Editorial: An Apple a day

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Staring at screens for hours each day is a fundamental part of the college student’s existence, both in and out of the classroom. There is no question that technology is a vital aspect of the modern college career. The 21st century lecture hall has become a sea of glowing Apples. But add up all the time spent on your laptop, your smartphone, your tablet — both for educational and recreational use — and the number becomes frightening. The average college student spends 8 to 10 hours per day on his or her phone alone. Technology is no longer a lifestyle choice; it is a necessity. But the one place where technology should not interfere — aside from note-taking purposes — is in the classroom.

At Brown, the open curriculum and the student body extol how, without core requirements, students are able to more or less dictate their own academic trajectories. Therefore, students are generally in class because they want to be. But standing at the back of a lecture hall and seeing the many laptop screens loading Buzzfeed articles, Facebook newsfeeds and Gmail accounts invalidates this widely held belief. Technology, when used this way, is extraneous — a borderline abuse. Captivating students’ attention should not be faculty members’ primary job. And what’s more, students should not have to face distractions from others’ flurry of computer activity in the classroom.

In the past few years, some professors have begun banning laptops during class meetings to provide for a more productive learning environment — one without these unfortunately typical disruptions. In a Washington Post article last year, Clay Shirky, a professor of media studies at New York University, said he switched from an “allowed unless by request” to a “banned unless required” position on the use of laptops and phones in class when he realized that “screens generate distraction in a manner akin to secondhand smoke.” They tempt others to surf the Internet and create increasingly more distractions. Other universities have shut off the wireless connection in lecture halls so that students cannot log on to the Internet while in class. This is not an attack against technology but rather a modification tactic to improve the dynamic of the student-professor relationship in class. Brown is not immune to these problems and should take action to promote more constructive classroom environments.

Regardless of a given faculty member’s perspective on technology in the classroom, students should refrain from using their laptops, phones and tablets as much as possible. Multitasking is both exhausting and unproductive. It distracts neighbors and sucks the energy out of the room. Block access to your Facebook account while in class using a program like StayFocusd or LeechBlock. Turn your phone off while in class. It’s the only way to truly be an active participant. An Apple a day can keep the doctor away but only if you use it correctly.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Baxter DiFabrizio ’15. Send comments to

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  1. Pro Note Taker says:

    A laptop is indispensable for taking proper notes – my hands can’t get 120 words per minute, period.

    • nothing is more distracting than someone nearby pounding a keyboard in order to transcribe the profs every word like a court reporter. That isn’t note taking.

  2. Shutting off wifi during class period is a great idea, students still get to take notes but not distract themselves and others via FB or whatever.

    • except if students want to look things up on wikipedia or some other online academic resource

  3. polisciprof says:

    Are students incapable of turning off the wifi on their own devices?

  4. Research shows that memory is better when you write your notes down than when you type them, and much better when you write and paraphrase what’s on the board/projector than when you transcribe it verbatim.

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