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Laptop Usage during Class

There has quite a bit of debate about the issue of whether students should use laptops in the classroom.  On the one hand, some students do benefit from typing their notes.  At the same time, having a laptop hooked to the Internet is a major distractor for at least some students. The temptation to do a little Facebooking, check a few e-mails, or chat on IM can be too much to resist for some students.  

The second problem is that other students often find it distracting if a student in front of them is using the computer for non-classroom related activities.  Some professors have forbidden laptops altogether.  All of this leads to the question of whether there is a sensible compromise. 

Jake Wright (University of Minnesota, Rochester) has published a defense of the restriction of the usage of mobile devices (including laptops and tablets) in Introductory Philosophy classrooms, which permits their use only during "open periods announced by the professor."  Helpfully, Wright's piece is based on empirical findings related to the effects of mobile devices on learning and addresses several common objections both to the prohibition and allowance of electronic devices.


Briefly, Wright's policy is as follows:

  • Phones (smartphones or otherwise) are not permitted in the classroom; they should be silenced and put away.

  • "Tablets and laptops are similarly prohibited, except during open laptop periods during specific tasks, like group writing projects," which are explicitly announced by the instructor.  Students are discouraged from using their devices for any other purpose during those open periods (Wright 2016, 314).

  • Students using prohibited devices during times other than the open period have their grades penalized.

TP101 also welcomes other suggestions for dealing with the question of laptop and mobile device usage in the classroom.



Wright, Jake. 2016. "Restricting Mobile Device Use in Introductory Philosophy Classrooms," Teaching Philosophy 39:3 (September).

Author: John Immerwahr
Update: June 2017 (E. Tarver)

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