The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Lectures and Laptops

It used to be that students came to class with a pen and paper, but many students now simply take out a laptop.

Since instituting a laptop distribution program in 2003 and becoming a wireless campus around the same time, St. John’s has made it simple for students to get online from just about anywhere on campus.

But with computers being integrated more and more into course lesson plans, this also means some professors have to compete with e-mail accounts, social networking, online shopping, gaming sites and other distractions of the Web for the attention of their students.

Merrill Villanueva, a junior, said he often uses his laptop in class for education and leisurely purposes.

“For some classes, I use it to take notes because I can type faster than I can write,” he said. “But sometimes the teachers are boring so I’ll just go on Facebook.”

According to a May 2008 Newsweek article, many professors from schools such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia banned laptop use from their classes. The article also cites the University of Chicago Law School cutting its Wi-Fi signal for the spring 2008 semester to crack down on Web surfing during class time.

Although there are some St. John’s professors who also discourage the use of laptops during class, policies on computer use vary across the University.

Thomas Philipose, an English professor, said he feels the decision for a professor to permit laptop use in class should be based on what students are going to use it for and how that use is going to be monitored.

“[My students] don’t generally use them [in class],” he said. “The nature of my course doesn’t call for the students to use it though I have taught distance learning courses where technology plays a big part.”

Tamara Del Vecchio, an assistant professor of psychology, said although she permits the use of laptops during her classes she reminds her students that it is a privilege.

“I let students know I could withdraw permission at any time if they abuse [the policy],” she said.

Del Vecchio said she allows students to use laptops in class because she has found that some students can organize the information she is teaching more effectively on a computer rather than in a notebook.

However, she added that she would prefer her students not spend the majority of her course hunched over a computer screen.

“I like to see all of my students’ faces,” she said.
Senior Mike Russo said he used to bring his laptop to classes, but stopped when he purchased a non-St. John’s issued laptop and could not access a wireless connection.

But, he added, by not being able to bring his laptop to class it has helped keep him more engaged in his lessons.

“For me, it’s better because when I used to take notes on the computer I would get too caught up in the formatting of the notes and it would slow me down,” he said. “But when I now see someone in front of me using a laptop in class playing a game, sometimes I think ‘I wish I brought mine too.'”

Schawanda Plummer, also a senior, said in her past four years as a student, she has rarely had a class where “there wasn’t at least one person usually using their laptop to go on Facebook, instant messenger or something else not class-related.”

“I used to take notes on my laptop, but it would be so easy to get distracted and do other things,” she said. “I would check my e-mail, play solitaire and not pay attention to my lectures at all.

“When I see other students using laptops, I don’t find it too difficult to look past what they are doing and keep my focus on the professor but you can tell that they are just completely tuned out,” she said.

Some students said that not all cases of classroom laptop use is for distracting entertainment. Freshman Amina Sanders said she has had cases where having a laptop handy has been useful for her classes.

“It helps [to have a laptop] when my chem professor goes over PowerPoints,” she said. “If he goes through them too fast, students can go through the slides [on their laptop] at their own pace.”

She also said her professor for her Discover New York class encourages the use of laptops for in-class research projects and for learning how to use the St. John’s library databases.Overall, Russo said despite the temptation for students to find ways to preoccupy themselves during class, he thinks a University-wide ban on classroom laptop use would not be reasonable.

“I don’t think laptops should be banned from classrooms but people should be more courteous in how they use them in class,” he said. “I mean, if you’re paying for these classes, wouldn’t you want to get more out of them then just free time to play Tetris?”

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