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The Daily Tar Heel

Laptop use required in certain UNC classes, forbidden in others

Some professors ban the use of laptops to eliminate students’ urges to check their Facebook feed.

“In recent years, I’ve asked students not to use their laptops among other things because of all the distractions associated with it,” said Kenneth Andrews, a sociology professor. “I’ve observed other faculty members’ classes, and if you sit in the back of the class and see what’s on the screens, you’ll see that not all are taking notes.”

Andrews said he has gone back and forth between allowing laptops and banning them, now allowing his upper-level sociology classes to use their laptops during group work — but ultimately on rare occasions.

Though studies have shown that handwriting notes helps students retain more information than typing, some professors have difficulty measuring whether grades have improved.

John McGowan, an English professor, told students to shut down their laptops and other devices two years ago and hasn’t looked back. He said his policy might not have necessarily improved students’ grades, but it improved their discussions.

“I’ve seen an improvement in conversation in class because everyone is paying attention,” he said. “There’s no reason I should go back ... It changes the dynamic of the classroom — there’s not that barrier of the screens, so there’s much more interchange.”

Freshman Alexia Lucas plans to go into her first week of classes with pencil and paper in hand.

“I’m more of a paper-and-pencil type person,” she said. “I think laptops and technology is important now, but in class, I prefer paper.”

Some professors allow students to use online programs during class to enhance their learning. Statistics professor Ed Carlstein started using WebAssign during the spring semester in his introductory classes.

He posts two quizzes – one at the beginning of class and one at the end — to keep students engaged. The WebAssign quizzes are worth 50 percent of students’ final grades.

“I think not just the use of laptops but the use of WebAssign is an aspect of technology that is helpful,” he said. “Instead of assigning homework and grading it and getting it back a week later, you get feedback instantaneously.”

Carlstein said his new system has improved performance in class because students know to prepare for the opening quizzes and listen in class to prepare for the exit quiz.

“Without technology, there would be no way to implement that structure,” he said. “I would have so much quizzes to write and grade; it would be impossible.”

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