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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Should We Ban Laptops from the Classrooms?

It occurred to me that one way to get my students' attention is to remove their digital distractions for a couple of hours.

I am teaching a first year course called Introduction to Journalism. The learners in this class at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus are 18 or 19 years old, mostly from the area, very computer savvy and as I suspected, easily distracted.

Now in my fourth year of teaching at UTSC, I noticed I was competing with whatever they were looking at: facebook postings, twitter feeds, websites that were evidently more appealing than what I was talking about.

But journalism is about, among other things, listening. What if I insisted that they close their laptops and shut off their cellphones for two hours, once a week? Would they listen more closely? Would they be more or less engaged in what the discussion was about?

(Prior to each class I email the notes for that week's discussion or the powerpoint.  There is no need to take detailed notes in class).

Some colleagues said it would be a losing battle on the fields of pedagogy. The lure of the laptop is just too great.

Other thought it might be worth a try.

Yesterday was my first class for the term. In a class of almost 90 learners, I took a leap of faith and told them to close their laptops.

There was some surprise but almost no protests. I also said that since newsroom journalism is a contact sport, they have to talk - forcefully - about what we will discuss. In previous years, I found the students were reluctant to voice an opinion. Partly this is because (I believe) they come from a conformist high school culture and being (mostly) Canadians, they are polite and deferential to a fault. International students, even more so.

The first class starts at the beginning and is called "What is Journalism?"

Within the first ten minutes, I saw that they were listening. Really listening. And it wasn't long before hands started to go up to discuss, argue and question. They couldn't use the laptop screen as a buffer to avoid being engaged.

It was, thanks to the absence of technology, the best first lecture I've had and the expressions of appreciation from the students at the end of the class, confirmed this.


  1. Hi ...

    YES! BAN 'EM!

    Did you see this academic paper "The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking"
    link to "weighty" academic paper at:

    BUT ... very readable summary and comments on its from the Shorenstein Centre .. oops .. Center at Harvard


  2. Good for you!

    Af course, as they are Canadians, I imagine your students are predisposed to do as you suggest, and they learned something s a result.

    Keep it up.

  3. Hi Jeffrey. I taught at a university for 4 years. During that time, I struggled with this same thing. Upon a suggestion from a student, I started each new semester asking students what they wanted -- laptops or no laptops. To my surprise, they almost always voted for no laptops.

    I was told by students that laptops were, in fact, too distracting. Even those students who did not bring laptops were still distracted by someone in front of them playing a game or reading Facebook posts or looking a pictures. It is just too hard not to look at someone else's screen!

  4. Thanks for this post! There is some really great stuff on this blog, keep up the good work!

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