In a previous tip we covered some arguments you could take into account in your decision whether or not to ban laptops and smartphones in your learning environment.

In this tip, we go further and give you some possible ways to deal with these devices. Here, we cover the extremes: fully permitting or fully prohibiting, but we also want to convey that this shouldn’t be an 'either-or' story (allowing or banning). It can also be an 'in-between' story (sometimes banning and sometimes allowing).

Whatever you decide, it’s important to communicate your decision clearly to students, make clear agreements about it and also, if relevant, prepare what steps you can take if students don’t stick to the agreement.

Full permission

If you choose to fully allow laptop use, it's a pretty straightforward story. Students can use their laptops and/or smartphones. No checking involved. You take the risk that students will use laptops and smartphones for both task-oriented and non-task-oriented activities.

In-between: the partial ban

With this option, we sometimes allow the use of laptops and smartphones and sometimes ban it. With this so-called partial ban, it’s worth considering the following:

The partial ban can apply in four ways:

  1. Banning in some lessons and allowing in others. This then involves deciding on lessons where the laptop is allowed (e.g. in a lecture, explaining important concepts) and where the laptop is banned (e.g. in a discussion-centred lesson).  

  2. Banning and allowing in the same lesson. Here you think of moments in a lesson when the laptop may and may not be used.  

  3. Allowing in certain locations in the classroom: installing a 'laptop-free zone' or just an area where laptop use is allowed (for example, making the last or first three rows of the classroom available for laptop users).  

  4. Allowing for some activities and banning for others. In this scenario, you intentionally use laptops and smartphones as effective learning tools, integrated into your learning environment. This means that the devices can be used for on-topic tasks (e.g. taking notes, looking up additional information, using certain software, solving exercises), but not for off-topic activities (e.g. social media, emails). This is how, for example, digital voting tools such as Polleverywhere or Socrative are often used to encourage students to give their input (see also here; For UA staff, there are free Polleverwyhere accounts available). 

In the first three ways, it’s quite straightforward and clear when and/or where students may and may not use their laptop or smartphone. This means it’s quite easy to monitor. The fourth way, however, requires stricter enforcement. And that leads us to classroom management: how will you be able to keep an eye on people not going off-topic, and how will you deal with students who do go off-topic? See some suggestions:

  • During activities, always identify students who were off-topic first and make sure the others in that group know.  
  • When using digital voting tools: if you notice that there are more laptops still open than there are (digital) answers to your question, this is a possible sign that students are going off-topic. This can then be addressed.

Total ban

If you opt for a total ban, consider the following:

  • How are you going to implement this? How will you make sure students don't use a laptop? How do you deal with students who still try to do this?  
  • In a small group, this will be easier to keep an eye on than in a (very) large group.  
  • How do you deal with students who, because of special arrangements (e.g. dyslexia), need the laptop (For UA staff members: here you can find more information about studying with a disability at the University of Antwerp)?  
  • What will you do with students whose way of working involves the use of technology (e.g. for note-taking)? This is why some teachers decide to opt for a smartphone ban rather than a laptop ban. 

Want to know more?

About the (general) effect of laptop use on learning outcomes

About how laptop use can be distracting

For staff members of UAntwerp

  • Here you can find more information about the free Polleverywhere accounts.
  • Here you can find more information about studying with a disability at the University of Antwerp.

Lees deze tip in het Nederlands