Laptop Policies: a #digped Discussion

“The proliferation of the digital may feel like an invasion at times (and at times, it is), and so it is in our ability to choose — to decide, decipher, discern — that our power lies, not in a bull-headed commitment to ignore the digital altogether. That’s a desert island mentality.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, “Digital Pedagogy: A Case of Open or Shut”

There’s no easy way into a discussion of laptop policies. The relationship of laptops to classroom work is frustrating at best, incendiary at worst. Even if you jump in with a wink and a smile, reactions are quarrelsome, feisty, or flatly hostile.

Jesse’s seemingly coy response to the online debate about laptop policies opened some floodgates and led to a sprawling conversation on Twitter.

The notion of laptops in classrooms seems to come down to issues of distraction, attention, control, and agency. Many admit to the relevance of allowing laptops (and thus the Internet, nay, social media) in the classroom, but even proponents of more relaxed policies are nonetheless concerned about policing students. The issue is strangely fraught.

After all, how many of us live-tweet at conferences using laptops? How many of us take notes furiously on laptops and other devices during seminars and institutes? Who polices us and our distraction?

Jesse followed up the Twitter discussion above with a keynote he gave soon after.



This issue has been debated again and again and again, and there are staunch opinions on both sides. For instance, a response to Jesse’s tweet from “Pat from Peoria” goes something like this (all of the trigger warnings):

Try teaching Freshman Composition to 30 mouthbreathers day in and day out, those that need to be dragged kicking and screaming toward having a critical thought on anything. Try teaching 4 of those sections each term. Or even better. Come down here to Peoria and teach my 3 sections of Prealgebra at CC of the State of Denial. Let’s see how your gumdrop unicorn ass deals with the overwhelming apathy of students that have decided early in life that they “can’t do” math, when they really mean that they don’t want to think about something other than their social media presence for more than two seconds at a time.

On the other hand, in his response to the discussion on Twitter, John Warner writes,

I am no longer going to ban devices, but perhaps we will strike a bargain the students and I, the same way my wife and I agree not to look at our phones when we are eating dinner together and should be — but not always are — attentive to each other.

We don’t want this week’s #digped to be a mere repeat of the various strands of the debate over laptops in the classroom. We decidedly do not want to bemoan the distraction of students Facebooking in our peripheral vision. Our hope is to uncover and to wonder at the deeper questions this discussion raises:

  1. Will I allow students to use devices in class? Why does this question, a seemingly simple one, raise so much ire and consternation among educators?
  2. What is at stake in this question — for learning — for teaching — for institutions — for corporations?
  3. Is distraction something we can manage for someone else? For ourselves? What do we assume when we valorize attention over distraction in the classroom?
  4. What kind of educational environment do we create when we ask learners to feign attention — when we ask learners and ourselves to feel responsible for each other’s attention and distraction?
  5. What are the pedagogical benefits of looking out the window in class? Of looking into a very different kind of window on the screen of a digital device?
  6. And because this discussion is so often raised in relation to course policies, what kind of policies make for good pedagogy? Do inflexible policies ever make for good pedagogy? Are policies at direct odds with or can they help create an environment of trust in the classroom?

Importantly, we should also ask why students are more often than not left out of the debate or conversation. And what happens when they’re not?

If you are interested in this conversation, join us Friday, September 4 at Noon Eastern. For those unable to join the conversation this week, Hybrid Pedagogy’s #digped happens on the first Friday of every month at Noon Eastern. If you have suggestions for future topics, feel free to add them to the comments on this entry or tweet them to @Jessifer, @slamteacher, or @hybridped.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.