“Should Laptops Be Banned in Class?” That’s the incendiary question posed in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. With a ferocity that evokes images of battlefield carnage at Antietam and Gettysburg, faculty and students on campuses around the country are engaged in a steel-cage death match to determine who controls the classroom in 2017. Professors want students’ undivided attention, while students relish their constitutionally protected freedom to roam the Internet and monitor friends’ breakfast choices, explore the influence of Heidegger and Kierkegaard on Taylor Swift song lyrics, watch SportsCenter updates on the arrest records of bowl-eligible college football teams, and keep tabs on the daily breastfeeding schedule of Beyoncé’s twins.
Neither side wants to give ground. Some faculty attempt to ban laptops in their classrooms, but resourceful students respond by hiding smartphones between their thighs, staring at their crotches during class in a fashion that brings to mind Louis C. K. fiddling with his Sears Craftsman Tool Box while auditioning potential cast members in his office.
Is there a way out of these killing fields? Absolutely, according to officials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. University spokeswoman Samantha Yertz-Pez proclaims that “we have taken hold of this Rubik’s Cube of a problem, broken it down, and then combined it with another problem to fashion an elegant solution.”
Here’s how they did it, according to Yertz-Pez:
“First, it’s important to recognize that most students don’t pay attention in class, regardless of whether they are using a laptop or not.
“Second, the Internet information these students currently scan on their laptops is pretty much pure crap. The challenge we face is to give them something meaningful to do in class with those machines.
“Third, due to state budget cuts, we no longer have sufficient staff to carry out much of the computer-based work of the University. For example, we desperately need people to enter grade changes into our data base for students who are unhappy with their GPAs and want their transcripts altered. And Health Services must update students’ medical records on a weekly basis to show the status of the sexually transmitted diseases they are being treated for. The University’s annual Chlamydia Festival is only two months away! We just don’t have the personnel required to do the work.
“Here is where students and their laptops come in. Beginning in January, we are going to give students the option of doing computer-based clerical work while they are in class. These tasks can be substituted for note-taking and conventional course assignments, and will be graded. If a student performs at a high level, he or she will also be given a voucher for use at the University’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone. The University gets essential tasks accomplished, the students get good grades and high-quality weed, and professors no longer have to spend hours preparing content-stuffed lectures that students ignore. These same faculty can now devote their energies to composing essays for The Nation and The New Republic while using class time to show documentaries that deconstruct the intersectional identities of zoo animals (‘A Cheetah is More than Its Spots’).”
Can undergraduates be trusted to handle the sensitive information about their fellow students contained in administrative records? “Not a problem,” says Brad Sneft, the University’s legal counsel. “We have clearly communicated to students that all violations of confidentiality will be severely punished except when we choose not to do so. There’s no ambiguity about what our position is.”