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What Now?

I do have some students who bring laptops to class; because of our classroom setups, this always means that they sit at the very back of the room, where the electric outlets are. This means that it's very difficult to see what they're doing on their computers and that it's easy for them to retreat. For the most part, I've decided to leave them to their own devices, to be as involved or not as they want in class, figuring that it's much the same as students who have their notebooks out and who sometimes are clearly doodling or studying for something else. I just don't want to be a watchdog. The one time I said something to a student was in a freshman English class where I saw a student who had pulled up Sparknotes on his computer; I considered that actual cheating. Also, in class this term I've had a student who was at first hiding behind his computer and clearly doing other things during class, but he's gotten engaged over the term, and now he uses his computer to look up online things that we wonder about during class, and it's quite helpful; just yesterday we had two questions -- when did Dr. Strangelove come out, and how old was James Dean when he died? -- and we turned to him to answer both questions; so sometimes a committed student with a computer can make a real contribution to the class (although I'll confess this is the only time I've ever seen this phenomenon).

What Now?

Oh, and I also meant to say -- a doctoral student was this rude?! This is the kind of behavior I unfortunately expect from unmotivated undergrads who are taking required courses, but I am shocked that an adult and a grad student would act that way. So did this guy get a "pass" or "fail"?

academic coach

I gave him a "pass" -- he attended in body if not in mind or spirit and attendance is my requirement for passing.

He was a young doctoral student. And I think that it was rude to me and to other members of the class. Still, I let his behavior continue.


Just this year I've had a grad student with his laptop in class (I can't say he brings it to class because we're holding this class in the graduate student office) and it's not been at all disruptive. He's only turned to it a few times in the term to look up references as we've discussed them or to check our WebCT site for a resource.

It's the undergradutates who have the problem. I don't say they can't bring laptops to class because I don't mind the computer use in general (and even some minor recreational use). A number of my students take notes alongside the powerpoints they've downloaded from our course site. More power to them, if that works for them, though I encourage students to take fewer notes and listen more. One page of well-considered notes is, in my mind, more than adequate for an eighty-minute class! But a lot of them are addicted to looking at the computer and not paying attention to the class, particularly when I stop talking and their peers engage. That's a problem that's not specific to computers (other students also often tune out during discussion) and simply telling them to turn off a computer would feel like you were solving the problem when you really aren't -- they have to be directed to pay attention to the discussion in order to make it work!

By the time students get to the fourth year, we're entirely devoted to seminar presentations and discussions in our classes. No one brings out a computer, not even to display any visual aids, since our seminars are always held in classrooms without multimedia. *sigh* I think that's a good preparation for graduate seminars where attention is mandated and I'm not above shaming the senior students a bit. Just the other week one was passing around a little book of amusing dog photos and I eventually called her on it when it became clear that she was hijacking the attention of a corner of the room. She was embarrassed but I'm unrepentant since that was completely unsuitable for classtime.

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