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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

How device policies in classes affect learning

As somebody who spent the better part of several high school statistics classes mastering the art of playing Tetris, I completely understand why teachers are frustrated with device usage in classrooms. I even understand why they sometimes feel inspired to create policies against them. However, as a college student that is notoriously disorganized with hard copies, taking classes I want to take, I wish they would stop. 

Professors sometimes justify these policies by saying that it encourages discussion and minimizes distraction. While some students do have difficulty adjusting to college, most people are experiencing smaller class sizes than they did in high school. Not only that, but many of us are able to pick classes that genuinely align with our interests for the first time. So although some students may not be used to discussions, they’re still much more likely to participate than they were in high school. 

The situations in which teachers introduce anti-device policies just don’t make sense. In my experience at Carleton, my no-computer classes are in the humanities and sometimes have as few as ten students in them. In these small discussion classes, anyone not paying attention via devices or general zoning out is extremely obvious. The presence of the computer doesn’t make being distracted easier or more likely because the professors can see everyone. Additionally, students in a ten-person discussion class are in it because they want to discuss the subject matter. Is it really an issue if they take notes digitally? 

On the other side of no-device policies, we have larger lecture-based classes. I get it. You want the students to be engaged, to listen and to actually learn something in the class. However, by the time students get to college, they’ve already decided if they’re going to listen in class or not, and while it can be frustrating to have people not listening to you, why punish students who benefit from digital note taking for the sake of protecting other students, who are capable adults, from the consequences of their own decisions? The truth for me and many other college students is that we don’t always pack our bags the night before, and we don’t always leave ourselves enough time in the morning, and we don’t always remember where we left a certain paper and sometimes we queue a print job and forget to pick it up. The solution to all of these problems is to keep everything on one device. I can have my readings at hand, I can refer to my feedback easily when revising an assignment (instead of having to run back to my dorm to get a hard copy where a professor wrote one note that I needed), and I can take neat and organized notes. 

For me, paper notes have never been an effective solution. I know it’s easier to remember things you write by hand, as I’ve been told so by many teachers over the years. But when it comes to looking back at my notes to study, there’s really no comparison to a document where I can find things by the day I wrote them, or by searching a specific name and seeing my notes from different units and topics, or move the sections of my notes that are free writes vs. vocabulary vs. homework notes together retroactively. I love the flexibility. And as a left-handed person, I also love not having my hand covered in ink (although I admit that one may be my own responsibility to work through). 

Many students, at any college you look at, can have issues focusing in class. However, I think that by the time you get to college, those issues are not caused by the presence of a computer —  it is not the same novelty it was in middle school. And (to varying extents) most college students are here on purpose: we want to learn, we want to study and we select courses according to the topics we want to learn about. The solution to students struggling with attention should be accommodations in the case of diagnosed issues, and otherwise redirection to resources on campus (such as the Office of Health Promotion or the Quantitative Resource Center). Restricting device access does not address the root cause of issues students have in class, and it has a negative impact on students who rely on digital notes and resources. While having a computer might lead to one or two students in a 25 person lecture not paying attention, those students are adults and should have to deal with the consequences of that choice themselves. Once we graduate, we will not have teachers reminding us to focus during work, and a college — an institution that aims to prepare students for the workplace  — should also prepare students by letting them feel at least some of the individual responsibilities of the workplace and adult life.

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