To Scroll or Not to Scroll: The Question of Electronic Devices in the Classroom and Lecture Hall


“During my freshman year of college, I went through entirely using my laptop to take notes in class. I found that this allowed me to keep up with my professors’ pace during lectures as well as stay more organized with my school work. However, I recognize that I learn more when I write my notes down. I’ve balanced this by taking online notes in class, and then transferring those notes onto paper outside of class.”

– FSU Student, Class of 2019

“I spent all of high school and 2 years of college in Latin America, and we were never allowed to use any electronic devices, including laptops. However, when I transfered to Tallahassee, I now have the chance to use my laptop anywhere, which I noticed makes everything easier for me by having everything in one place without having to carry around so many different things. I believe everyone knows whether a laptop works or not works for them, but we should at least have the choice.”

– FSU Student, Class of 2019


Today, on college campuses around the world, lecture rooms are illuminated by the soft glow of hundreds of various electronic devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. While some students opt to take notes with the traditional pen and paper, many more choose to conduct their learning with the aid of a laptop. But, instead of typing notes or utilizing learning supplements, students choose to fill fill their screens with other pursuits, like online shopping, video games, and materials for other courses that distract from the topic at hand. According to Professor Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan, “… a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.” (The New York Times)

The majority of research published on note-taking has been executed before the substantial rise of electronics in the classroom, from children in kindergarten to adults in graduate classes. While the research may be explicit- the usage of laptops negatively impacts a student’s ability to learn and perform – it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate students from their electronics. After all, the way in which a student learns material is their own business, and the outcome of their learning habits is their business, as well. But, not only do laptops affect the student using them; it affects their neighbors, too. If a student is researching cruise lines for a Spring Break trip in the middle of a mathematics lecture, the students sitting to the left and right of him may be thinking about Spring Break too, and not the subject being taught.

As a junior undergraduate student here at Florida State University, I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own to see if my attention to a lecture would be bolstered if I were to take notes on pen and paper, instead of using my laptop as I do normally. When I first sat down in class, instead of pulling out my computer, I poured pens and a notebook onto my desk, much unlike the rest of my peers. While the screens glaring out featured as many typed notes as colorful Pinterest and Facebook feeds, I tried to focus on the professor’s lecture to keep up with my writing. By the end of the two hour class, I had participated more than ever before, held a stronger focus on the material, and noticed even more-so how so many of my classmates’ attentions were split between the lecture and social media.

Measuring the impact that laptops have on grade breakdown is difficult, as students who tend to score lower, regardless of electronic usage, may be more inclined to whip out their laptops in class. Another issue in this debate is the responsibility of the professor to their students; if the professor provides the information in a clear and concise manner, then they have fulfilled their end of the student-teacher relationship. However the student chooses to digest that content is the student’s business, and some believe, not the responsibility of the teacher. But, in all universities, professors want their students to succeed, and it seems as though the use of electronics in class may be a barrier to that success.

As a student, I enjoy having the choice to use electronics in my classes. A few questions to ask yourself if you are considering banning laptops from the classroom or lecture hall are:

If laptops are banned, will it inhibit my student’s ability to participate in class?

Do I feel as though my student’s focus has been suffering in the past few years?

Do I walk around the room during a lecture, and notice that computer screens are turned to non-academic pursuits?

Do I assign in-class assignments that utilize electronics?

Do my students actively participate in class, or are their eyes glued to computer screens?

Do I share my presentations online, or are they in-class only? If they are in-class only, do I give my students ample time to write notes by hand?

Is the use of computers related to my subject matter?

And finally…

Does the sound of dozens of students typing give me a headache?

-Zoe Zirlin

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