Work Productivity: Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.

From today’s New York Times by Susan Dynarski:

Step into any college lecture hall and you are likely to find a sea of students typing away at open, glowing laptops as the professor speaks. But you won’t see that when I’m teaching.

Though I make a few exceptions, I generally ban electronics, including laptops, in my classes and research seminars.

That may seem extreme. After all, with laptops, students can, in some ways, absorb more from lectures than they can with just paper and pen. They can download course readings, look up unfamiliar concepts on the fly and create an accurate, well-organized record of the lecture material. All of that is good.

But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.

Measuring the effect of laptops on learning is tough. One problem is that students don’t all use laptops the same way. It might be that dedicated students, who tend to earn high grades, use them more frequently in classes. It might be that the most distracted students turn to their laptops whenever they are bored. In any case, a simple comparison of performance may confuse the effect of laptops with the characteristics of the students who choose to use them. Researchers call this “selection bias.”

Read the entire article here.

MOOA’s needed to reign costs of bloated college administrations

Benjamin Ginsberg, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, has recently proposed an innovative idea for college’s and universities to save money during this austere budget climate. Following the lead of major universities such as Harvard and MIT to offer massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, Ginsberg proposes to reduce administrative costs at institutions of higher education my introducing MOOA’s, or massive open online administrations.

Dr. Ginsberg is the author of The Fall of the Faculty, an examination of the decline of tenure and job security for teachers in higher education. According to Ginsberg, one of the single biggest problems that has gone unaddressed is the massive increase in corporate bureaucracy that now governs most colleges and universities, and a rise in professional class of administrators who are charged with keeping education costs down but who siphon off money from much-needed educational funding.

“Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth,” Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  “Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day,” he said.  “Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses.”

The use of MOOA would allow schools to get rid of their most expensive administrators, leading to substantial savings.

“One way to look at it,” Ginsberg said, “Is that through their tuitions students paid about $500 million for strategic planning that might have been used for curricular development or other educational purposes.”

Ginsberg calls his model for MOOA “Administeria,” an ominous Orwellian sounding virtual administration. He admits that widespread use of this online bureaucracy might result in unemployment among college administrators, but with substantial savings in education one of the key components of austerity measures during the ongoing budget crises in higher education, the proposal should be popular among legislators and other financial decision-makers.