EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Multi-Taskers or Multi-Ignorers

I allow laptops in my classroom.  I do a lot of slides so I figure if they want to annotate them they can either print them out or bring a tablet/laptop to class to do so. I know that those with laptops are sitting there half paying attention and half checking their status on Facebook but I guess that’s their problem not mine.  However, it does annoy me a bit.

I spend an awfully long amount of time putting lectures together so that I can deliver what I hope to be a spirited lecture that will help them learn astronomy and get excited about it as well. It just grinds my teeth when I walk by one of them and I see on their laptop screen Facebook or whatever the new thing happens to be.

My husband sent me a cartoon from Doonesbury that I think explains how I feel and I would like to share it with you, Doonesbury June 8, 2014.

So are our students just wonderful multi-taskers when they do this in class or are they just simply ignoring lecture to be a body in a seat? If you allow media in the class does it irritate you when you see something other than your lecture on their laptop?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).

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JoDee is an adjunct faculty instructor of astronomy and physics at various colleges around her hometown in the midwest. When she is not trying to get her cat, Pixel, off of her laptop she is observing variable stars and researching black holes.


  1. July 20, 2014 at 4:39 pm —

    This is an interesting question. During a recent programming class we were all parked in front of our computers. I quickly figured out that weather I liked it or not, my email and such was updating while logged onto my school account and that alone was a huge drag in trying to pay attention to coding. For me it is a simple solution, I had to pay attention with limited use of the computer to learn during the lecture. My second problem was the other students. At times they were absolutely distracting. I try to sit in the front row for just this sort of reason. It is really hard to absolutely concentrate on a topic to learn something and have someone streaming youtube and graphics flashing on the screen in my view of the instructor. On another note, I absolutely use computers to learn outside of the classroom, but I am not trying to pay attention to the screen, my assignment and now another person. I have taken online course work and this has worked well for me. But again I set aside the time, limit distractions and try to stay fully engaged in the screen while learning.

  2. July 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm —

    Speaking as one who’s taken classes where laptops are allowed, I find other students in a class using their laptops to screw around while the instructor is lecturing to be extremely distracting, just from the constant flashing and motion on the screens. Even aside from how rude it is to the instructor, I think it’s rude to the other students in the class. In some classes, I’ve had to make a point of avoiding sitting behind certain people who will spend pretty much every moment of the lecture scrolling through one BuzzFeed image listicle after another (unsurprisingly, these are also the people who are obviously underperforming, but as you said, that’s their problem). It’s particularly annoying as I much prefer typing my notes rather than writing them out by hand, but it’s left me feeling like when I’m teaching, I’ll probably want to institute a no-laptop policy (with reasonable exceptions to accommodate disabilities), or at least ask that those students who are tempted to screw around sit at the back of the classroom, or stay home, as a courtesy to other students who are trying to pay attention.

  3. July 21, 2014 at 11:07 am —

    I allow students to have whatever they want to use to take notes, though I do explain I think that hand writing works better than typing (recently confirmed!). I teach small classes though so they kinda know I’m going to notice if they’re screwing around, though I’ve always figured if they want to ignore me, then that’s their problem. I had considered the distraction effect, but possibly not enough going by the previous comments. I do not allow cell phone use for talking, and ask for no texting, but that’s impossible! I just hope they aren’t being too distracting, I guess. I’ll need to think that through more.

  4. July 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm —

    Yeah right, students! Just got back from a scientific conference where half the audience was checking emails, working on papers, watching youtube(?), or tweeting how bad the lecture was. Who is the role model here?

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