Let There Be Laptops



An open letter of frustration.

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Dear Professors,
Although you have written best-selling books, received tenure, been quoted in the New York Times, and are certainly some of the most distinguished academics on the planet, you are not dictators. While you can lecture us on your beliefs, your research, or the basic facts of the material of the course, there are certain liberties that should remain with us. You can help shape our minds with knowledge, but I argue that you don’t have jurisdiction on how we process this information.
I have two classes this semester where there is a strict “no laptop” policy. Professors implement this policy because they claim to get distracted by the constant clacking on the keypad. Furthermore, they believe that students will pay more attention to the lecture material without distraction only a click away. My first day of lecture, I remember the strange sore feeling in my hand after scribbling down notes. I hadn’t written this many notes since high school! I was also shocked by how many pages were taken up by one lecture class: as many as five pages! Due to my left-handedness, I left the class with pen smudged all down the side of my hand.
To be honest, I do pay more attention in lecture without a laptop and feel more engaged with the professor’s lesson. But I don’t have time to write down all of his/her words, so I need to interpret and shorten their words. On a computer, my made-up abbreviations would be auto-corrected, but when I hand-write, my notebook page is my oyster. However, there are many issues with not being able to use my laptop. It seems near impossible for me to write down all of the information. I think I speak for many people when I say that I am a much faster typist than I am a writer. Additionally, there are times in class when I need to look up a word or a painting (as I am an Art History concentrator), and Google becomes a good friend. Taking notes on a computer are also infinitely neater than anything I could ever handwrite. My notes typed on Notebook appear beautifully organized, clear, and evenly spaced. I can correctly spell words (especially when they are in other languages). The benefits of taking notes on a laptop are certainly known to us all and I need not go on.
Yet my problem with the “no laptop policy” isn’t solely because my notes won’t be as wonderfully organized, correctly spelled, or coherent. My problem lies with the fact that the teacher claims the right to tell me how to process information. I believe that in grade school, and potentially high school, as students are still learning ways to take notes and process information, teachers reserve the right to execute a no laptop policy. Yet by the time they are in college, students should know the most effective way for them to study and engage with information.
If students use their laptops and simply browse through Facebook for an hour of lecture, let them! Either their grade will suffer the consequences or they will have to take time to learn the information later. I agree that it is rude when students are blatantly doing other work on their laptop in class, but assume that these students are missing out. I think it’s unfair to force a policy on all students because some haven’t learned to type quietly or because they haven’t mastered how to shop online discreetly.
I have recognized the benefit of taking hand-written notes and will continue to do so in some of my classes. However, many students are frustrated when they are told what to do, and I sympathize. Hand-written notes may not be for everyone, especially when students have become accustomed to typing notes. Let each student be responsible for their work and how they engage with the material.
Thank you,

Ritchey Howe ’17 ([email protected]) wrote this on a laptop.