01/03/2011 05:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Should We Deal With Computers in Classrooms?

By Shep McAllister of

It seems like every year I've been in school, more and more laptops have found their way onto desks during class, and I've always been all for it. Yes, I've occasionally ventured onto Facebook or Google Reader during a lecture's duller moments, but I figured if I wasn't distracting myself, I'd probably just space out anyway.

The benefits to using a computer in class are numerous; you can look up unfamiliar phrases or references on the fly, most people can type faster than they can hand write, and you can use apps like Dropbox or Evernote to instantly back up your valuable notes. A recent post over at Carolyn Blogs though has given me pause. She points out that laptop users don't just risk distracting themselves, but everyone behind them as well. Even something as innocuous as a screensaver can catch some attention from other students and possibly sidetrack their thoughts.

It seems the fairest solution for everyone would be to stick the laptop users in the back of the room, but many of my professors have explicitly asked computer-toting students to sit in the front to make sure they stay focused on the lecture, rather than on Facebook. This may be due to what Carolyn calls the "myth of student distractions," the idea that professors assume that students on computers aren't paying attention, which would explain keeping them in the front. I don't think all professors feel this way, but I have known some who do.

Basically I'm torn. I want to keep using a computer in class because I'm convinced it makes me more productive, but I don't want classmates sitting behind me to get distracted (nor do I particularly want them looking over my shoulder). I got an iPad keyboard case for Christmas, and might use that for my note taking next semester since the device is modal and makes it relatively difficult to multitask, but I realize this isn't a feasible solution for everyone. So... what should we do that's fair to everyone?

I'd really like to have a good discussion in the comments. What do you guys think is the best way to deal with computers in the classroom? What system would be most fair?