Monday, September 15, 2014

NYU Professor of social media bans classroom laptops

Professor Clay Shirky of NYU is no Luddite - he's been teaching classes about the internet since 1998, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and author of Cognitive Surplus:  Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age among several other works.  He describes himself as an "activist for free culture movement" and the last guy you'd think would want to censor people's internet use. But in this blog post on media shift (hat tip to Life Edited), he says he finally bit the bullet this year and banned laptops, smartphones and tablets from his classroom unless he's got an in-class project requiring their use.  For many years he listened to the conventional wisdom about "striving to be more engaging then the distractions that tempt students," treating his students like adults who pay their money and are free to check-out if they want, blah, blah, blah.  At the start of this year, though, the growing mountain of evidence showing not only that students who surf in class do more poorly academically but that they also disrupt neighboring students who are  trying to pay attention, pushed him over the edge.  Welcome, brother.

Professor Shirky's post provides a nice point-by-point summary of research studies and cognitive science arguments in support of a "no laptop use" policy (for those who prefer the sound of that to "laptop ban") unless they're being put to bona fide use during class. 

Here's an excerpt:

Why Clay Shirky Banned Laptops, Tablets and Phones from His Classroom

. . . .

I have known, for years, that the basic research on multi-tasking was adding up, and that for anyone trying to do hard thinking (our spécialité de la maison, here at college), device use in class tends to be a net negative. Even with that consensus, however, it was still possible to imagine that the best way to handle the question was to tell the students about the research, and let them make up their own minds.

The “Nearby Peers” effect, though, shreds that rationale. There is no laissez-faire attitude to take when the degradation of focus is social. Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

. . . .

Continue reading Professor Shirky's full blog post here.


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