Geography professor Michelle Calvarese is trying to give her students the best learning environment possible, using a seating chart and no-laptop policy.
Calvarese, who has been teaching for almost 20 years, said she does not see any correlation between laptop use and better scores in the semesters she allowed laptops. Some semesters, Calvarese said she saw scores go down.
“From what I found, a majority of students, although they may use it for notes, they’re consistently toggling back and forth between taking notes, checking their email, updating Facebook statuses, watching YouTube videos, and this was apparent in just their expressions in class.” Calvarese said. “I mean I could be talking about a, you know, Rwandan genocide, and someone in the back is laughing because they’re watching a YouTube video.”
In her upper division classes Calvarese does not implement a seating chart or laptop policy. In her larger lecture classes however, she saw that laptops affected both students using laptops and the people sitting nearby.
“It’s hard to pay attention to an instructor when someone is watching a video next to you or in front of you,” Calvarese said.
Calvarese does allow laptops in special circumstances, but requires those students to sit in the front of the class.
“And that’s primarily because everyone behind will see what they’re doing and undoubtedly someone will tell me,” Calvarese said.
Although this is the first year Calvarese is putting students into a seating chart, she said she hopes it will help her adequately enforce her no-cellphone policy. With the seating chart, if Calvarese sees students on their cellphones, she can quietly deduct a point without embarrassing the student or interrupting the lecture.
“You know the people I’m talking about, where the phone is sitting on the desk, and they’re texting during the entire class,” Calvarese said. “I’m not going to obsess over someone who happens to reach in and check something very discretely and put it back in.”
Calvarese said the effect of cellphone use during class was most apparent in the gaps she would see in students’ notes when they would come to her office for help.
“Which is generally when they were answering a text,” Calvarese said.
Because of the way she structures her classes, Calvarese said listening during lectures is essential. She does not post the lecture PowerPoints online for students to download.
“I think sometimes students see it differently because students see it as, I pay your salary, and therefore, I get to do what I want,” Calvarese said. “I don’t see it that way. I see it as yes, you may contribute to paying my salary, but I’m doing a job for you, and my job is to teach you.”
Students have complained about her policy in the past, but she said that she does not doesn’t think letting students fail is doing them any favors.
“I want to provide the best education that I can for you, that’s what you’re hiring me for,” Calvarese said. “You’re not hiring me to let you just sit there for an hour and play on your phone.”
Senior Megan Russell, a student in Calvarese’s Geography 167 class, said she thinks Calvarese’s policies are good and thinks the seating chart has its benefits.
“It makes me feel better because I know when I come to class I have a designated place to sit, and I don’t have to worry about all that searching for a place,” Russell said.
However, Russell admits she can see why students would not like being told where to sit.
“Yeah, because they might end up sitting by someone that they really don’t like, or maybe they smell, or maybe they just kind of annoy them, they do little things,” she said.
Sophomore Brenna Moss, also a student in Calvarese’s class does not mind the no-laptop aspect.
“A lot of the times students get distracted, and I know myself. Personally, if I see someone else not doing their work, than I find myself watching their computer instead of listening to the lecture,” Moss said.
Moss notes that every professor runs his or her class differently.
“You know it’s her classroom, how she wants to do things,” Moss said. “So I mean, if you didn’t like it in the first place you didn’t have to be in this class. You could’ve switched teachers.”
Other professors on campus are trying out similar policies in their classrooms. Katherine Adams, interim chair of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, said she allows laptops on an honor system.
“The reality is, so many students are on electronic tablets, etc., anyway, and we are going the way of digital books, that teachers should find creative ways to integrate this technology into class interactions,” Adams said. “Students, however, have to start taking more responsibility for their own learning and own that they too must be engaged in the classroom.”
Adams said she has seen laptops become distracting to students but has never completely banned them.
“So many times, even when they know I am looking, students are surfing the Internet and not taking notes. Sometimes they are even commenting on the teacher and class with other students in class and not in productive ways,” Adams said. “We have to remember though that students use computers in class to read class files from Blackboard, so the note-taking is not the only function of laptops for students.”
Adams does ban cellphones in her classrooms and requires students expecting an emergency call to sit near the door. As for keeping students with laptops accountable, Adams said she has tried different things.
“In the past with laptops, I have required students to send me their notes after class,” Adams said. “I got tired of this though. Even students taking notes longhand are not necessarily paying attention.”