How much web surfing, Facebook updating, and email answering is going on during your class? Professors have found laptops and wireless access in the classroom to be a mixed blessing. Here are some tips for working with students who are working with laptops in your class.
Institute "Lids Down" Times
If you do not want students to work with laptops in class, ask them not to do so. Announce the rules in your syllabus. For instance, you might allow laptops in lecture sessions but not in precepts. Or you could have a policy that when there is a guest speaker or discussion time in the class, lids are closed.
Involve Students in Policy-Making and Mutual Accountability
Students can be as distracted by a classmate's laptop use as the professor is. At the beginning of the term, talk about laptop use as a class: agree together on what is acceptable use of laptops and what is to be avoided during class.Then say, "If someone's web surfing or other laptop use is distracting you, let them know."
Involve Students by Name
Break up your presentations into smaller pieces and call on particular students for input often enough that everyone has an extra incentive to pay attention to what is happening in the classroom. The longer one person talks, whether teacher or student, the more likely others will be to "leave the building" by way of their laptop.
Wander while Lecturing
Walk while you talk. Walk to the back of the classroom so you can see what is on laptop screens. Often just the prospect of being busted is enough to discourage students from games of Tetris during the lecture.
If you do see Facebook, or email, or games, talk about it: "It looks like I'm losing you. How exactly is this boring to you?" If you offer it to them, students will probably take up the challenge of making explicit connections between your discipline and their lives.
Press Students into Service for Research Assistance
In the course of a lecture, we all have moments when we think of a book we want to refer students to, but we can't get the title quite right. Or we remember a bit of history associated with our topic, but have forgotten the precise date of it. I routinely assign a laptop user to look up things like this for us in class. I'll ask them for the information and then ask what the web source is that they have used to find it. The exercise sometimes finds new web sites on the topic for the whole class. Other times, we discover errors in web-based sources, which opens the door to teaching on how to evaluate web materials.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has published two helpful pages on this topic, one for faculty and one for students: