Spy Vs. Student: Professors Monitor Student Laptop Use

Everyone seems to have an opinion on laptops in class, and if you ask professors what they think, their opinion probably isn't going to be favorable. Two new studies have taken surprising measures to find out what students are doing on their computers. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Notebook vs. Facebook

Students tend to be in one of two camps regarding laptops in class. Some students insist on bringing their computer to class so they can take notes, arguing that they can type faster than they write, or that their handwriting is so illegible even to them that typing is the only way to produce something they can study. Others hate the distraction of laptops in class, whether it's the noise of an exhaust fan or the fact that some larger models take up a lot of space on a shared table. Though some professors don't mind laptops in class, others are strongly opposed.

One obvious reason for professors' opposition to laptops in class is the fact that they are noisy - even if the speakers are mute and the machine doesn't have an unreasonably loud exhaust, the sound of typing can dominate an otherwise quiet classroom. This, of course, presumes some saint-like behavior on the part of the laptop owner. If the worst part of a student's in-class computer use is the fact that it is a little bit noisy, professors might be a little more sympathetic. But let's be real: given the option in a particularly uninspiring lecture, would you be able to resist the amusing allure of the Internet?

Facebook

What's Really Happening on the Screen?

Some enviably disciplined and focused students might answer yes to the above question. But not everyone can honestly claim to be so well behaved. Using the argument that they are a source of distraction has caused some professors to implement an outright ban on laptops in the classroom. But is this justified? Are students really using laptops as an escape route from reality?

There have been several studies on student use of laptops in the classroom, and on professors' feelings about this technological trend. But according to Inside Higher Ed, most of these studies involved surveying professors and students in order to gather data. Apparently some researchers decided that a different kind of study would be helpful. In two new studies, scholars observe in-class laptop use - without the students' knowledge.

One study, conducted by a law professor at St. John's University, relied on voyeuristic research assistants physically spying on students' laptop screens in a lecture hall. The second observational study involved business professors from the University of Vermont using spyware - clandestinely installed computer software that monitors the user's activity - to get a more straightforward portrait of what students are doing during class than simply relying on self-reported student information.

Balancing Work and Play?

laptop

Clearly, there are some issues raised by both studies. To begin with, it's questionably ethical to spy on people. Perhaps more relevant is the fact that data gathered in such a way isn't exactly scientific. Those issues aside, though, these studies do point to an interesting conundrum. As we become increasingly reliant on technology, can we find a way to incorporate laptops into the classroom without admitting defeat and giving in to distraction at all times?

The findings of these two studies indicate that some students do indeed use their computers as an escape rather than a tool. It may be necessary to address this issue head-on instead of trying to sidestep it by banning computers outright. Given the irony of the fact that the same machine is used by many for both work and play, finding ways to create a delineation between computer work time and computer fun time may be an important step forward in the world of education technology.

Want to make the most of technology use? Check out these tips for being a better student.

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