The Case Against The Case Against Laptops

This blog post is a response to an article I took umbrage to earlier this week.

The Case against laptops in the classroom.

“The Case” that is made can be summarised as follows:

  1. Students get distracted by laptops (facebook gets mentioned here).
  2. Taking laptops away encourages “real discussion”.
  3. People are poor at “task-switching” (with more facebook mentions).
  4. Studies show people learn best when they take notes by hand.

Let’s take a look at each of these one by one.

1. Students get distracted by laptops.

The world’s greatest technological advance when it comes to education was Paper. Paper is amazing. You can write notes on it and you can review them again and again. Books are made of paper and where would education be without books? But what about the case against paper?

paper problema
The case against paper

Computers, Paper, windows, small bugs and light breezes all distract students. Students get distracted.

When do they get distracted? When they’re not engaged. I see computers as my “canary in the coalmine”. If my students are using their laptops to escape my class, it’s because I’m failing in the fight for their attention.

Here’s a direct quote from the article that had me scratching my head:
“In fact, studies examining the efficacy of laptops in the classroom date back to 2003, when a pair of researchers from Cornell gave two groups of students – one with open laptops, one with closed – the identical lecture and then tested them on the material immediately afterwards. Guess which group did better.”

Here’s an experiment I conducted. See if you can spot my error.
On day 1 I walked to school. On day 2 I walked to school carrying a bicycle. It took longer to get to school on day 2. So I threw my bicycle in the bin!
There’s a better way to use that technology buddy!

A laptop used properly can enrich learning in ways that no other classroom material can. Was there a discussion or a back channel being used online during the lecture. Were interactive websites or programs being used here? Nope, THE SAME LECTURE.

What they basically performed here was The Famous Stanford Marshmallow experiment. They put a temptation device in front of students and they got tempted. Surprise!

2. Taking their laptops away promotes “real discussion.”

Again, this one puzzles me. If I had to guess, these lecturers are spending a large portion of their time lecturing, so when are the “real discussions” happening? With a laptop in front of every student, a real discussion can be happening with regards to the content being taught through websites like todaysmeetversoapppeardeck or 100’s of others.

Not only can real discussions be had online while the lecture takes place, but this often allows the introverts in the class to find their voice. Not the same 5 students putting their hands up. Everyone can contribute to online discussions.
Maybe we could hear from another student?

One other advantage of an online discussion is that sensitive issues can be discussed using anonymous discussion boards. People can speak their mind freely and debates can be sparked that wouldn’t happen otherwise. (don’t worry teachers, anonymous to the students, you could still see who wrote what).

3. People are poor at “task-switching” (with more facebook mentions).

Absolutely. People are poor task switchers. But again, why are your lessons so terribly boring that your students can’t resist switching tasks?!

At the risk of repeating myself, if the laptop was used as a part of the lesson, they wouldn’t be task-switching. They’d be engaged.

4. Studies show people learn best when they take notes by hand.

Every one of my students use laptops in my classes every day. But how do they take notes?


Computers for the most part aren’t note-taking machines (although people with dyslexia or dysgraphia, among others would say they help enormously)

In Conclusion

Going back to my earlier paper example, if your students are making projectiles instead of writing prose, should we all go back to slates? Or do the positives of parchment outweigh the negatives?

As teachers we’ve been given a powerful gift to engage and empower our students to learn.

A computer is so much more than a glorified type-writer. Use it.




  1. This was a great post! I laughed all the way through it (throw the bike away…LOL). I really like your statement, “If my student’s are using their laptops to escape my class, it’s because I’m failing in the fight for their attention.” Taking ownership of your students attention and learning is vital to moving students along.

  2. Joel the bike analogy is terrific. The most valuable resource in any classroom is the teacher. If the teacher is able to support his or her students to use the technologies available effectively for learning then we wouldn’t have to continually respond to the argument for or against laptops. A great read, thanks.

  3. The article in question was from a college-level perspective. Most college-level classes are only lectures, so it makes sens to ban laptops because the students should be taking notes by hand. I think the use of computers in high school classes should be discussed separately.

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