Editorial: Laptops in the Age of Netflix

We have all been in a very boring class, wishing that we were watching Netflix at home. But most outsiders not in middle school do not understand that the passion for watching Netflix gets in the way of every part of a teen’s life. Many students have laptops and are encouraged to use them during classes in order to take notes or do research, but do teachers and the administration really understand the loophole that laptops and tablets create in the school’s strict “no phone” policy?

Most students know the feeling of being in class and being mostly focused on the teacher but having a part of themselves really want to open their laptop and shop online or play Agar.io while the teacher talks. This seems fine as long as you are simultaneously listening to the teacher, and in many scenarios it may be a good tool to help you stay awake or you may just be very good at multitasking, but the question comes to mind—is this hurting your ability to focus and take in the information that the teacher is providing?

At GFS there is a strict “no phone” policy during school hours (discussed in a different article https://gfscorner.com/2015/12/01/the-new-middle-school-phone-policy/), and the overall policy is enforced tightly. Most teachers and administrators see laptops primarily as tools for education, with some entertainment features available. Laptops in our school are allowed for most classes and are permissible for use during class periods as long as they are being used for work. In truth it is the other way around; laptops, especially Macbooks, are built around Apple’s cloud service called iCloud which is also used by all other Apple devices. This means that text messages, emails, and documents (and more) can be created and moved using one device and immediately show up on all other devices on the same iCloud. Students who look like they are cracking up laughing while taking notes are most likely texting or browsing the wide variety of non-educational things on the internet.

The University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching conducted a study to determine if laptops actually distracted students, of all academic levels. The researchers surveyed 16 different college courses in different fields, with a total of 595 participants in the study. Eight of the participating courses allowed the use of laptops and used LectureTools, a online based lecture service similar to PowerPoint on Microsoft. In the other eight courses, laptops were allowed, but the courses did not take advantage of the wide variety of teaching tools available online. The researchers had students report back to them their overall experience using the laptops either for LectureTools or having the ability to surf the web without being stopped.

Results showed that 60% of students felt that the LectureTools service helped them, and only 39% in the free-laptop usage group agreed that the use of laptops helped them. The point of this experiment was to determine if the use of laptops strictly for educational purposes had a different effect compared to students using laptops for their own uses. Generally laptops in class can be very useful, and services such as Google Classroom make sometimes painful tasks easier such as doing homework, checking for missed/upcoming assignments, and communicating with professors and teachers. Arguments for having laptops be allowed during class are strong and point to laptops being a useful tool for accomplishing class work and homework without needing to go to a computer lab or waiting until you get home to complete a homework assignment.

The issue is around balance—schools can be too overbearing on students’ behavior on school devices, and can also be too loose with restrictions, giving students way more credit for bad internet browsing than they may deserve. An example can be found in the school’s policy on blocking IP addresses. When an IP is blocked, any device on the school’s wireless network, whether personal or school-administrated, is unable to access that site. GFS has decided to only block IPs of websites that are dangerous or have been involved with internet scandals such as 4chan, a malicious news site, and The Pirate Bay, a black market for pirated movies and TV shows; while allowing access to sites such as Amazon and Netflix.

The laptop policy at GFS is lacking. Students are using their laptops for shopping and Netflix, while the teachers think that they are working hard. The school could close this loophole by restricting all personal laptop use and only allowing Chromebooks and Macbooks. Or the school could continue to allow all laptops and give students the benefit of the doubt; if students fail, it is on them and not the teachers.