Should laptops be allowed in class?

Click, click, click! Walk into any classroom at my high school, Shalhevet — and probably most high schools around the city — and you may very well hear clicking. A new trend has erupted, as more and more students bring their laptops to class.

Laptop use involves a lot of controversy, from students who believe they should be used to their maximum potential to those who don’t want to see laptops at all.

“It’s a distraction to people next to them and to themselves when they are playing games or checking e-mail when they should be taking notes,” Shalhevet sophomore Tannis Presser said.

“I am pro using laptops in class,” sophomore Dana Silver said. “I’m a slow writer and a fast typer, so it’s easier for me to keep up in class when I use a laptop.”

A 2004 study reported in USA Today claims that laptops and hand-held computers help with schoolwork and improve grades. Scientists gave laptops to 25 students from Yankton High School in South Dakota during the first quarter of the year, and found that test averages of students with laptops increased, on average, by 5.7 percent.

Test scores rose 3.2 percentage points for students without laptops, although a teacher at Yankton High School said, “Those with laptops may have simply been better students.”

The 24 students with laptops had higher grade-point averages than the students who didn’t use laptops — a 3.26 GPA, compared to 2.82 among 21 students without laptops.

Results like these have people wondering if students without laptops are at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think it puts me at a disadvantage [not using a laptop] because I memorize everything, so a laptop wouldn’t help me,” Shalhevet junior Roee Raviv said.

At Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school with a dual Judaic and general studies curriculum, laptops are used more frequently in classes like history and English, perhaps because it’s more important to take notes there.

“Its really helpful for me [to use a laptop] in AP U.S. [history] because I can take notes really fast, but in certain classes it’s not really helpful,” junior Adira Vinograd said.

“You shouldn’t use a laptop in math or science classes because of all the diagrams and calculations you need to do with a pen and paper,” senior Guy Harel said.

Some students feel that laptops enhance the academic atmosphere.

“It doesn’t take away from the atmosphere because we live in a modern time, our technology should be as modern as our time,” freshman Shmulek Sabo said.

A one-day undercover investigation at Shalhevet found that more than half the students with laptops open in class were not taking notes, but instead using them to check e-mail, Facebook or Fantasy Basketball rankings.

Many classes didn’t have anyone using laptops, and out of an average of 17 students per class, about one to five were using laptops in classes that allowed it.

What do the teachers have to say about using laptops?

“I’ve banned it, because I didn’t like it from the beginning, after giving it a semester,” Shalhevet social studies teacher Keith Nadel said. “It’s a distraction and I won’t stand for it. If anyone truly is at a disadvantage for whatever reason, then it’s fine.”

Jewish history teacher Miriam Stern agreed.

“There’s a couple reasons for laptops being a hindrance to learn,” Stern said. “They contain many distractions — Internet, IM, Facebook and games, just to name a few. It’s hard for a teacher to monitor what they are doing.

“A lot of students think that they can multitask,” she added, “but some people aren’t as good at is as they think.”

Some teachers are ready to accommodate and keep a closer watch on students with laptops.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Judaic studies teacher Rabbi Naftali Richler said. “Since computers are a way of life, you can’t take them away.”

Math and chemistry teacher Christopher Buckley has a policy for the students using laptops in his class. At any moment, he may yell out, “E-mail me your notes now!” and students with laptops open need to e-mail what they’ve presumably been working on.

Shalhevet does not have a uniform regulation about laptop use in class, leaving it up to the discretion of teachers.

Incoming head of school Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach is generally in favor of laptops, saying he personally loves technology and views it as a useful learning tool, while recognizing that it can be a distraction. If the administration were to institute a policy on laptops in class, he said, it would be made with “all shareholders in mind.”

No matter what the school says, there will probably always be students tapping away on laptops scattered throughout the hallways. Whether they will remain in the classrooms as well is yet to be seen.

Emma Lipner is a sophomore at Shalhevet High School and features editor of The Boiling Point, where this article first appeared.

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