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Should Laptops be Banned in Lecture Theatres?

It is an all too familiar sight in a crowded lecture theatre to see the ambient glow of students’ laptop screens. Some diligent students may be taking lecture notes, but they may also be sneaking in moments to check their personal emails or scrolling through their Facebook feed.

There is an ongoing debate in higher education about the use of laptops in lectures. While the increasing use of technology in education is evident, many lecturers insist that laptops have no place in their classroom or lecture theatre.

The Good: Laptops Assist with Note-Taking

Laptops can be convenient learning tools in the classroom. The primary reason a student would use one in a lecture is because notes can be taken more quickly on a laptop than by writing in a notebook by hand.

Electronic note-taking is particularly helpful for students with learning difficulties such as dysgraphia or dyslexia, who may not be able to takes notes as well by hand.

These ‘electronic notes’ are also more easily accessible for reviewing information; they can be opened, even on a tablet or phone, anytime and from anywhere in the world. They can be replicated, printed and even converted to audio so the student can store the files on their phone and listen to them on their commute to university.

The Good: Laptops Can Facilitate Increased Interaction and Participation

Some lecturers take advantage of laptop technology to enhance learning beyond the traditional classroom setting. Discussion boards and classroom chats can encourage active participation and an exchange of ideas that may not always be possible in large lecture settings.

A study by the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching observed how in-class use of laptops affected student perceptions of their attentiveness, engagement and learning (Zhu, Kaplan, Dershimer & Bergom, 2012). Students enrolled in courses in which they used a learning platform called LectureTools on their laptops in class reported higher levels of engagement and learning than did students in courses in which the instructor allowed laptops but did not integrate them into instruction.

However, 75 per cent of the students from both groups acknowledged that bringing their laptops to class increased the amount of time they spent on activities unrelated to learning, which brings us to the next point.

The Bad: Laptops Promote Multitasking, which Can Be Distracting

How many tabs do you have open on your browser as you read this article? It is very tempting to multitask on electronic devices. However, according to research, only 5 per cent of people can multitask effectively; the rest are most likely compromising the quality of their learning.

When students are simultaneously engaging in activities that are not course-related, they may miss key points or reflection opportunities covered in the lecture. This can also affect student participation and can serve to distract other students who are sitting close by.

In the long run, this jeopardises test scores, quality of assignments and even student morale, because they do not get as much out of the lectures.

In many educators’ experiences, it is difficult to stop students from multitasking in lectures, which is why there is a call to ban laptops altogether. However, many think that this is not the answer. Rather, students should be given the tools as well as the facts that encourage them to use laptops in a way that is directly related to course materials.

The Bad: Laptops Enable Verbatim Transcription of the Lecture

You may have heard the phrase ‘less is more’. I would like to apply it here to a note-taking perspective.

One argument used in this debate is that students can type faster than they can write. Therefore, bringing their laptops to class can help them take down more notes than they could possibly write by hand. However, students using laptops tend to take notes verbatim, word-for-word, turning their learning experience into one of transcription.

An article aptly named ‘The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard’ suggests that laptop note-taking is less effective than longhand note-taking or learning. The research indicated that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, learning is affected because their use results in shallower processing.

Further, in three studies explored by this article, it was observed that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.

The Capstone Editing Laptop Grant for Postgraduate Coursework Students

Whatever your opinion on the use of laptops within the lecture theatre or classroom, computers are obviously integral to higher education and to learning overall. That’s why Capstone Editing offers a grant for coursework students who are struggling to afford the technology they need to succeed in their studies.

To find out if you are eligible and to apply, please visit

The Debate Continues …

This article is only an introduction to the debate. Stay tuned for further articles on the topic.

We aim to include the perspectives of students and lecturers from both camps. Contact us if you’d like to be interviewed!

What is your opinion on laptops in lectures? Please share it with us by posting a comment below.

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