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Hey you, pay attention!

Educators are concerned about student use of technology in the classroom. Laptops are an easy exit point from a lecture. A few years ago, I upset a series of colleagues when I stated something to the effect of “if students are distracted in your class, the issue is not with them, but with you as a teacher”. Apparently, they didn’t agree. I do think that laptops can be challenging in classrooms. Learners can get themselves into trouble with too much time spent online, creating a situation where they get too far behind in course material to catch up. Then they run the risk of failing or dropping out. But imposing control by limiting laptop use is about more than fostering learning. It’s about the rights of the learners. And, failing is a part of that right. We can minimize laptop use, but what about iPod touch? Or mobile phones? When I don’t have a laptop at a conference, I learn differently, not more. I learn what the speaker is saying, rather than the resources she is citing. When I have a computer, I don’t play solitaire as suggested in this article – Hey you, pay attention!. I use the opportunity to find related resources, follow up on information presented, and generally enlarge the sphere of what would often be a single-perspective presentation. I’m sympathetic with the concerns of laptop mis-use. Yet I wonder if the problem isn’t partly with our lack of modeling proper technology use. Perhaps we ought to utilize these tools for academic purposes, rather than continuing lecture models and seeing laptops as add ons to learning rather than a key contributor.