Frustrated profs consider laptop ban

Students playing games, surfing the Internet or chatting on MSN lead departments to debate the necessity of laptops

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Laptops in class

Jonas Hrebeniuk

"A LAPTOP SOUVENIR IS WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN SILVER." Daniel Johns put it aptly for some, but King's professors would argue that laptop computers are little more than a distraction in classrooms.

As laptops grow in popularity on campus " as evidenced by the sea of glowing computer screens in lecture halls " some faculties at Western have considered banning the devices.

Instead of using portable computers for taking notes or researching, many students use their laptops to surf the Internet, chat on MSN, watch YouTube videos or play games. These distractions have led a few King’s University College professors to encourage an outright ban.

According to William McKercher, chair of political science at King’s, the topic was discussed in recent department meetings.

McKercher said inappropriate use of laptops was brought to the department’s attention by a number of sociology and political science faculty members. Although the department has addressed the issue, no consensus has been reached.

Currently, professors at King’s and across campus are allowed to refuse laptop use, provided the ban is explicitly stated in the course outline.

“Every professor makes their own rules,” McKercher said, adding there are similar policies for late essays or makeup exams.

One King’s professor, who wished to remain anonymous, shared her experience with disruptive laptop use.

“In my two-hour seminar class, I see students fooling around on computers during student presentations,” she said. “During one seminar, a student was typing furiously when there was nothing to write about.

“It’s disturbing,” she added.

She said she will ban laptops during student presentations starting next week.

Although many professors are weary about laptop use, students say laptops greatly enhance the classroom experience.

Health science student Alayna Brown said, “I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my professors any other way ... Most students type faster than they write.”

“In my program it’s pretty much necessary,” Andrew Carrothers, a second-year honours business administration student, said. “There’s all kinds of number crunching involved.”

Carrothers said the Richard Ivey Building is capable of blocking out wireless Internet in its classrooms instead of banning laptops altogether. He suggested banning wireless Internet would be a positive solution.

“All students by default have open wireless access, but during the classroom time and exam time faculty can control student access,” Bryan Clayton, associate director of information technology at Ivey, explained.

McKercher agreed: “What a professor ought to be able to do is turn off the wireless in classroom,” adding he was against adding wireless access to classrooms from the onset.

“I think [wireless Internet] has caused far more problems than it’s solved,” McKercher said.

Students in various faculties acknowledged laptops can distract surrounding students, not just the classroom offender.

Ian Gardner, a fifth-year music student, expressed his frustration with a particular student who chooses to play games in lectures.

“In one of my classes, one girl always plays Tetris. It is incredibly annoying and sometimes it’s hard not to look over,” he said.

Gardner maintained he uses his laptop for notes during lecture and rarely surfs the web. “Profs talk way too fast for that.”

McKercher assured the political science department at King’s would not change its policies any time soon. He said one reason why the faculty is reluctant to initiate a laptop ban is many disabled students require the use of a personal computer.

“An exemption policy would centre them out,” he said.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette