Laptops are now commonplace in lectures but what are they used for? As a lecturer it's of course tempting to believe that everyone is making copious notes about your fascinating lecture. However, just sit at the back of the hall and you'll see what really goes on. Many check their e-mail, some check the latest news, Facebook, iTunes and so on. Multi-tasking? Boredom? This isn't just student behaviour, we seniors do the same when given the chance.
Tony Bates writes about this in a new blog entry Laptops in lectures
"If most students have laptops, why are they still having physically to come to a lecture hall? Why can’t they get a podcast of the lecture? Second, if they are coming, why are the lecturers not requiring them to use their laptops for study?"
An article on the site On Campus, Can I have your half attention please?, claims that we are developing a culture of "constant partial distraction" with students easily distracted from the subject being taught. One teacher had managed to get students to accept a ban on laptops in the classroom and this had led to better results but such tactics were unlikely to become widespread.
If we have the technology in place let's either make use of it in a constructive way or decide together that we make some sessions "unplugged" (as MTV used to do with rock groups). Seminars where students are expected to discuss and debate should probably be unplugged to ensure full concentration whereas other sessions could involve groups searching for information or using the net for on-line discussion.