I forbid the use of cell phones in my class and severely penalize students for distracting themselves or their classmates with them. I also forbid the use of laptops and tablet-type devices for the same reason. All of these devices seduce us into “multitasking.” Studies show that we’re not very good at this, and that it actually impairs learning. Moreover, a study published in 2013 found that not only did the “multitasking” student in a classroom do worse on a postclass test on the material, so did the peers who could see his or her computer. Furthermore, another study suggests that taking notes by hand rather than typing them on a laptop improves comprehension of the material. While students taking notes on a laptop (and only taking notes—they were not allowed to “multitask”) wrote down more of the material covered in class, they were often typing what the instructor said verbatim, which seems to have led to less processing of the material. The students taking notes by hand had to do more synthesizing and condensing as they wrote because they could not get everything down. As a result, they learned the material better.
Of course if you need to use a laptop or a tablet because an officially diagnosed learning disability requires it, I will make an exception. But I will ask you to sit in the back row or on the periphery of the classroom with your screen angled away from classmates so they aren’t distracted.