We Built It, Now Don't Come?

6:00 PM -- There was a great article in the Boston Globe last week that, as you might have already guessed, discussed how some colleges, including Harvard, are banning laptops in the classroom. (I can't believe that term is still in use; they're now, and have been for some time, notebooks!) Apparently, surprise, surprise, some kids are not focusing on their classwork and are instead surfing the Net. Is anyone really surprised by this? Information technology is a double-edged sword, especially when we talk about the Web and even more so with students in the mix.

One professor at Harvard Law School who, perhaps not coincidentally, teaches a class on capital punishment, decided to ban laptops (their word, not mine) altogether. Professors at Bentley College apparently can turn off Internet access at will.

Well, these are private institutions and can do what they want. Some students have responded by bypassing the campus network and using another wireless net. But I think the lesson here should be one of individual responsibility, which I assume is also still important in a university setting.

Just as those of us in the real world can goof off all day looking at sites that have nothing to do with work, I suppose we should accept similar behavior from some students who, after all, are paying big bucks to goof off and therefore (unlike the rest of us) deserve some leeway. They need to be judged, just like in the real world, on the results they produce, not the methodologies they employ to get those results (assuming said process is, of course, legal, moral, and ethical). And that process might involve, as it often does for me, real-time research via the Web. So, big expensive universities, turn the Web back on. You may not know it, but some of those "laptops" in class are actually being used for education.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

kimocrossman 12/5/2012 | 3:51:49 AM
re: We Built It, Now Don't Come? How is this different from reading a College newspaper in class?
tjscan123 12/5/2012 | 3:51:41 AM
re: We Built It, Now Don't Come? College newspapers can't be used to cheat on a test, or send an instant message to someone inside or outside the class. The Globe article was actually a bit misleading, since there is no real effort to 'ban' laptops (or notebooks)at Harvard. HBS already uses a wireless management system to block Internet access in certain classes, which still lets you use the system to take notes. Good for people like me, since my handwriting is terrible. Harvard and other colleges usually leave it up to each instructor to make the decision to restrict notebook use in classrooms, which is the way it should be - just like chewing gum. The real culprits may be camera-equipped cell phones, though. Imagine a student snapping a photo of an exam paper and sending it off to a friend outside, who then looks up the answers and gets back to him via a Bluetooth earplug. hasn't happened yet, but stay tuned!
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