Laptops In Class (with a Choice Theory lens)

A Minneapolis blog called The Periodic Table has a post that mostly quotes a Universities Diaries (University of Minnesota) blog post that, in turn, mostly quotes a Minnesotan op-ed titled Laptop dystopia. The op-ed was written by an unhappy busybody in Minneapolis. The University Diaries post was written by an English prof and employs both bold and italics - yikes! - and is given the red alert title "Theater of Cruelty." The Periodic Table (I missed who wrote it) quietly titled its post "University Diaries Notes Piece in University of Minnesota Daily."

So, what's all the fuss about?

Apparently, some dame finds it impossible to focus on university lectures when her neighbours have moving pictures on their laptops. (Hope she never has to sit by the windows.) Actually, she says it was a picture of a pair of boots that set her off. She was provoked enough by this, er, theatre of cruelty to cry out for her "right to a clear visual field." Lots of people agree with her, including the two professors. “When I see someone surfing the Internet in class I get angry," said one student.

Ah, the sweet smell of folks trying to tell other folks what to do.

Choice Theory says you can't control somebody else, only yourself. It teaches that bossing people around is both disconnecting (harmful to relationships) and ineffective. It reminds us that, when we're unhappy, we really only have two choices: we can change what we want, or we can change what we do.

So, rather than waste energy on Minnesotan silliness, I think I'd rather reflect on my own laptop challenges.

I've had a laptop for just over a year. It's the one pictured above. I love my laptop - Vista and all. I suspect I'll never again own a desktop: I'll just pick up a second laptop and/or a hefty external hard-drive.

But bringing my laptop into class has posed three serious issues.

One has to do with perceptions of wealth and class. I have a laptop that listed for about $1200 when it was new. Nevermind that I got it for $400 - it's still an expensive machine, out of shopping reach of most of my learners. Does owning it - does saying it is "mine" and not a classroom resource - put a class barrier between me and my learners?

In truth, I don't know. I don't think so, but I have a vested interest in not thinking so.... Frankly, I wouldn't trust my opinion on this.

The next challenge I encountered, early on, was that sitting at a table with my laptop puts a visual barrier between me and the other learners. Sometimes I work in a classroom with a desk, sometimes not. In either case, I enjoy sharing table space with learners. I think it's important, though I'm not sure I can explain why.

The physical fact of the laptop changes that. Even when I'm still at the table, I feel apart when the screen stands between us. So, now, I find I either use the machine in my own space, or I join the gang - I can't do both.

Finally, having a laptop raises the possibility of theft. Dare I leave the laptop unattended for 5 minutes? For 15? Am I putting temptation in someone's way? Or is this my own avarice rearing up? How does it look when I'm all the time packing it up to take it with me to a staff meeting, or the corner store, or the washroom? How does having something small and expensive in class, something I feel the need to guard, change my relationship with my learners?

In the end, I bought a laptop lock to chain the wretched thing down. Of course, that doesn't answer any of the philosophical questions.

All three of these challenges have to do with relationships and how things and ownership of things can impact on these.

These aren't exactly "unanswered" questions. I've made my choices. I love my laptop, value the productivity, flexibility and access it has brought me, and I'm not going to remove it from my time with learners.

I guess what's unanswered is whether the choices I made were right.

Maybe I should ask them folks in Minnasota? They're all mad to tell people what to do.

Maybe not.


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