Debate over benefits of laptops for note taking continues

If you visit the MU Student Center, Ellis Library, Memorial Union or any of the other popular spots on campus students frequent between classes, you will see students typing away on a paper, watching Netflix, shopping for new fall boots or browsing social media on their laptops. While student-owned laptops are easily spotted all over campus, many professors and students cannot come to an agreement about whether laptops are helpful or a hindrance in the lecture halls.

Stephanie Morefield, a senior hospitality management major from Flagstaff, Arizona, said she has had some professors who do not care what students do on their laptops during classes, others who only allow students to take notes, and only a couple of teachers who do not allow students to have laptops during classes at all.

The University of Missouri does not have an official in-classroom technology policy. The only academic area that requires students to have a laptop is the School of Journalism. The Mizzou Store also sells Apple iPads that are required for all College of Education Phase II students. The Mizzou Store website states this is because “…the College of Education requires all its Phase II students to have an Apple iPad in order to best prepare them to educate in the modern world.”

Students seem to have mixed opinions on laptop usage in the classroom. Some students, such as Morefield, enjoy having a laptop during class. Morefield, who has a learning disability, takes her own notes on her laptop and likes how much easier it is to organize, edit and search her notes after class. Morefield also uses the note taking assistance service through the MU Disability Center. She said when her note takers get to use their laptops, it streamlines the process.

“The notes taken by a note taker with a computer get to me about twice as fast as handwritten notes,” Morefield said. She added that handwritten notes are harder to read and must be scanned in and then sent to her.

On the opposite end of the debate is Alexandria Hovis, a health science sophomore.

“I’ve never used a laptop in class,” Hovis said. “I take handwritten notes. I think you learn better that way.”

Students and professors see positives and negatives on both sides. Therefore, each course across campus may have different rules regarding in-class laptop usage.

Beverly Horvit, assistant professor at the University of Missouri, has a no- laptop policy in her classroom, but said that this has changed over time.

“I think they pay more attention with fewer distractions,” Horvit said.

Horvit teaches in the School of Journalism, and said that requiring her students to use pen-and-paper note taking is good practice for what is expected of them as future journalists.

A 2014 study done by the Association of Psychological Science found that using a laptop may not be better than taking notes. The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, states that “the studies we report here show that laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even — or perhaps especially — when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking.”

Horvit did not directly look into research when deciding to put her no-laptop policy into place, although some of her colleagues did.

She discussed observing students’ behaviors while in her fellow professors’ lecture halls. She could tell that students were paying more attention when they did not have their laptops.

“I get distracted by [laptop using] peers. I feel like there are very few people actually taking notes seriously,” Hovis added.

Hovis, who does have her own personal laptop, also shared that she had seen a student watching Netflix during class.

A study published in Educause Review reported that “… 86 percent of undergraduates owned a smartphone as of last year, and nearly half (47 percent) owned a tablet.” Their study states that in 2014, 77 percent of students used their smartphone devices for learning.

Professors around campus have started to use responsive applications, such as clickers or polling, during lecture. Depending on the application used, students can usually respond through their smartphone or laptop. These technologies can help professors assess student’s understanding in real time, take attendance or keep track of in-class participation points. Both Morefield and Hovis have used these technologies in their classes.

“People are on their phones a lot,” Horvit said. She decided to put the students’ phones to work for educational purposes and uses iClicker and Reef Polling in her lectures.

Morefield said that she prefers to use her laptop in class over her cellphone.

“I find myself grazing social media a lot more,” she said. She also added she is less likely to want to check Facebook as much while on her laptop.

Morefield also appreciates the opportunity to have all of her notes organized and not carry around separate notebooks for each class.

Professors and students still seem divided on this issue, and while Horvit prefers not to allow laptop use in her classes, she understands not all professors will, or should, agree.

“Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean everyone should go without,” Horvit said.

Samantha Coulson

About the Author Samantha Coulson

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” This quote (source unknown) hangs above my desk. As a senior majoring in agricultural education with a leadership emphasis, that is what I am trying to do. This semester I am taking Introduction to Science and Agricultural Journalism to sharpen my written communication skills, gain valuable insight into agricultural communications, and share agriculture’s story. Even though I did not grow up on a farm, I was an active member of 4-H and FFA. Through these experiences and growing up surrounded by agriculture, I was very enthusiastic to seek out a career in the agriculture industry.