At the University of South Carolina, some professors see the use of personal electronics in class as a detriment to learning and therefore ban their use during lecture. While this can be argued effectively in that students are proven to retain more information when they handwrite notes, one can contend that banning electronics altogether hurts classroom dynamics and students.
To begin, many teachers that ban laptops write it as a clause in their syllabus. From there it can go one of two ways: Either the professor enforces the policy to the chagrin of students, or the policy is unenforced and rendered null, which causes its own problems.
Students are often frustrated by classrooms that don’t allow laptops. Many of the complaints are about how it is easier to get all of the notes down by typing rather than write. This is backed up by a study done by C. M. Brown, in which even typists that didn’t use touch typing were able to type more words per minute than they were able to handwrite. Having to handwrite notes typically leads to illegibility and missed notes, as students struggle to keep up with the notes the teacher goes over.
Another argument is that taking notes via laptop requires less materials. If a student forgets their pen or does not bring an adequate amount of paper, he or she can may resort to taking notes on the computer. In the classes where laptops are banned, the student has to awkwardly ask to borrow a sheet of paper or pencil from a neighbor or choose not to take notes. Also, taking notes on an electronic device allows for conservation of paper products and eliminates the need for students to carry various binders and folders.
As was mentioned earlier, the lack of enforcement of a no electronic policy can cause its own problems. In an article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education," Amber R. Comer explains that when professors do not enforce the rules on the syllabus, students start to see the syllabus itself as less important.
This lack of clarity on what rules on the syllabus are actually to be followed and which are less serious leads many students to take the class less seriously than they might have if the syllabus was more accurate to the actual experience of the class. Therefore, if the no electronics in class clause is ignored by the professor in practice, then students are likely to take the other rules on the syllabus less seriously.
One important caveat in this argument is that note taking on electronic devices does not work for every student. For some students, pen and paper work well because it leads to less distraction with browsing, or they think more actively about the material when writing. Some students do better if they have a more complete set of notes to study later with typing than if they understand the material better in class with handwriting.
Students should be given the agency to decide what method — paper or electronic notes — better suits their learning style rather than having their professors choose for them.