I’ve been thinking about the issue of laptops and mobile phones in lectures for a while, but this has come into sharp relevance right now as I have come out of a seminar where the person sitting next to me spent the whole hour working on her laptop, with a very click-y wireless mouse attached. It’s clear she was indeed working, my eyes didn’t resist often glancing over because of the images and bright colours being displayed. However, it was distracting, not just for me but for other attendees in the vicinity. The speaker had a quiet, gentle voice, and it was bound to be difficult to concentrate, though it was a very interesting talk (mathematical models of epidemiology).
I have been mulling over the issue of students bringing various bits of technology into the classes I teach. I think in most cases the students are using their laptops effectively – to take notes and annotate handouts. Several times students have shown me their notes afterwards, mostly during course revision time when they come to my office with questions. And very often I have been puzzled by students having their mobile phones in their hands, until I noticed they have been audio-recording the lectures. No doubt sometimes students check their Facebook streams, or emails, etc, but overall it seems okay. Likewise, this week we are having ICALP here, and many people have their laptops on, and more often than not I see Facebook pages, or travel information being displayed.
Some of the problems raised by the use of laptops is discussed in detail here:
One of the main issues is the distraction it provides others – there is something about the bright screen of a laptop which diverts attention, and then the very, *very* annoying noise of keyboards and mice being used, even if gently, which makes laptops not really suitable. Users could try to sit at the periphery of lecture and seminar rooms, and maybe they should be encouraged to do so. Tablets seem to be much suitable – they are quiet, and not as visible as laptops. But even tablets can be annoying, as in a meeting yesterday one of the audience members kept using his IPad to take photos o f the screen.
Me? I often use Evernote on my mobile phone in seminars to take a few notes, as I mostly forget to take paper and pen with me. I think I do this discreetly enough, but maybe speakers disagree.
There is of course a positive side to using technology to enhance lectures more than I do right now. I have experimented with providing audio recordings to students, which some students have responded positively to. I would like students to use their laptops in an active way to enhance everyone’s experience during lectures – maybe to follow up some reference and share their findings, maybe to run interactive exercises and write small programs. Action plan for next academic year.