For those in laptop-free classes, back to pen and paper

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Last year, the students who took POLS 0400: “Introduction to International Politics” with Associate Professor of International Relations Nina Tannenwald had to leave their laptops at home. If they wanted to take notes, they had to do it the old-fashioned way, with pens and paper. 

Laptop use in class “has become a problem,” Tannenwald said. “It’s a very public announcement that you’re not paying attention in class.” 

Tannenwald added that students often multitask while taking notes on a computer. They shop, blog, go on Facebook and check their e-mail.

“It just diminishes students’ engagement,” she said.

Vasundhara Prasad ’12, who was a student in Tannenwald’s class, said she “didn’t mind the rule.”

“It’s easier to write notes and draw arrows and connections on a piece of paper,” Prasad said. “After taking that class, I never bring my computer to class.” 

Associate Professor of History Seth Rockman has a similar policy. In lecture-based classes, he said, using a computer will not have such a harsh impact on others’ attention spans. However, in seminars, “laptop screens interfere with students’ ability to focus and collectively engage around a text,” he said. 

“I encourage students to single-task,” Rockman added. “Alums often say they wish they had savored moments in class a bit more, and I’m encouraging students to do just that.”
Tannenwald said the laptop ban is not an ideal solution. Some students are more efficient at taking notes on a computer than by hand, but “the cost of this outweighs the benefits,” she said. 

Samuel Magaram ’12, another student in Tannenwald’s class, said he didn’t like the restriction on computer use. 

“It prevented me from keeping organized, detailed notes,” Magram wrote in a message to The Herald. 

Tannenwald added that, from her perspective, being able to turn off the Internet in Salomon 101 during class time would be more suitable. Unfortunately, Brown doesn’t have the capacity to do this, she explained. 

“We consider it rude to use a cell phone in class,” she said. “Maybe one day we’ll get to that point with laptops.”

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