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Computers and School: An unhappy relationship.

I’ve never been a great transcriber, and from middle school through my first semester at college, I’ve needed to do a lot of note-taking. This trend doesn’t show signs of stopping, and I’ve always longed for an easier way to express my ideas, or more likely, the ideas of my professor.

Back in my freshman year of high school I bought an HP iPAQ Pocket PC (no relation to the iPod) which for those who don’t know is a Palm Pilot style device that ran Windows Mobile 5, a dialect of Windows CE optimized for such devices. Before the smartphone revolution, Pocket PCs were all the rage, and they came with cool little accessories such as a folding keyboard and a stylus. Seeing as the keyboard was full-size, the iPAQ seemed an ideal device to take into class and use to help me jot down the multitude of notes that were thrown at me each day.

As soon as I unfolded the keyboard and turned on the screen during my English class, all my classmates descended upon me with over-the-top enthusiasm. “What’s that?! A computer in class! What’s its processing power? I bet it has a whole giga-byte of storage. You using it to play GAMES?! I tried to dissolve the imminent fiasco by downplaying the machine’s capabilities; by telling my friends that it was simply a note-taking machine. I couldn’t hold, however, and the next thing I knew the teacher was asking me to put away the “distraction.” Fair enough.

Later in the year, I actually found one class which I could use the iPAQ in without drawing so much of a distraction. Our world history teacher left in search of a better job in the beginning of 9th grade, and thus we were without an actual teacher until the next semester. The interim teacher we got for the first semester had never taught before, and knew entirely zilch about world history. His tests were entirely book-based to the point of which he’d open to a random page, copy a sentence from the book, delete some words, and have us fill in the blanks. His “lectures” were open readings of the text, and thus I could sit in the back of the class where the┬ásound of the keyboard wouldn’t distract anyone. I built a 50 page study guide (single spaced!) of every definition and random fact in our textbook, and proceeded to achieve high marks in a class most people couldn’t manage a C in. (Of course I can’t remember anything except that the guy who was murdered in his bathtub in France was none other than Jean-Paul Marat.)

That year in 9th grade was the last time I used that Pocket PC to any advantage, though. Every year after, tech was banned in class or severely discouraged in school. Even during my first semester in college and the first few weeks of the second semester, it seems that the only place I can use my laptop to take notes is in my computer classes. Although it wouldn’t do me any good to type up notes in a seminar, regular non-computer class professors don’t like students bringing laptops to class either, in the name of “class participation” and “avoiding distractions.” Of course, I am at a smaller University with smaller class sizes, but it’s the volume of notes that would make me prefer typing instead of handwriting!

With new tech being released such as the Android tablets and the iPad 2, not to mention the predictions that e-readers will be huge this year, I feel that professors should realize the advantages these devices give to students and not assume they’ll simply be another distraction.