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Why laptops and liberal arts may not mix

According to a study by TC doctoral candidate Sarah Lohnes and professor Charles K. Kinzer, educators should not make the mistake of assuming that college students want to use technology in the classroom to the same extent that they do outside of it. "Attention to context," the authors say, "is of great importance if we are to move away from generalized assumptions toward a more nuanced understanding of the role that technology plays in college students' lives."

The authors compared the computer habits inside and outside the lecture hall of nine students from eight liberal-arts colleges. They also questioned students -- in group talks as well as one-on-one -- about their attitudes toward the role of technology in education.

Regarding computer use in dormitories, as well as in other social settings, the authors found no surprises. "Technology use," they say, "was ubiquitous among the entire group of participants." The big shock, they say, was "that these Net Gen students exhibited a strong resistance to using certain technologies in the space of the liberal-arts classroom."

In fact, they note, "students almost universally reviled the idea of using a laptop in the classroom." The students cited the distraction caused by the sound of typing. They also considered the laptop "as a barrier to creating and maintaining the classroom community," the authors add. "Bringing a laptop into the liberal-arts classroom," they say, "was seen as an act of setting oneself apart from the rest of the class."

Lohnes and Kinzer conclude that "we may not be at the point of changing the classroom practices of either professors or students, contrary to common assumptions." They also say that their findings should remind college officials that students are not all alike: While liberal-arts students felt one way about technology in the classroom, students at highly technical institutions, for instance, may feel differently.

"This underscores the point that, given the multiple ways that technology is culturally embedded in Net Gen students' lives," they say, "we should not make blanket assumptions about its use."

"Questioning Assumptions About Students' Expectations for Technology in College Classrooms," was published in the June/July 2007 issue of Innovate Online. Available at

"Why laptops and liberals arts may not mix", by Jason M. Breslow, was published in the June 6, 2007 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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