Byte the Bullet: Let Students Use Their Computers

September 16, 2016

So far, my time at Georgetown has been one of adjustment. Like most freshmen, I got lost in the labyrinth as I searched for Darnall’s I-9 office for student employees. Academically, I am still struggling to adjust to the readings that every class is assigning. However, as I spent the last few months preparing for college, I knew these challenges were awaiting me.

But one change has been a complete surprise. When I was sitting in my first class at Georgetown, my professor announced that no electronics, not even laptops, would be allowed. I imagined that he would be an isolated case. I hoped he would be a lone old-school professor whom I could approach privately to ask for an exception. I could then continue taking neat, organized size fourteen font notes on my laptop. But this fantasy was shattered in my next class. Another professor, in a different subject area, gave the exact same ban on electronics.

My professors’ reliance on the old-fashioned pen and paper was going to be a challenge for me. I have bad handwriting and thus have always struggled to take notes. I joke that I can’t read my own handwriting, so when I take notes I only do it to waste paper. In high school, I eventually found a solution: I would carry a small 11-inch Chromebook between classes and take organized and detailed notes by typing away on my computer. It worked. I was able to to focus on my classes by taking beautiful color coded notes with indents. I expected to rely on the same note taking approach in college, but then, I learned I couldn’t.

I understand my professor’s intentions, though. They want students to be active and engaged in class, not staring down and checking their email or browsing Buzzfeed. The professors I have spoken with also believe in the pedagogy of note taking. By slowly writing down and connecting with the written word rather than quickly typing at letters, students are able to better retain and interact with the information.

I do believe there is some truth to this argument. Certainly, for languages in different scripts, students should be learning the letters and writing them out as they begin to internalize the Arabic alphabet or hundreds of Chinese characters. However, applying a blanket “no electronics” rule ignores the fact that technology can be used in conjunction with old fashioned handwriting (behold the stylus and tablet). Many modern computers now have beautiful touchscreens and note taking software, which can be used by students to sketch charts in economics or characters in Farsi and keep them neatly compiled in a digital folder. Modern technology can aid the students who need it without sacrificing the advantages of the old fashioned notebook.

So, after spending the first few days of classes jotting down chaotic disorganized notes, I approached my professor after class to ask for an exception. I promised to not be a jerk about my computer usage and move to the side of the classroom to avoid being a distraction. I intended to use the computer only for note-taking purposes and to stay attentive and active during lectures and discussion. My request was denied, and now, in order to use a computer, I must contact the Academic Resource Center. In my first few weeks here I don’t want to bring unnecessary attention to myself or create a hassle. Now, I’m faced with the question of whether I would rather have to deal with the ARC, or illegible notes.

Georgetown as an institution is deeply embedded in its traditions. There is a heavy focus on a classical liberal arts education. Students are not pushed to practice computer programming or explore modern applications of technology. Rather, we are encouraged to read classic philosophy texts and participate in mock business interviews with formal attire. This mentality is evidenced by professors finding it acceptable to deny any and all electronic devices in the classroom. The computer is no longer the future; the computer is the present and it should have a place in classrooms through the country and the world.

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