Friday, September 10, 2010

Brave new world - or, I compute, therefore I am

On the way downtown to deliver a load of donated clothes to the women's shelter a few days ago, I happened to drive through the edge of the local university campus early in the morning, where throngs of students were wending their way from the dorms to the classroom buildings. I noticed that almost every single one had a laptop case tucked under their arm, or carried by a handle, or slung across their shoulder in a messenger bag, or stuck in a backpack. They were everywhere.

Now, I have a laptop myself, but it's a stand-in for a really skinny desktop computer because I'm not willing to delegate any more prime real estate on my desk to a monitor and computer than necessary, and I certainly am not willing to put the keyboard in the center desk drawer that I have to pull out and flip down the hinged fake front in order to be able to type. So I have a laptop that I can close and shove aside when I need room. My laptop isn't well traveled. We have a netbook for that, when it's not being the home theater PC, which is its primary job. And my laptop is a 17" model, which husband picked for me. It's a really nice one and I like having the larger screen but it's a handful to pack around.

But evidently these students go everywhere with their laptops, and I imagine that they use them for note-taking in class too. I recall the scene in the movie "Legally Blond" (OK, it was a slow TV night) where the law class is assembled and everyone has their laptop in front of them except for the heroine, who pulls out a pad and pen, which is kind of shorthand for how out of touch with the law student's life she is. But it's probably accurate that students sit there in class and type notes while listening to the lecture.

Which brings me to my point: how on earth do you do that? And isn't the sound of a full classroom of people pecking away on their keyboards very irritating? When I was in college studying engineering I took notes in class, but they were pretty sketchy, just jottings to remind myself what was discussed. Occasionally, I would write down a whole calculation or derivation or proof, but in the main my note-taking was more like automatic writing, where my hand went off and did its thing without a lot of supervision. I found I got a whole lot more out of the lectures if I paid more attention to the instructor than to taking notes.

But even with the ability to touch type (thank you, high school typing teacher, what would I have done without you with my terrible handwriting?) I can't just type without looking at the screen and I certainly misspell more words typing than writing. I think trying to take notes on the laptop would be quite distracting. If you're 18 and you've never lived without a computer and a cell phone that texts and all the other technological paraphernalia that you practically come out of the womb with nowadays, I suppose the use of these gadgets is more ingrained and this is just the old fogey in me talking. Sometimes I can't get my brain wrapped around how that generation relies on their computers/phones/Ipods/etc. in every aspect of their life.


Becca said...

I didn't use a laptop to take notes in college but I wrote down darn near everything my professors said-I think there's probably a bare section of rain forest that's ALL MY FAULT. If I just sit and listen I tend to zone out-if I take notes it forces my brain to engage and actually process what the professor is saying. Now a days however I use my laptop constantly and can probably type faster than I can write. I think a lot of it is just what you're used to-I used to live in the flight path of our local airport and after several weeks the sound barely registered-the click, click of the keyboard is probably the same way in class.

The Calico Cat said...

When I took grad classes - before baby, the professors would not allow laptops in the lectures. Your point is exactly it - you pay more attention & get more out of "paying attention."

Also quite a few students read blogs, etc. instead of paying attention when they are allowed to use laptops.

I saw something on this subject of 60 minutes, 20/20 or the like & the professors had proof (grades/tests - for what use those metrics count) to this fact...

Tanya said...

Yes, I've had my daughter chat to me saying she couldn't talk right then because she was in class. I can't figure out how they do that... I have a 17" laptop too and nice it is... but too big and heavy to carry around much.