It has been said for years that the pen is mightier than the sword, but in a time when technology and education are merging together more and more each year, a new question arises: is the pen mightier than the laptop?
Upon coming to the University of Texas this fall, I was wary about my own answer to that question. Though I have always used pen and paper to take notes, I knew I might be in a slight minority among my peers. I made the assumption that most college classrooms would be dotted with glowing apples, and that technology was the most popular source of learning for students and professors alike. What I did not assume was that many professors at the University of Texas prohibit electronics of any kind in the classroom. I believe this decision is beneficial to students’ learning, and furthermore believe that a professor is well within his or her right to decide how their classroom environment will be structured.
As it turns out, professors who ban electronics have the right idea. In this age, students tend to think that technology is good and a lack of technology is bad. When looking at studies on the topic, however, the truth of electronic learning comes out. Researchers have concluded that students who take notes on laptops simply don’t process the information like students who take notes by hand. Longhand note-takers are usually slower at note-taking than their classmates, but this is hardly a disadvantage; writing down important parts of the lecture allows these students to absorb, sort, and understand the information better than those that are typing every word.
Bringing a laptop to class also provides a screen for students to hide behind, in an institution where classes are meant to engage students in discussion and foster active participation in intellectual pursuits. In all likelihood, the chances of being able to actively defend an argument while checking Facebook are slim. Furthermore, laptop screens distract not just the student on the laptop, but anyone who can see their screen. In a study conducted in 2010, researchers determined that students using laptops were on “distracting” screens (including email, games, and general web surfing) for at least 42 percent of the lecture. Studies of this type are numerous and substantial.
Despite the disadvantages of using technology in the classroom, students argue that they should have the right to choose how they will take notes and participate in class. While student activism definitely has an important role in the UT community, this is not a necessary place to take such activism. Professors who prohibit electronics in their class do not do so because they don’t understand technology, or for any other proposed generation gap in understanding. Rather, they usually just want to lecture in a studious, distraction-free environment, a wish that students should be respectful of. We trust our professors for their knowledge on difficult and extensive subjects- we should be able to trust their judgment on matters like this as well.
It is time to take a step back from the screens and give thought to the concrete, expansive learning environment available at the University of Texas. If students truly wish to have a great experience in their classes, and a solid GPA along with that, we need to reconsider the electronic approach to classroom learning.
Weisz is an English freshman from Houston.