This semester, emboldened by all the "laptops are a distraction" editorials by faculty AND students that Margaret Soltan keeps posting, I banned them (along with cell phones, etc.). Just did it. Put it in the syllabus and everything, along with the requisite proviso about exceptions.
One big general exception is that if there's scheduled group work, everyone can bring a laptop (or cell phone, or whatever) and use it to look things up, and everyone seems to do this who wants to. If they don't have a laptop, they can use mine up at the front of the room to look things up.
So far, so good. Some impressions:
- Class participation seems to be better in all the classes. At the very least there aren't 3-5 people permanently checked out of class, as there used to be when laptops were allowed.
- It cuts down considerably on the Laptop Two-Step of calling on someone:
(Startled Stu Dent) "What?"
"What did this quotation mean?"
"What quotation? What page are we on?" and so on.
- I can catch their eyes before I call on them by name, so they can get ready and not embarrass themselves by seeming clueless.
- Even if they zone out, they come back more quickly than they used to with laptops.
- If they're doodling or taking notes, it's a lot easier for them to break away from doing that and look up to answer a question.
- Of course, they could kill me on evaluations for not allowing their digital native selves to flourish in a wireless and connected environment, but I'm more interested in what they're learning, which seems to be (as gauged anecdatally by discussion and quizzes) more than in previous iterations of the class.
Yes, I could have done all that "incorporating Twitter" and being constantly fact-checked by students that a lot of edutech people advocate, but that might be better for large lecture classes. If it's a discussion, I want students to discuss. Is that unreasonable?
The thing is, I know it's hard to break away from a computer screen. It's hard for me, and, to judge by the people I see shopping at Zappos, checking email, and looking up the speaker's quotations on Wikipedia during conference presentations at MLA, it's hard for other people, too. I figure that for three hours a week in class, we can all look at each other and talk about literature without a digital intermediary. It's not too much to ask.