Is DU more traditional or 21st century?

Majority of University of Denver students would be able to make it

Japanese major student uses her laptop & notebook to study for a quiz, but she does not use her laptop in class. Photo by Savannah C.

Japanese major student uses her laptop & notebook to study for a quiz, but she does not use her laptop in class. Photo by Savannah C.

through the quarter with only a laptop, however, the remainder of students continue to use a classic note-taking style: notebook and pen.  Whether it is personal preference or policy induced, more and more students are beginning to bring their laptops to classes.  For some students the benefits of using a laptop outweigh the drawbacks and the opposite for other students.  College students and professors are skeptical of how technology usage in class affects students’ grades and retention of knowledge.

When given the option of laptop use in class, it seems many students would choose to use their laptop to take notes or to find additional information on what is being taught.  Many factors contribute to a student’s decision to bring a laptop to class, the first one being the professor’s policy.  University of Denver professors’ have a wide range of policies regarding laptop use in class.  From a sociology professor’s no laptop policy to a writing professor’s policy which allows students to use laptops in class, but gives him the right to deduct from students’ participation grades if the student is clearly distracted.

Policy over personal preference

Professors’ must be consciousness of allowing their personal preferences to influence their classroom policies, because it is the subject matter and the department that ultimately determines general technology use in class.  When it comes to determining laptop policies, geography professor, Dr. Hamann believes, “the answer to this very much depends on the class.  Laptops can be a useful tool or a huge distraction.”

On the other hand, real estate and construction management professor, Jeff Engelstad feels students should be able to decide because everyone is different and students know the best way for them to learn.  The laptop policy in a computer science course is going to look very different than that of a real estate course.  There are a handful of majors at DU where it is simply ineffective to use a laptop, such as language, theater and science labs.

DU currently has no campus-wide laptop policy, however laptop requirements and specifications for certain majors do exist.

Computers at the library are free of the distractions found on personal laptops. Photo by Savannah C.

Computers at the library are free of the distractions found on personal laptops. Photo by Savannah C.

After considering the professor’s laptop policy and the nature of the course, students assess whether or not their participation grade will be impacted by technology use.  Students are more likely not to use their laptop in classes which students may use their laptop freely, but explicitly make students aware that their participation grade may suffer if they seem to be off-task and/or rarely contribute to the class.  When professors incorporate such a policy, students are discouraged from bringing their laptops to class, therefore are more likely to pay attention.


Nina, a third year international studies student explains her reasoning for bringing her laptop to only one of her four classes, “we’re allowed to have them and I like to google things we are talking about…like acronyms for international organizations.”

Aaron, a theater and creative writing student expressed a similar attitude for his art history class “…I’ll usually look up things a professor mentions, like a figure in art history.”

Nina and Aaron identify perhaps the most beneficial aspect of using laptops in class.  Laptops also give students the ability to record more notes in a less amount of time than handwriting.  This benefit is ideal for those classes where professors present lots of information at a fast pace.  Rather than having to rummage for a highlighter or different colored pen, students can highlight, bold-face or italicize points that are critical at the click of a button.

In some circumstances, professors also benefit from students using laptops in class.  Professors who need a quick fact check or wish to refer to a study can swiftly receive information from students who have internet access at their fingertips.  Laptops in class also permit another testing means for students, professors can have students participating all at once by creating online quizzes or discussions that require students to contribute during class time.

Another benefit for professors is the opportunity to be challenged.  If a student has access to the web during class, he or she has the ability to find information that challenges a professor’s point or way of thinking.  What professor doesn’t love to be challenged?


The use of technology in classes reveals many new and perplexing ways to learn, however it is easy to justify a “no laptop policy.”  While Nina emphasized a positive of using a laptop in class, she admitted that in the past she has brought her laptop to class to intentionally not pay attention.

Professor Engelstad describes just how easy it is to tell who is misusing their laptop: “When they shout ‘YES’ and it’s not because I said something amazing but it’s because their team just scored…”

However, browsing the internet can be as detrimental as absent-mindedly typing notes word for word from the board.  Recording notes verbatim prohibits critical thinking and students’ ability to question what they are being told.  Therefore, even a student is using a laptop to exclusively take notes they are still not engaging in discussion because they are busy typing.  Even Google declared some meetings “no laptop zones,” because people were misjudging their ability to multi-task.

Cost of laptops in class

A 2010 study conducted by Professor Sieber at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which compared the final grades of students who were avid laptop users to technology free students.  Professor Sieber found that for those students their grade, “…average 71 percent, ‘almost the same as the average for the students who didn’t come at all’” (de Vise, The Washington Post).

Not only do students’ grades suffer when using a laptop in class, so do their wallets.  Junior international studies student, Dan says he feels guilty when using his laptop because of the distractions he does not want to offend his professor “…and I’m paying a lot of money to be in the class.”

Are DU students willing to sacrifice their laptops in favor of the classic notebook and pen?  While handwriting notes is more cumbersome than typing notes, studies have shown that taking the extra time to hand write will ultimately result in a better grade.

University professors and researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, found that handwriting and typing notes use different cognitive processing mechanisms. The extra systems required to take notes by hand warrant retention and comprehension.

Studies like Mueller and Oppenheimer’s are becoming more abundant as technology evolves and is incorporated in practically everything humans do.  Researchers are trying to determine the effect that incorporating technology into certain activities will have on people’s brains…something seemingly impossible to predict.  When students were asked if they would support a campus wide no-laptop policy, four out of five enthusiastically responded “yes!”

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