Contagious distractions: classrooms should ban laptops

Laptops are distractions in classrooms and are hardly used to just take notes. (Katie Broadwell/TommieMedia)
Laptops distract students in classrooms and are rarely used to only take notes. (Katie Broadwell/TommieMedia)

Laptop computers are the best cure for classroom boredom.

I don’t even have to bring my own laptop to class to distract myself. I can look around the room and get sidetracked by what everyone else is looking at on their computers.

If I see someone searching through last weekend’s Facebook photos, I feel a sudden urge to go check my own notifications. Or I see someone open their e-mail, and I start to wonder how many new e-mails have piled up in my own inbox. Laptops provide a type of contagious distraction, and they’re becoming a problem in college classrooms.

Many universities have banned laptops entirely in the classroom, according to The Washington Post. Administrators at these universities decided that taking notes by hand was worth the inconvenience if it meant students would learn more during lectures, other than learning how to quickly minimize Web site pages when a professor starts walking around a classroom.

Even though laptops aren’t as common in classrooms at St. Thomas as at other large universities, we shouldn’t wait until laptop distraction becomes an even larger issue. St. Thomas should ban laptops in the classroom to help students stay focused.

Students are paying $90 for each hour of class. If they get nothing out of the lesson, they just paid $90 for an expensive hour of free Internet access. And even if students bring laptops to class with the best intentions, the distracting power of the Internet will always win.

I brought my laptop to class once because we were going to look at journal articles and instead of printing them off, I decided it would be easier to read from the online versions in class. I told myself I would only open one window to read the journal articles, I would listen to the professor and I would definitely not check Facebook or my email.

That lasted all of five minutes. The first time I started to feel a little bored, I opened the St. Thomas home page. From there, it was just a few clicks until I was checking my e-mail. There were so many new e-mails, I felt I had to respond right away. One of the e-mails reminded me that my professor from a different class had just posted our test grades, so of course I had to look at my new grade.

I jumped from Web site to Web site and before I knew it, I was Googling random topics and had no idea what the professor was talking about.

Problems with using laptops

I’m sure many people bring laptops to class with the intention of using them to type their notes. But I’m willing to bet that every student who has brought a laptop to class has used that laptop to look at a Web site which is unrelated to the class.

It’s rude to professors when students tune them out by shopping online, working on homework for other classes or playing video games. It’s also rude to the other students if, instead of participating in class discussions, students are Facebook chatting with their friends and ignoring the comments of the people around them.

Psychological research has shown that multitasking doesn’t work. Students who think they can successfully listen to the professor and surf the Web at the same time are wrong. People who multitask remember less information and are worse at switching between tasks than people who don’t multitask.

One professor featured in the Washington Post tracked the grades of students who routinely used laptops in her class. She found that the average grade of the “laptop addicts” in her class was a 71 percent – almost the same grade as students who didn’t come to class at all.

The article also mentioned a professor who got so frustrated with students using laptops and ignoring him that he poured liquid nitrogen over a laptop to freeze it before smashing it on the floor. That’s obviously an extreme reaction, but it shows how annoyed professors can get when students choose to ignore them in class.

Students should want to get the most out of their classes and respect their professors and fellow classmates. If laptops are preventing students from learning, they have no place in the classroom.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at

12 Replies to “Contagious distractions: classrooms should ban laptops”

  1. “I jumped from Web site to Web site and before I knew it, I was Googling random topics and had no idea what the professor was talking about.”

    Sounds like a personal problem to me. It’s your own fault if you squander your time in class because you have no self control.

  2. While I would not have phrased it as curtly as Mr. Licht, agree that there is an element of personal responsibility that should be addressed before sweeping reformation.

    Honestly, I use my computer for both random online entertainment and taking notes. Before my computer I played with my phone during class, and before that I just doodled on the same paper I was suppose to be taking notes on. Sometimes class is boring and trying to force students to pay attention by removing laptops won’t work.

  3. What ever happened to common courtesy? If a student came into my office to consult on something, he or she would expect my full attention. A student would be hurt and offended if I started tapping away on my laptop while the student was explaining his or her problem.
    A student who gets out a laptop in class and begins tapping away on it is telling me, “Sorry, I’m not really interested in what you’re saying.”
    Then we have the question of student engagement. As teachers, we’re evaluated on how well we involve students in the class discussion. This has never been an easy task, but when students all have their heads buried in a computer screen, well, forget it.
    Still, I’m reluctant to ban laptops. Students at the University of St. Thomas are adults by the legal definition; why should I have to revert to the role of parent in dealing with them? I get enough of that at home. But as the classroom experience continues to deteriorate for all of us, maybe it’s time to just say no.

  4. Lest you forget, professors, we the students of St. Thomas pay your salaries. This fact is quite important for you all to understand.

  5. And lest you forget Mr. Mettcalf that you are paying for an education. You can sit at home on your laptop anytime you want….for free.

  6. Mr. Mettcalf, 

    Your comment demonstrates the sense of entitlement that runs so rampant on this campus.  Yes, we as students do pay to be in class.  However, this isn’t a matter of who pays for what…this is a matter of common courtesy.  It is just as rude to completely ignore someone that is speaking as it is to talk at the same time as someone.  The fact that you would represent the student body in the way you did with your comment is quite offensive.  Drop the entitlement…we are all adults here, so let’s act like adults and respect these wonderful faculty members who work incredibly hard to make sure that we learn the skills necessary to succeed. 

  7. I do think the author makes a good point that we need to be more conscious of our laptop use during class & work to only use it for academic reasons, but I don’t agree with a ban. Not only are we adults, but many students do use their computers academically. I have honestly used my computer for note-taking purposes quite often during class because I can type much faster than I write. That being said, I’m also guilty of checking and responding to e-mails which I will agree isn’t very considerate of the professor. However, if students can’t bring computers, I think Brett is right- we would just go back to basic daydreaming which is also rude, and unproductive.

  8. “Lest you forget, professors, our mommies and daddies* pay your salaries. This fact is quite important for you all to understand.”


  9. It is difficult to focus when there are laptops open for other uses during class. I become distracted when I see classmates looking at their Facebook or responding to their e-mails. I start wondering why they are on them in class. I am not sure if people are aware that their classmates are annoyed at their lack of care for the learning environment. The classroom is supposed to be a living environment for learning, in which all need to participate. It’s hard if there are a few that seem to not care all that much. I don’t think that a ban is necessary but there should be conscientiousness about their use.

  10. One thing I thought I’d point out here.

    “One professor featured in the Washington Post tracked the grades of students who routinely used laptops in her class. She found that the average grade of the “laptop addicts” in her class was a 71 percent – almost the same grade as students who didn’t come to class at all.”

    Did anyone else notice that this teacher is passing students who don’t come to class? What does that say about the quality of the teacher? Perhaps we should be questioning the quality of these teachers who can’t keep their students engaged.

    Other then that, this article is a non-issue. You cannot argue against the use of a tool, simply because some people abuse that tool.

  11. If students bring bring their laptops to class and don’t pay attention, it’s their own loss. If they really doesn’t want to pay attention, they’ll find a way not to, laptop or not. If other students get distracted by laptops, they should sit somewhere else.

    I personally find it a lot easier to follow along with slides on my own computer and take notes in powerpoint instead of recopying everything. It’s a lot easier to stay organized that way and a ton easier when trying to find a particular subject or term.

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