One of the most distinct memories I have of my first day of classes at UR is of my first political philosophy lecture. As class started, about half of the students pulled out their laptops. The professor started to introduce himself and the course, and midway through his introduction he started talking about laptops.
More eloquently, he said that he hated them. While he continued to explain why, one by one, each student with a laptop slowly and quietly closed it and put it in their backpack.
In that moment, I remembered that something similar had also happened in my chemistry class. It made me wonder: if students can learn without a laptop, why do they need one? And if laptops are so distracting for students—which is the argument both professors used—then why are they even allowed out during class?
So, why do people use laptops in class? Of course, some people love having the Internet at their fingertips: for looking up supplemental information for whatever lecture they’re in or just for scrolling through Reddit.
“I use the laptop in only one of my classes—economics—because my professor talks very fast and it’s hard for me to decipher when he’s talking what’s important, so I basically type everything that he says,” said freshman Scott Daniels. “Then later […] I go back and actually write my notes in a notebook because I like that more than typing notes […] [It] helps me retain things better.”
Like Daniels, many people actually prefer taking notes by hand because it helps people remember what they’re writing. But in some circumstances, using a laptop is unavoidable—whether because of a fast-talking professor or a lack of PowerPoint presentations to refer to after class for details.
Another freshman, Genessis Campos, said she takes notes on her laptop to stay organized.
“Using a laptop in class helps me keep all my stuff together,” she said. “In Google Drive I can make separate folders for all my classes, and I can’t lose them. I lose a lot of my paperwork.”
If laptops are so helpful, why do people still take shorthand notes when virtually all college students own a laptop?
Many find taking notes by hand to be one of the best ways to learn.
Others can’t handle the hassle of bringing a laptop everywhere they go. As freshman Annabel Selino commented, “my computer is pretty heavy to carry to class […] and handwritten notes absorb into my brain a lot easier than typing it.”
Also, one doesn’t run the risk of being distracted by Facebook or online shopping when they’re taking notes the old fashioned way. For me, there’s something almost comforting about taking notes in a notebook. It’s a tried and true practice that has stayed with me since my high school days.
Having the ability to have your laptop open in class is an experience mainly found in college: many movie scenes set in recent college classrooms feature them. The reality is that having a laptop does have its benefits, but there are such powerful drawbacks that, for some, having a laptop in class may not be worth it. In the end, it is up to each person (and ultimately their professors) to decide whether the pros are worth the cons.