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Without clear policy, teachers wrestle with laptop proliferation

By Alex Sanyal

Over the past few years, laptop use has become more common in the classroom, according to students and teachers. Many students bring their own laptops to school for note-taking, essay writing, or research, but it would be unrealistic to say that students use them purely for educational purposes.

Lily Ma ’13 said that she uses a laptop for the majority of her classes, particularly AP Macroeconomics, English, and occasionally AP Government.

“It doesn’t usually distract me from class unless I am doing other work,” Lily said. “Sometimes I check my position in the stock market game, but mostly I am taking notes.” A large component of the AP Economics courses, the stock market game requires frequent updates throughout the week, which may take away students’ attention from the class that they are in.

“I think most students who constantly have their laptops out are not always working,” Lily said. “People check their emails, or sometimes their fantasy teams in between note taking.”

Eva Murray ’13 brings her laptop to school everyday but uses it only for Environmental Science. “Honestly, sometimes I’ll look up articles related to the class, but I don’t go on Facebook or anything,” Eva said. “I’ll occasionally check my email, but that’s as naughty as I’m going to get.”

Environmental Science Teacher Melissa Courtemanche said that she allows her students to use laptops in class. “They may take notes on them and reference their homework if they’ve done it electronically,” Ms. Courtemanche explained. “I also do several activities in class that involve the Internet. My classes rely on technology, including laptops.” The Science Department provides laptops to students for class activities, data collection, data analysis, and working on Haiku.

Science Department Head Leah Cataldo said, “Typically if a student requests from a teacher to use a laptop for taking notes, that is left to the discretion of the teacher.”

This policy applies to most other departments unless the student has a learning disability that requires the use of a laptop. In that case, Learning Specialist Angela Tabb will notify the teacher.

Shai Tabb ’13 brings her laptop to her English, AP Government, and Biology classes. “My teachers treat the laptops like paper,” Shai said. “They don’t really care as long as we seem focused on what’s going on in the class. They also don’t mind telling kids to put their computers away if the class is getting unfocused.” This is a judgment call made by individual teachers, and there are no department rules telling them how to treat the issue of laptops in class.

“I do use it the most in AP Government to look up stuff because the class is so current and sometimes Mr. Carrera wants the answer to his questions right away,” Shai added.

According to History Department Head Gustavo Carrera, the department has discussed the use of laptops and come to a general consensus. “In our discussions, it became apparent that different teachers have different interests in using technology. The current division policy is that each teacher is free to use technology as they see fit in their own classrooms. Thus, different teachers have different policies.”

Mr. Carrera sees the most laptop use in his senior AP Government class and lets students use laptops without question. He also gives this flexibility to students in other grades, but, he added, “So few students use them so it is not a problem.” If they want to use a laptop for notes, they are required to ask him for his approval first.

Aaron Cronin ’16 said that he sees peers checking their emails, fantasy teams, or Facebook accounts in class, but mostly students use laptops for notes. “Sometimes I’ll bring a laptop for Biology or History if we need to use it because I think that it helps my performance in class.”

English Department Head Sharon Krauss said that the teachers have no defined policy on laptop use: “Since laptops are becoming more and more common, the school will likely have to make more specific policies eventually. Until then, it is left to the discretion of each teacher, but most of my students don’t use laptops for note taking.” The few instances that students have asked her to use one in class are because of handwriting difficulties, she said.

In Ms. Krauss’s senior Fiction Writing elective, students use laptops to write or view an electronic copy of the story that is being reviewed in class. “At least two-thirds of these seniors use computers, and that’s fine with me, but the rule is students have to be participating in the class and not doing other business on the Internet,” Ms. Krauss said. “We all recognize laptop use as a challenge, but it does present some possibly exciting teaching opportunities.”

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