New cameras could curtail laptop use

Mothers may have eyes in the back of their head, but now some teachers can have eyes in the back of their classroom.

The new cameras in the 24 recently remodeled Whitten Learning Center and Dooley Memorial classrooms allow professors to record their lectures, but they may also play a role in the conflict between teachers and technology.

The cameras are able to focus on a student’s computer screen from over their shoulder, and the professor can then display that image for the class on numerous flat screen TVs and the large projector screens at the front of the room.

With 41 more classrooms expected to be remodeled this summer, university faculty and staff have been discussing student’s use of technology, and questioning whether it is a blessing or a curse.

Bill Vilberg, associate director of the Instructional Advancement Center, said professors tend to have one of four reactions to laptop use in class: they ban it, control it, ignore it or adapt their teaching to it.

“It is not my job to be more entertaining than World of Warcraft,” April Mann, an English composition lecturer, said at a Jan. 31 Instructional Advancement workshop. “Adapting our teaching shouldn’t mean competing with the Internet.”


The workshop “Teachers vs. Technology: How Can Wireless Internet be Turned Off in the Classroom?” may be the first sign of the apocalypse for laptop-loyal students.

Vilberg said teachers come to him all the time looking for ways to disconnect the Internet or find other ways to make the laptops in their classrooms less of a disruption. For now, he said the university has no way of cutting off the wireless Internet for a single classroom, and to disable the wireless for an entire building would be impractical.

The university is looking into a new technology called SynchronEyes, which is a classroom management software produced by a Canadian company. The technology could connect a teacher’s computer with every computer in a networked classroom. It may be used in wireless networks and enables the professor to view all the computer screens in the classroom and redirect the student’s attention if they digress from the lecture topic.

The professor is able to also control access to the Internet or to specific computer applications by blocking students individually or as a group. The company has already sold licenses to 10,000 individual teachers and schools, but the University of Miami has not yet made any licensing plans of its own.

Although the university may eventually limit laptop use, some students are already seeing what their classrooms would be like without laptops.

New School of Business classroom policies, which were implemented last fall, ban the use of laptops and other electronic devices. Nevertheless, enforcement is at the discretion of each professor.


At Vanderbilt University, one of the University of Miami’s sister schools, the Blair School of Music instituted a policy banning the use of all electronic devices from large lecture halls during class time. The ban was in response to students’ misuse of the technology and its disruptive nature.

In contrast, the national trend is toward increased use of technology in the classroom.

According to the Campus Computing Survey, an annual check by the Campus Computing Project of computer use at 600 colleges, the percentage of college classrooms with wireless Internet service has nearly doubled in the past three years, increasing from 31 percent in 2004 to 60 percent in 2007.

Many universities, including another sister school, New York University, use wireless technology to link classrooms via satellite to similar classrooms around the world.


At UM, some students said laptops are an important part of their learning environment.

“One thing I do that’s interesting is use the Internet to do my own investigation of whatever the teacher is talking about,” said Alexander Dinardo, a senior who brings his laptop to all of his classes. “Doing this, I can learn more than just what the teacher is saying.”

He’s not alone.

Alexandra Ahad, a junior, said she can pay better attention to what the teacher is saying when she types her notes, as opposed to writing them by hand.

Many teachers acknowledge that some students need their computers to take notes, but worry that laptops are still a distraction for others.

“I can’t stand the sound of the typing,” Joana Ochoa, a senior, said. “And it’s really distracting when I can see someone doing something like chatting or looking at pictures.”

Lindsay Kessler may be contacted at

Bans at other colleges:

A survey of 1,000 students by the Harvard Law School student council showed that almost a third of students did not support a laptop ban

Bentley College in Massachusetts installed software that allows professors to block Internet during class time

UM may look into SynchronEyes, which allows teachers to access thumbnails of every computer screen in the class and block websites such as Facebook