Laptop etiquette for the classroom

Students often use laptops during class time. (Courtesy of Wonderlan/Flickr; CC license.)

Keith Cousins

The scenario is familiar. You go to sit down in class, preferably somewhere in the back because everyone knows that’s where the cool kids sit and you don’t want to appear too interested in school and lose that valuable social standing. That’s when it happens: someone sits down a couple rows in front of you and pulls out his or her laptop.

The first thought that goes through my mind is, wow, this gal is serious about school. In fact, she is so serious that she doesn’t trust her own handwriting to take down all the notes from the lecture and instead needs the smooth and easy-to-read font of a computer.

Watching her, I become challenged and inspired to become a better student myself, and to take my own laptop into class. I assume the result will be better grades and easier-to-read notes instead of my current chicken scratch pieces of paper with drawings in the margins. To my horror, however, this student does not take notes at all during the entire class, instead electing to browse the Internet.

This is quite possibly the most distracting thing in the world to happen while in a class. In place of focusing on the lecture and trying to learn, I am constantly shifting my eyes to her computer screen to see what she is looking at. Is she on Facebook, or trying to win an auction on eBay? What could she possibly be doing?

As quickly as the class starts, it is over. I leave, having heard nothing the instructor said the whole class. Rather, I have spent the entire hour and a half being a detective, trying to figure out what this student was looking at on the computer.

Now I am not saying that laptops should be banned in the classroom. Far from it — I understand that some people truly do need to type their notes for better organization and clarity when they study for tests. What I am asking for is common courtesy. I do not want to spend the entire class period looking at pictures from your crazy weekend or watching your favorite TV show. It isn’t that I have Attention Deficit Disorder or am easily distracted, but a computer monitor with color and moving images will catch my eye and hold my attention far more than a whiteboard with notes in black marker. I have to force myself to force myself to get to these classes anyways and when this happens, I just become jaded at having to endure a trek to school just to be distracted the whole time.

So if you need to use your laptop legitimately, please go for it. That is what technology is for. Utilize it to better your education and ultimately yourself. But please, if you just take out your laptop so you can browse the Internet and be another body pretending to pay attention, sit in the very back. No one will be distracted if he or she can’t see your monitor.

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