Student Assembly Passes Resolution to Allow Laptops in Lectures and Discussion

By: Sandra Aguirre and Angela Poffenbaugh

Last week on February 21, Cornell University’s Student Assembly passed a resolution advocating that Cornell faculty refrain from banning the use of laptops in their classrooms.

The resolution is merely a suggestion by the Student Assembly, since they cannot make policies or dictate on how the faculty run their classes. Student Assembly member Noah Chovanec says he hopes to use this as a way to begin dialogue with the faculty about the topic.

“Everyone has their individual learning styles,” Chovanec said. “Everyone knows what works well for each [themselves].Some people might be much better off taking notes by hand, others may not be able to keep up, so they use laptops. It was a general sense of unfairness; like why are the faculty regulating how we take notes?”

Sophomore Samantha Romero, says students use technology to their advantage when it comes to their academics. However, she thinks that there should be a compromise for students who do want to use their laptops.

“A really good option could have students using laptops sitting in the back of the classroom to avoid distractions,” Romero said. “As someone who has to carry a backpack everyday, it is definitely on my mind. [Note taking] is more important than being distracting in class.”

Although the resolution has been approved by the Student Assembly, it is still awaiting for the Cornell University’s Faculty Senate to review it. Therefore, it has not been made an official policy.

However, after this new suggestion has been made, some professors have been responding negatively.

Associate Professor of History, T.J. Hinrichs, has always made a ban on all electronic devices in her classroom because she felt it was distracting to the other students. She says that multitasking is not only rude but also has a negative impact on learning.

“I first noticed how distracting open laptops were to people [near] them when I co-taught a lecture course, and sat in the back of the classroom to listen to my co-instructor’s talks,” Hinrichs said. “People around me who had laptops open never just took notes during class; they always also checked email or Facebook, worked on other assignments, and even shopped for clothes — all of which not only distracted me, but the students sitting around them.”

After she did some research, her concern were confirmed when cognitive research concluded that multitasking has a negative impact on retention of material and longer term detrimental effects on attention span and cognitive performance, Hinrichs stated.

“If they are thinking about the lecture and asking questions when they need to, they do well, but if they are zoning out, they do less well,” Hinrichs said.  “It is a method by which I try to get students to think more consciously about their own learning.”

This is not the first study conducted by Cornell University either. In 2003, Cornell conducted a study known as “The Laptop and The Lecture,” which resulted in the students with laptops having lower performance scores when tested.

Chovanec says personally he has seen students use their laptops for non-educational purposes but feels that students still have a right to choose to pay attention or not.

“I just feel like there’s other ways the faculty can go around that without hurting people who use laptops to take notes efficiently,” Chovanec said. “We weren’t saying, ‘we want all classrooms we want no laptop bans at all.’ No, we were saying faculty should consider the learning environment in the classroom.”

If the resolution becomes an official policy, Hinrichs says she has a plan to ensure students are paying attention in class. She plans on continuing to explain her reasoning and encourage students to handwrite notes. More strategies include calling students out when they abuse the system, have students working in small groups and giving out pop quizzes that require students to apply “conceptual content of lecture to a specific case.”

Chovanec says that since the policy has been suggested, now he merely wants to step back and let the students and faculty discuss the idea as a whole.

“Cornell has a history of being a progressive university,” Chovanec said. “I think this is another step in that direction.”

The resolution status is ‘Waiting for Submission to President’ and a date for the status to change has not been set.

To hear more, listen to the following podcast here.

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