wasting bandwidth since 1999

Banning Snakes Does No Good

As bad as all the blocking and banning going on in K12 schools is, even worse is the attitude towards technology being displayed at some colleges these days.

A growing number of schools are turning off wifi in classrooms or even banning laptops from classrooms in an attempt to persuade students to pay attention to whatever it is the professor is talking about.

At least one college educator, however, has the right idea, one that many school administrators I know need to learn.

As both a technologist and an educator myself, I see both sides of the debate, but stopping the Internet from getting into the classroom is a waste of time. Students are not going to tolerate laptop bans in the classroom, especially in undergraduate education (graduate education is slightly different because of the change in interpersonal dynamics that come along with it). Professors are going to have to deal with the frustration of seeing their students giggling about “Snakes on a Plane!” during their lectures on Stoic passions. (Unless I happen to be teaching, at which point I’ll work the “Snakes on a Plane!” into the talk about the Stoic passions, just to keep everyone alert.)

He concludes the essay with another great point.

The bigger question is, if Joe Baccalaureate got through Econ 101 with an “A” while spending his time manicuring his rotisserie-style fantasy baseball team in lecture, what was the lecture for to begin with?

Something we should all be asking about our lessons.

college, banning laptops


  1. Miguel Guhlin

    Glad you wrote this…I was thinking the same thing. “Sheesh, these are grown-ups, not kids, forced to sit through boring lectures. Who the heck do you think you are?” If professors–or anyone for that matter–thinks they’re so doggone good, then allowing students access to the WWW won’t be a threat.

    What’s scary for them is that I can fact-check their lectures. I can quickly come up with alternate points of view instead of having to “think” on HIS/HER turf.

    You know, we walk into college classes and the professor is the expert. The rest of us are just guessing at what’s going on, trying to get it “right.” Right, though, is what the professor is thinking. But the world isn’t that simple. That’s the beauty of problem-based learning, but that approach isn’t popular across the board.

    Technology is transforming the status quo…and, students–adults–will show their disdain of such professors with their tuition/grant dollars. I can count on one hand the classes that made a difference in my life, versus the classes I took just to earn a credential. Wouldn’t it be better if ALL classes made such a profound difference?


  2. Tom Hoffman

    I don’t understand why the assumption seems to be that this is just a problem during lectures. If I was running a discussion-oriented workshop, I might want laptops off too, at least part of the time.

  3. Stephanie Sandifer

    I think a big part of this is based on that fear of “fact checking” — and that is so unfortunate. We are trying so hard in K-12 to do away with the “sage on a stage” concept of teachers and replace it with the “guide on the side” style of instruction… and yet, when our students go off to college they’ll end up in those large lecture halls listening to an “expert”…

    Taking graduate-level courses over the past two years that have been very small, seminar courses with only 10 to 12 students around a conference table with the professor, we have found laptops to be helpful as we engage in discussions and problem-solving together.

    In those situations the professor has acted more as a facilitator of learning rather than the “expert” — and those of us who had laptops accessible were able to do fact-checking or searches for information to aid in our discussions.

    However, in the traditional, 300+ student lectures that are so typical of undergraduate courses, I can easily see why those professors would want to ban laptops (although I disagree with their reasons). When you are lecturing to 300 students about the history of art or the basics of biology (or whatever) and you are teaching from one textbook — do you really want your students going on line to fact-check and bring in opposing viewpoints to what the “textbook” says?

    This can be especially problematic when your mid-term and final exams are the same “hundreds of questions,” multiple choice exams that you’ve been using for the past twenty years…

  4. tim

    This issue is a little like the battle to keep students from using the web to plagiarize their work. We might want to consider whether our traditional assignments are still valid.

    In this case, college professors (and many K12 teachers) might want to consider whether lecturing is the best method for communicating information.

  5. NYC Educator

    It’s remarkable that students pay to take classes, then surf the web as the teacher talks. Still, I can recall classes where that would have been a welcome relief.

    Unfortunately, the problem is not with laptops or wi-fi. Back when I was inflicted with tedious, leaden professors, we’d pass notes. Unless they’re willing to ban paper and all writing implements, this ban will not work all that well.

  6. illinois educator

    With so much of the “information” on the web being disingenous, slanted, or simply incorrect, I can’t imagine that “fact checking” using laptops and wifi comes anywhere near fruition.

    If I’m trying to elucidate a scientific concept such as energy, global warming, or (oh my gosh) evolution, what possible advantage could there be to a classroom full of naive students “fact checking”? To have to corral this chaos would seem an incredible waste of time. True: there would be learning, but at a serious expense of time–and time is a precious commodity in education today.

    I’m in favor of using discussion boards or forums (outside of the classroom) to allow students to question and critique. In-class use of laptops seems to be slowing down (or stopping) the learning process.

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