Unplugged learning has perks


By Rebecca Kapolnek

When glancing over our syllabi during the first few weeks of classes, it is almost second nature for us to search for a few key points. How many absences are we allowed? Do we have a final exam? Is the book required? Answers to these questions seem to be the most commonly sought out, but, one line on some syllabi has begun to grab my attention: “There is a no technology policy in this class.”

Recently, I have encountered an increasing number of classes with zero tolerance policies for technology, meaning laptops, cell phones, iPads, etc., are prohibited. This semester, all of my courses enforce this policy. 

Consequences such as getting kicked out of class and getting zeros for participation are enforced, and I could not agree more with my professors’ decisions. I think other professors on campus should consider following suit.

Back in grade school and high school, my peers and I were expected to take all of our notes with a pen and paper. At that time, there were limited distractions to our learning and no real temptations to pull out our cell phones. We learned how to effectively take notes, selectively jotting down what was most important from what a teacher was saying.

But college has a completely different atmosphere. We live in a very digital age and computers and technology are more common than ever. According to a 2013 College Explorer study from re:fuel on college students and technology, laptop computers are students’ most widely used electronic device, owned by about 85 percent of students. In addition, the study states that the average college student owns approximately seven technological devices.

With statistics such as these, it makes sense that students would want to carry their technology with them to class. The use of technology has become so embedded in our lives that it can be hard to imagine stepping away from it. But, in my opinion, having these devices in the classroom can be harmful.

In a 2012 Pew Research Center Internet survey of more than 2,000 teachers from Advanced Placement and National Writing Project communities, 87 percent said they believe new technologies are creating an easily distracted generation. In addition, 64 percent said that technologies in the classroom “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

I realized the same thing junior year, when my laptop broke and it only worked when it was plugged in. This situation made it almost impossible for me to bring my computer to class, and I had to re-learn how to take notes without it, something I had not done since high school. I, too, had become dependent on technology.

But ever since I started taking notes by hand in class, my grades and my focus have improved. I am no longer checking Facebook every five seconds, and I actually pay attention to the material being presented.

I think taking notes by hand and being unplugged in class reminds us how to absorb information and learn the way we did when we were younger.

When I take notes in class, I am forced to listen closely and write effectively to get all of the information on paper. I use the arts of paraphrasing and interpretation. I cannot rely on my fast typing or on filling in the blanks on a pre-made PowerPoint slide. I can honestly say that learning material organically has made a positive difference to my academic life.

While some argue that technology in the classroom makes learning more accessible, providing more opportunities for larger classes and more material, I don’t think that’s always the case. I believe there should be boundaries for using technology in the classroom. Lecture halls should be technology-free zones, for the most part, when lecture slides are being presented. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. 

But being on the computer while material is presented can be distracting for the person using the computer and for the people behind them who are looking at what shoes their classroom neighbor is buying or what they are doing on Facebook.

Computers are great, and I, too, enjoy being able to complete some of my assignments online, but learning organically and through hand-written notes can help information stick much more successfully.

Rebecca is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]