Besides, the purpose of old-school lectures isn't to learn, but to validate, according to Jarvis -- just like old media's one-to-many broadcasting model. He implied that professors cling to the lecture format out of ego. I think laziness or lack of vision may also be factors for some professors. Video of Jarvis's lecture (ironic, I know...) should be posted in the next few weeks, but he blogged his notes.
Educators clinging to the old lecture method like to pretend that the revolution never happened, as if the millennia-old information scarcity problem hasn't been solved in the past 15 years. The relationship between learning and knowledge has been changed forever by the ubiquity of information.
Shouldn't education change, too?
Google Vice President Marissa Mayer wrote that "it's not what you know, it's what you can find out." If that sounds like self-serving Google-speak, consider that Albert Einstein said essentially the same thing: "Never memorize what you can look up in books."
Nearly all lecture information can be looked up. Today's students can look up or find out about almost anything, especially the content of university subjects. They grasp this intuitively, and turn to laptops because professors are trying to force the memorization of easily accessible Wikipedia content.
One reason students are paying attention to their laptops is that they know intuitively that some professors' content has no value.
Clearly laptops interfere with lectures. But do they interfere with education? Let's engage in an oversimplified thought experiment.
If allowing laptops doesn't affect grades or learning, then it should be OK, right?
But let's say it does harm both grades and learning. It should still be OK. If students' actions lead to failure or low grades, it shouldn't matter if they do so by skipping class, ignoring assignments or allowing themselves to be distracted with a laptop in class.
In other words, if grades are the accepted incentive, and using a laptop leads to low grades, then the incentive should motivate them to stop using the laptop. If students don't care about their grades, they're probably going to get bad grades whether they use a laptop or not.
OK, but what if laptops in class don't affect grades, but do harm learning. What that means to me is that the grading system, which apparently doesn't reflect learning, that needs fixing.
In each of these scenarios, laptops should be acceptable.
OK, that's a wildly oversimplified thought experiment. Let's look at the big picture.
Few would argue with the idea that the Internet, PCs and mobile devices open up massive new opportunities to transform university education. Laptops are windows to vast, unimaginable knowledge. How ironic is it that those tasked with imparting knowledge want to close those windows, rather than fling them wide open?
The education possibilities of the information revolution stand in stark contrast to the medieval "I-talk-you-listen" method.
Some professors treat students with laptops as slackers who don't want to learn. But maybe the real problem is professors who don't want to learn.
Ban laptops? Here's a better idea: Let's ban lectures.