Laptops and tablets in the lecture theatre?

Laptops and tablets in the lecture theatre

By Lois Looker,

A lecture just doesn’t feel the same without the sound of someone typing frantically beside you or seeing the glow of someone’s laptop in front of you as they scroll through Facebook. Whatever people are doing, the use of laptops and tablets such as the iPad is becoming a regular feature of lectures for most students.

In my second year during a Philosophy lecture, our lecturer took offense at someone using their laptop during one of his lectures. Although the student tried to defend themselves by saying that they were simply taking notes, everyone behind the person in question could see that they were on Facebook and he definitely was not taking any notes. The lecturer, wise to these kinds of goings-on requested that as a rule to his classes, no one should come with a laptop, but a notepad and pen as laptops were too distracting and did nothing for productivity.

This feels like an on-going debate today in society as people fight to be able to use their technology in most aspects of their lives, whilst those who would rather keep it traditional feel that technology has its place and that place is not in a social or shared space.

I am very fortunate to have access to both a laptop and a tablet and not once have I ever thought about using them in a lecture. I like to span my notes out on paper so that they can make a bit more sense for me to read later rather than just writing down a simple concept. I also feel that if I was to sit and type up my notes that I may as well sit with the lecture notes on my laptop in front of me because I don’t feel like I would be able to get that much more content in my typed up notes than in the PowerPoint in front of me.

However, one of my friends bought a very small laptop which is much smaller than most tablets and she takes it to classes with her to type up the majority of her notes. In this day and age most people can type up notes faster than they can write them and so this can act as a time-saving task and allows people to write up much more than if they were simply trying to write down everything as fast as they can. It also saves them trawling through hand-written notes when it comes to exam time as their notes are neatly typed up for them and they might just have to make a few adjustments before printing them off for them to study from. Using a laptop or tablet in lectures can also be a great idea if your handwriting isn’t great and you struggle to understand what you’ve written when you look back later. Instead of spending all of your time trying to de-code all of your own notes, see if typing them up on the spot makes it easier for you.

When the pros and cons are lined up, what it really comes down to is a decision of how you learn best. I am not the kind of student who can simply be given a concept or theory; I like to see how it all comes together and the process of it and for this reason I am a pen and paper kind of gal. I like to see where I started in the lecture and see as my notes spiral down and the page, covered in arrows, will eventually lead me to my end result. This is the best learning strategy for me. For other people, things like ‘trigger words’ which help them to remember and understand concepts are a much better process for them and so seeing a page full of words and theories on a typed-up Word document might make perfect sense to them. If this is you, then maybe using a laptop or tablet is a great idea. Again, it’s a decision that should be based on what will help you learn best, not what will be most fun or require less work.

Laptops and tablets can be expensive, so if you do decide to take them with you to university or college, you should always make sure you have them under some kind of warranty, insurance or that you just take extra special care of them. Take into account things like getting caught in the rain and make sure you keep them in waterproof, cushioned cases so that if the case gets wet or you drop it, the contents should remain unharmed.

If you don’t have access to a laptop or tablet and you feel that using one during class time would greatly enhance your learning experience then you should get in touch with the Learning Development team in your university or college. Just like in most schools, these tools should be available to students to help with their learning if it is required and most students have enough demands on their expenses without having to fork out for expensive technology if it’s required to help with your education. If it’s for use outside of the classroom environment then you should check for your university or college’s computer lab availability in and around their library. At my university we have computer labs which you are free to work in whenever it is not being used by a class - which is not very often at all - so students can come and go as they please. The library also has four floors where at least a quarter of the space on each floor is dedicated to desk spaces and computer areas. This is ideal for students who do not have access to their own laptops or computers but need to type up their essays easily and cheaply.

Are you a fan of the technology when it comes to note taking or traditionalist like myself?