Laptops in the College Classroom – Boon or Distraction? Both!

This little gem from The Washington Post was on the front page of Tuesday’s edition.  It discusses how there’s been a bit of a backlash against the use of laptop computers in classrooms.  Unfortunately there’s not a systematic assessment of how many universities have now allowed the banning of laptops, but there certainly were enough universities in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia to attract the attention of a Post reporter.

While I have not taught in a situation where laptops were in the classroom, I have taken classes where that was the case, and I certainly understand the arguments made by professors that it’s way too easy to be doing something else during class.  Where I think that becomes a problem is when individual distraction sucks in other students.

But I’ve also been in positions where having not only the laptop, but the internet and email access that are perhaps the key distractions discussed in the piece, have been very helpful.  There’s also the courses I took (and taught) entirely online, which necessitated laptops.

Personally, I think there are plenty of ways to manage this technology for it to be effective up to, but not including, the point of distractions.  With electronic textbooks likely to increase in number, it would seem important to keep these potential tools in mind.  I’ve no doubt missed some options, feel free to weigh in with yours. Continue reading

3rd U.K. Cross-Party Science Policy Debate Talks Fences

Monday evening Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat representatives met for the third time to discuss science policy issues in advance of the upcoming U.K. Parliamentary election.  It was the same cast on stage: Lord Drayson (Labour), MP Adam Afriyie (Conservatives), and MP Dr. Evan Harris (Liberal Democrats).  The Royal Society of Chemistry played host to the debate, which took place in the House of Commons.  You can watch the 2.5 hour debate online.

From my distant vantage point in the U.S., and limited exposure to media coverage, it seems that this debate was more financially oriented than the other two (or at least grabbed the attention of the media the most).  So Sarewitz’s maxim that American science policy is usually science budget policy may have some validity across the pond.  The fences of the title are the ‘ring-fences’ intended to ring off science funding from prospective cuts.  That’s always an adjustment for those in the U.S. who aren’t familiar with cuts, but decreases in the rate of increase.

I guess the focus was understandable, given two reports released earlier in the day advocating for more U.K. investment in scientific research.  But the political struggle over funding is perhaps the least ‘scientific’ of all the political and policy arguments that scientists and science supporters are engaged in.  In competing for resources, any ‘expert’ knowledge brought to bear can be more easily countered by the expert knowledge provided by those arguing for resources to be sent to them.  At least the other two debates saw some discussion of issues that are more specific to science.

Give this some thought – the idea for science debates in the U.S. was in part to increase awareness of the importance of science in political and policy issues.  Budget arguments have the changes of making science seem ordinary.  Perhaps realistic, but not the best public relations move.