Students often think of using technology in the classroom as an efficient way to take notes and, if necessary, get other work done while sitting in class. However, some professors argue that using technology for note-taking actually hurts students.
Two University of Kansas instructors, Carol Holstead, an associate professor in the School of Journalism, and Adam Dohrenwend, a former lecturer in the department of geography and atmospheric sciences, chose to ban technology for note-taking purposes in their classrooms.
Professors say laptops cause issues with multitasking, and research suggests longhand note-taking helps student retention.
“You cannot be paying attention in a class and also be doing other things. You can’t. Your brain just doesn’t work like that,” Holstead said.
One of the studies, published by researchers Faria Sana, Tina Weston and Nicholas Cepeda in 2013, suggests that laptop multitasking in the classroom negatively affects the grade of the laptop user as well as classmates who happen to sit nearby.
“I don’t care if the person using the technology wants to distract themselves — that’s fine,” Dohrenwend said. “What’s not fine and what’s demonstrated in literature is that it distracts those around them.”
Because of the complexity of the issue, Holstead and Dohrenwend agreed that a one-size-fits-all technology policy would be a mistake. For Holstead, a no-technology policy works because she said she does not teach a heavy note-taking class. For other classes that are more information heavy, students may benefit from using laptops, she said.
Holstead also said she believes teaching has changed, and PowerPoint slides with too many words warrants laptop use in class.
Lauren Ross, a junior journalism student from Birmingham, Michigan, said she has been in several classes that banned technology and agrees with Holstead. Her preference in note-taking depends on how a professor lectures and the availability of resources.
“If they don’t put their PowerPoints online, their notes online, or any other resources, then I have to type the PowerPoints out like a mad woman down in my notes, and then I can study from those later,” Ross said.
One aspect of Dohrenwend’s no-technology policy is that he will not put PowerPoint slides on Blackboard. He believes making the slides available would cause a decrease in attendance and that the slides wouldn’t be helpful to students because of his teaching style.
“I usually had the vast majority of my class present because if they’re not present, they’re out of luck. If I did post my slides, they might not pay as good of attention, and my attendance would have been way worse in that case,” Dohrenwend said.
On the other hand, not all technology usage is negative. Holstead chooses to use technology such as Top Hat for attendance and in-class activities.
“I’m not saying technology is bad in a classroom, not at all,” Holstead said. “What I’m saying is having a laptop in front of you that gives you access to everything — your homework, your email — is not helpful to students. But do I think technology is a good thing in the classroom? Of course.”