If Matilda* doesn't use her laptop for note-taking, she loses all her scrawled-on notebook papers. If she does use her laptop for note-taking, she also uses it in class for solitaire playing, checking her MySpace account, even finding her new apartment on Craigslist.
Students are noticeably increasing laptop use in the classroom, and while their classmates may be annoyed, some professors are torn between supporting different learning styles and forbidding the classroom distraction.
"Students should be free to use whatever tools help them learn (obviously within the honor code). If a student uses a laptop, I assume it's because she finds it helpful rather than distracting," said History professor Bert Gordon.
While students know their laptop use may annoy classmates, some say they wouldn't have it any other way.
"My laptop proves extremely effective [and] useful at tracking hard-to-follow, fast-paced professors. It's also a convenient way to organize my notes and keep them readily available, as my computer goes wherever I go," said sophomore Tricia Holden.
Holden also found her laptop allows her to downsize the load she carries with her throughout the day, carrying only one binder and a computer, as opposed to four binders and a textbook.
Despite the obvious benefit laptops have proven to be in the classroom (many students can instantly provide additional online information), there is still skepticism by not just the professors but by the students.
Some students said they're waiting for the professors to make waves on the issue as the number of laptops in the classroom steadily increases.
"I hate it when I can see other students laptop screen with shopping.com opened because then I want to do it too. It distracts me," said junior Katie Guzzi. "The typing noises and games of solitaire- I wouldn't mind it if everyone was just taking notes, but they're not."
Students aren't the only ones being distracted.
"I prefer students to use old-fashioned pens or pencils. I find the click-clicking of the keys distracting," said English professor Kathryn Reiss. "I imagine the irritation level would increase with the number of laptops in use. I'm thinking of issuing a ban in future semesters!"
Misuse of laptops for purposes other than note-taking has caused a certain level of wariness among some faculty.
"Obviously, that sort of misuse detracts from the classroom environment and from learning," said Economics professor Siobhan Reilly.
"Because the temptation to slip off into the virtual world is ever-present on a campus with such excellent wireless access, I'm leery of laptops in the classroom."
Other professors leave the misuse of laptops to the decision of the students only.
"So far use hasn't been heavy enough to warrant a policy statement in my classes, and sometimes the laptops are needed for disability issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome," said professor Kathleen Walkup.
When it comes to formulating policy pertaining to laptop use in class, professors here have yet to decide and are waiting it out to see how much of a cost over benefit laptops in class really are.
*Name changed for anonymity.