Years later, as a professor, I feel embarrassed by that interaction, and not just because I lost my cool and used the F-word to a U-grad. The laptop is now endemic in the modern classroom, with most students using them—purportedly—to take notes and access course materials. Of course, they’re also (often primarily) used to do anything but classwork: games, Snapchat, shopping—even porn. Thus many professors police the ways students use their laptops, and some are banning them outright. But what good does that do? The Laptop Police just seems like one more way of helicoptering students instead of letting them learn how to be students—indeed, how to be adults.
The case for a laptop-free classroom is indeed strong. Last week on The New Yorker’s website, Dartmouth professor Dan Rockmore wrote that he’s banned laptops for years, explaining that “any advantage that might be gained by having a machine at the ready, or available for the primary goal of taking notes, was negligible at best” for his curriculum. What surprised him, though, was that most of his computer science department agreed. No computers in a CompSci class! But, Rockmore argued, research—such as Cornell’s 2003 landmark study “The Laptop and the Lecture” and recent studies out of UCLA and Princeton—shows over and over that students simply learn better when taking notes in old-fashioned chicken scratches.