Computer Use in Lectures at UW – Madison

In the past few years, computers have become a necessity in college. A 2012 study by the Division of Information Technology found that 97% of student respondents use a laptop computer.

Some faculty members believe that this can become a distraction, especially when used to take notes in lecture.

“I want people to look at me when I give lectures,” said physics professor Sam Hokin. “In physics there’s really no reason to have a laptop open, like 50% of what I teach is equations.”

Hokin calls himself a ‘chalk-and-talk’ professor. He does not use PowerPoint presentations in his lectures, but provides his students with lecture notes so that they can become involved in the class.

“I’m a pretty unusual physics professor in that I have more rules. I want students to ask questions and answer questions.”

Professor Hokin believes that technology gets in the way of learning and makes developing those skills a more difficult process.

“The internet and electronic communication have isolated people,” said Hokin. “Before you can use computer learning, you have to develop learning skills, and in order to develop learning skills, you need to be in front of a human being.”

“As a student, especially as one who takes classes with many required materials, I find that technology can be a great convenience,” said Ryan Baumgartner, one of Hokin’s physics students. “Being explicitly told that I am not allowed to use technology in this manner by a professor is not awful, it can just make productivity a bit more cumbersome.”

Although it inconveniences him, Baumgartner understands the disadvantages of computer use in lectures. “Taking notes on a lecture can quickly turn into checking Facebook or Twitter,” Baumgartner said. “Furthermore, when technology fails you could lose notes, lecture recordings. I’m sure those who still take notes on paper feel a sense of security.”

Professor Chris Wells of the School of Journalism agrees that one problem with students using computers in lecture is the distraction that it can cause. “Even if you think you can multi-task, it may distract your classmates,” Wells said. “Lectures happen beyond the classroom, and students need to hone the skills to respond to them.”

Mackenzie O’Dwyer is one of those students who prefer to take notes on paper. “Typing is distracting to me, and being surrounded by people on Facebook, I can’t study on a computer,” O’Dwyer said. “I look like a nerd because I sit in the front row to avoid distraction.”

Each student learns differently, and each professor teaches in a unique way. Different departments teach different content and require different ways of attending lecture. In any case, computers and Internet use remain an important part of UW’s teaching methods and it does not seem likely to change any time soon.

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One thought on “Computer Use in Lectures at UW – Madison

  1. TR Snyder says:

    I’m definitely a paper-note-taker for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being the minimizing of distractions. There’s actually some pretty decent research out there about this exact subject, if you care to dig deeper. Let me know and I’ll see if I can find what I’ve read about it.

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