Laptop misuse in the classroom: Trust is a four-letter word.

My first laptop in college. Unlike today's laptops, the professor could hear us if we were using it!

Trust is a four-letter word. A very successful business person once told me about the importance of giving your ‘word’ (four-letters) to a customer. In business, or for that matter, anytime where your reputation is at stake, giving your word means everything. Use this lesson and apply it to stop (or, at least minimize) laptop misuse in the classroom. Here’s how:

During the first day of class, look around the room at all the students using laptops and tablets and have them raise their hands. Then, tell them a quick story about the importance of ‘giving their word’. Keeping their hands raised, quickly walk up to each of them and tell them to verbally give you their ‘word’ that they will only use the device for note-taking and class-related activities. Make them say “you have my word” to you in front of everyone! If you are teaching in a lecture hall with 300 students, then simply have them all say at once, “you have my word”. Tell them that you will assume they all said it, regardless if they did or not. Once you have heard it from all of them, tell them that you now trust their word and won’t be looking over their shoulder during the semester. HOWEVER…IF you do see them go against their word, simply tell them that you will NEVER be able to trust them, and that you’ll most likely tell other professors to be aware of their laptop misuse in class. Here’s a good quote to use, “I won’t be upset that you are using the laptop/tablet in the wrong way; I’ll be upset that I won’t be able to trust you again.”  Ouch. Try it, it works.

Is laptop ‘misuse’ an issue in your class? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you even care, or do you have the attitude that as long as they aren’t bothering anyone, it’s ok?

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  1. Scott McBride says:

    Hi Phil,

    This is a fantastic idea for building and keeping trust! It also ensures that it’s not just a unilateral, teacher-only arrangement in the class, and allows the students to introduce their own element of the behavioural code of conduct to which the faculty will have to honour. This solidifies the sense of mutual trust, respect, and partnership that all participants in the class will have. A great foundation for optimal learning. Thanks for sharing all these ideas.

  2. Great comment Scott, thanks. Yes, you’re right, trust and respect in the classroom goes both ways.