I've been auditing a Presbyterian Creeds course here at Fuller, attending once a week for about a month now. I'm hoping to brush up on my knowledge of the confessional statements of the denomination in preparation to take an ordination exam this February. The professor of the course, Dr. John Thompson, is one that I've known for about a decade now (dating back to when I originally took this same course for credit in 1998), and besides being extremely well-versed in matters of historical theology, he is one of the most computer-literate professors on campus.
One of the ways in which Dr. Thompson's computer literacy is on display in this class is through his use of an online tool called Moodle. Through a password-protected server accessible only to those involved in the course, Dr. Thompson can post outlines, PowerPoint slides, schedules for classroom assignments, and students can actually submit their work electronically. This work is then graded and the results are returned privately to the student through the Moodle site. This cuts down on the amount of paper used for the class considerably, and allows for much faster feedback on work than has historically been the case.
Needless to say, Moodle wasn't available when I originally took the course 10 years ago. Laptops weren't as common an occurrence in classrooms back then, either, although they certainly were available. Between the greater affordability of laptops today and the online Moodle materials, most students today have their laptop with them in class. I, for one, have been rather glad to have the ability to take my notes using a word processing program, as opposed to writing with a pen or pencil. My handwriting is rather poor, especially when I'm trying to write quickly (as is often necessary in class), and it's much easier for me to look back at my typewritten notes days later (let alone months or years!) and remember what the heck I was trying to write about.
But having laptops in the classroom isn't entirely a good thing. I was pretty annoyed during class this week to find that a student sitting in front of me was playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on an emulator on his laptop instead of listening to the lecture! On one hand, of course I'm indignant that a person who presumably paid several hundred dollars for the privilege of taking this class is throwing away that opportunity by playing games during class time, but even more annoying to me personally is that I'm being distracted by the game that's taking place just off to the corner of my line of sight when I'm trying to pay attention to the lecture!
From what I can tell from other professors in my role as a staff person, this is hardly an isolated incident. Some professors don't allow computers in their classrooms at all because of the potential for distractions. I'm pretty sympathetic to that impulse, but would regret losing the positive benefits that the computers provide.
Ultimately, I think that each student should have the right to exercise his or her own judgment. If students want to, in essence, throw away the money they paid to attend class by playing a video game, that's their business. However, I do draw the line when such individual freedom impedes my own ability to learn. Show some respect for the rest of us! Sit in the back of the classroom if you want to play around on your computer, but let the rest of us do what we came here to do without such distractions, please!