Printed: 2017-11-22

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Should Students Use a Laptop in Class?

Evan Selinger

The Wall Street Journal

September 07, 2013

Is it OK to use a smartphone in class, email an instructor, record a lecture? A professor offers lessons. There’s a widely shared image on the Internet of a teacher’s note that says: “Dear students, I know when you’re texting in class. Seriously, no one just looks down at their crotch and smiles.”

College students returning to class this month would be wise to heed such warnings. You're not as clever as you think—your professors are on to you. The best way to stay in their good graces is to learn what behavior they expect with technology in and around the classroom.

Too much texting in the classroom could jeopardize your academic future, says R.I.T. Assoc. Professor Evan Selinger. So before you post that status update, keep in mind these tips.

‚ÄčLet's start with the million-dollar question: May computers (laptops, tablets, smartphones) be used in class? Some instructors are as permissive as parents who let you set your own curfew. Others are more controlling and believe that having your phone on means your brain is off and that relying on Google for answers results in a digital lobotomy.

Professors are united, though, in the conviction that the classroom is a communal space and that students share the responsibility for ensuring that nobody abuses it by diminishing opportunities to learn. An instructor who lets you squander your tuition by using class time to fuss with your iPhone is likely to have zero tolerance for distracting activities that make it hard for the rest of the class to pay attention.

One of my colleagues has resorted to a severe policy that he calls the "Facebook rule," which turns the classroom into a wild west of bounty hunters and social media outlaws. Students are encouraged to earn extra credit by busting classmates who use their computers for activities like social networking, shopping or gaming during his lectures. 

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Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.


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