is useful during a lecture. I typically only use it for notes (except for really boring classes), but I rarely see anyone just using a laptop for just notes, if at all..... If she was saying "blah blah, you can't come in the room with a laptop in your bag. if you do, you are not allowed in class" I could see why this is a story, but this is stupid. Teacher likes students paying attention. Now I will return to class due to the professors glare...
  • Tablets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Therlin ( 126989 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:20PM (#14973456)
    My previous employer was a University that was about to go "mobile" by requiring every student to have a laptop.

    After a few tests and faculty round-tables, it was decided that the models that will be provided at steep discounts to students will be tablets just because of the "picket fence" effect that is mentioned in the article.

    Furthermore, tablets encourage the use of a stylus which means that (many?) students will still be taking notes by writing and analysing instead of typing.
  • by kfstark ( 50638 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:25PM (#14973532) Homepage
    The best thing I ever did in College was buy subscriptions to the lecture notes for my classes that offered them. At UC San Diego, a student who had taken the class before (and got an A) would attend class and take notes. These notes were cleaned up and made available each week. I could take cursory notes of what I thought was important and fill in the rest with the lecture notes from someone who already understood the material.

    Unfortunately, some professors did not want the service in their classroom since they thought students would skip class. These were usually the same professors who got upset that the entire class was busy scribbling away writing verbatim notes. I found that the lecture notes were not a replacement for going to class. Often the class time had more participation and discussion that was as important as the notes.

  • by sweetnjguy29 ( 880256 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:37PM (#14973709) Journal
    ...which I assume is the vast majority of readers on slashdot...

    First year law classes aren't computer science lectures where everyone sits passively and takes notes. Law Professors practice the socratic method. Which means that the professor calls on a student and asks that student a question. If the student answers correctly, then the professor asks another question. Then the professor asks a question which he knows the student can't answer. Then the professor yells at the student and asks why he is a moron. Then the professor takes the case book and beats the crap out of the student with it. A notebook computer doesn't fit into this routine.

    I'm exaggerating slightly, but thats what a lot of first year law students go through.

    I think that she teaches first year civil procedure. This is a very hard class that covers the mechanics of filing a law suit. It is very tricky and nuanced and even experienced lawyers don't understand it fully. Since she co-wrote a treatise about Tennessee Civil Procedure it is not surprising that according to, Prof. Entman "expects you to be able to recall every detail from every footnote from every case you ever read." Yikes!

    Interestingly, Prof. Entman was a social studies teacher in the late 60s and early 70s for 7 years before going into the law. I imagine that notebook computers don't fit into her conception of a learning environment.
  • by x_man ( 63452 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:38PM (#14973721)
    I normally wouldn't care what a student uses to take notes, but laptops are a huge distraction for the rest of the class. The constant clicking, the screen glow, the guy surfing Slashdot in front of you on the school's wireless network. If you really want annoying, these same students will stand up and snap images of the whiteboard with their cellphones because they can't figure out how to draw the diagrams on their laptop.

    So here I sit, quietly, with my 99 cent Meade folder, 30 cent pencil, and a dollar's worth of notebook paper, taking far more detailed and accurate notes than anyone with a $2000 laptop. What these law students need to learn is that sometimes the most technologically advanced solution is not always the best solution. And cheers to the professor for realizing this.


  • Just wondering... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:38PM (#14973722) Journal
    I'd be curious to see some of her other classroom policies. She sounds a lot like a professor that I had whose lecuture were (1) putting up an advertisement for Altera (he used to work for them), (2) spending the rest of the class going over the ad. After a week, I realized that the class wasn't worth going to, so I stopped going. First he sent out an angry e-mail saying that he was going to start doing attendance checks. A week later, he sent out another one complaining that we were just going to his class and sleeping.

    What I've learned over my 4 years in college was that if the professor is good, and actually adds value to what they're teaching, students will come, and students will pay attention. Sure, there will be a couple that won't, but a majority of students want to get the most value out of their educational dollar. If a professor wastes everyone's time (Are you hearing this, professors Mitra / LaMont / Chang?), then they'll have to resort to attendance checks and other stuff like that so they can fool themselves into thinking that they're actually teaching. This seems an awfully lot like she's one of those professors, trying desperatly to get students to pay attention.

  • by SigNick ( 670060 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:44PM (#14973795)
    My reason for always carrying my laptop with me is that I have ALL the books and lecture notes in PDF/PPT.
    Just by downloading the books from eMule I've saved more than $500 just in this semester, one third of the cost of my laptop. As a bonus I can chat with cute chicks from other faculties during lunch, on the bus during my 20min commute or even at boring classes ^____^
  • OneNote & Tablet PCs (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nightspirit ( 846159 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:50PM (#14973881)
    I can honestly say I have never looked at my old, scribbled notes written in 5-subject notebooks throughout getting my BS. They're locked in the closet in a box, and I'm likely to throw them away soon. I can barely even read the writting.

    However, using my tablet PC and OneNote, the information is actually relevant after the lecture (currently in medschool). If I'm looking for a particular word or subject, I do a seach and OneNote can find it throughout subjects.

    The tablet PC negates the (can't make drawings, highlight, etc) "not-paper" problem.

    His problem with students not paying attention may be legit, and a tablet PC may not even help with that (can still surf the web, etc), but IMO a tablet PC is a superior solution to pen and paper, and nothing stops students from drawing or scribbling.
  • by sgent ( 874402 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @02:52PM (#14973899)
    were taught in classrooms with NeXT pizza boxes on every student's desk, with a copy of Mathematica. By the time I finished that first year, I knew the material so well that I can still do multi-variable regressions, transforms & D.E., model an E&M problem, and solve for algorithms -- this after I tranfered schools, changed majors, and haven't used most of it in 15 years. Computer's are not easy to integrate into classrooms, and I think there is a valid argument for keeping them out of many hummanity classrooms. But anyone who thinks they can't add massively to an understanding of physics, mathematics, chemistry, etc. just hasn't seen them used correctly.
  • by Errandboy of Doom ( 917941 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @03:52PM (#14974649) Homepage
    First, I think a teacher has every right to completely control her classroom environment. But I think she's exercising poor judgment here.

    Bad note taking habits have nothing to do with the tools you use. Some students take too many notes with paper. Some take too few on a laptop. She's essentially saying that good note taking habits cannot be taught; that sort of defeatism doesn't make her sound like that great of a teacher to me.

    Besides, I think she'll be amazed when some of her students manage to avoid thinking about the material even without the assistance of modern gadgetry.
  • OT but relevant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @04:12PM (#14974908) Homepage Journal
    In the UK, a larger proportion of total marks in any subject is being awarded for course work. ie, the stuff they did during the year while they were preparing for the exam. This is absolute bollox !

    In real life, bleating that you did something good 2 months ago isn't going to help you solve the problem you are facing now ! Similarly, more and more exams are using multiple choice systems for the answers. well, I'm sorry, either you know it or you don't. You can take an "educated" guess when the answer is written in front of you - real life isn't like that.

    Consequently people are leaving schools thinking that they've learned a few subjects, when all they've done is memorise a few aspects. Utterly useless in the workplace. and it seems to spread into all their other dealings where they are expected to think and evolve solutions. People take a driving test, and then drive that way for the rest of their life, except they get worse as they forget what they learned. The test is to demonstrate a basic and safe understanding of driving. It is the minimum not the be all and end all. But they have the certificate so that's all they ever aspire to.

    As for laptops in the classroom, well that is just exacerbating the problem, unless you can touch type without looking at the screen, and are highly skilled at it, then you aren't listening to the tutor at all. The only reason you are taking the "notes" is to cram them the night before the exam. Which means you aren't learning, or understanding, just parroting someone elses thoughts. And then political pressure arises because so many people are so average, that they lower the standards so that people feel better.

    And so the cycle goes. It's amusing that the UK govt. is now talking about streaming different ability levels in schools. They're the ones who abolished it in the first place !. No one was allowed to be any better than anyone else, so they all had to take the same courses in the same classes. Now they reap the consequences.

    When I did maths at school, calculators were only allowed if you were in the top stream, ie you had demonstrated that you could do it in your head anyway. These days, calculators are required for all pupils. They can't add, subtract, multiply or do division of even simple problems without a gadget to do it for them. That sucks, and they are worse off for it, and so are we.

    As another poster pointed out, the govt. doesn't want an educated population, because they might actually realise what's being done to them. It amuses me that all these kids with their degrees are worthless in the real world, but it doesn't matter because they all end up in the "service industry" ie office workers. And they think they're clever. As long as they've got a shiny BMW and the latest TV and HiFi they think they are the dogs bollux. In actual fact the govt. has them by the bollux, because they can't do anything else.



  • by nblender ( 741424 ) on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @04:22PM (#14975005)
    I think it was a John Cusack film from 10+ years ago. Students were taping lectures by putting tape recorders on the desks in the auditorium and leaving. After a while the auditorium was full of tape recorders on desks plus John Cusack taking notes. The teacher revolted by broadcasting the lecture from a boombox to a room full of tape recorders.

    This is a modern day version of this. The next optimization will be that the teacher will put the entire lecture up on the projector as a powerpoint; scheduled to start at 13:01.

  • by Belgand ( 14099 ) <belgand&planetfortress,com> on Wednesday March 22, 2006 @04:28PM (#14975067) Homepage
    As a recent grad I've found that the best way to deal with notetaking in class is for the prof to provide you with their lecture notes. Some only made notes available after the class while others had their full notes available before you even sat down for your first day. While it strongly depends on the subject having notes available frees students from having to copy down notes during class - the professors who did not make notes available often expected you to copy them down from their slides during class - and allowed you to pay attention to the class. Those who didn't often had various reasons for it (more than a few felt that writing down notes during class helped you to learn better... I and my sore writing hand strongly disagreed) but the end result was that after the lecture you typically only remembered what the slides were and relied much more on the professor to write good slides. One memorable class (Biology of the Cancer Cell) didn't have a book and none of the notes were available online. If you missed a few words or didn't make it to class that day you were beyond screwed.

    As long as you're concerned with taking down notes you'll never be able to actually take valid, intelligent notes about what the professor is saying. Whether you use a laptop or wear out your hand writing down complete notes on paper the only way to really pay attention to a lecture is to know that you have the freedom to actually listen to the lecture itself for once.

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI