Is It Time To Ban Laptops In Meeting Rooms? Part of a Bigger Picture

A recent article from software developer Trello, suggests that from learning space to conference hall, the bottom line is that there is a difference between multitasking and “task switching.” The distractible mind…a few thoughts from Clerkenwell Design Week #CDW18.

Worth a read for students and us, especially as academics, ‘engagers’ and supporters of learning

The creative director of a UK furniture company argues that ” it may be a good idea to realise the importance of finding more nuanced and diverse models for how and where we use our great technology tools, and how and where we interact with each other ” (G. Taylor, “That’s not a stick that’s a log” Cardiff,2018)

The Harvard Business Review has a report on the “loneliness epidemic” exacerbated by remote working and open plan workplaces. Mobile technology can free us from the desk, but perhaps the our creativity, reasoning and decision making is adversely affected by the resulting loneliness (

To put this in context for City, Digital Awareness UK is a leading online safety organisation and their recent report states that 63% of school children would not mind if social media did not exist. These are our future students. (The Guardian/Digital Awareness UK Oct 2017) Being aware of how technology can enforce changes to our rapidly evolving lifestyles. There is a need to be more mindful in how we use technology, particularly in a GAFA world, Google – Apple – Facebook – Amazon.

Perhaps the solution is to be more innovative in the design of our learning and work environments, to become more restorative places, designed by humans for humans.


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2 thoughts on “Is It Time To Ban Laptops In Meeting Rooms? Part of a Bigger Picture

  1. Thanks for sharing this article, which raises a number of important issues, even though it is misguided in a number of ways.

    The biggest time waster of all are badly planned and badly led meetings themselves. In the modern era with such a range of collaboration methods, electronic and face to face, we could abolish the majority of physical meetings, to achieve great improvements in productivity. This is already happening with global organisations where physical meetings are impractical due to cost, although even there, I notice that the electronic meetings can often suffer from the same dysfunctions as physical ones, and can substantially fail to exploit the benefits offered by a digital environment.

    Again, lectures being used solely to transmit information is essentially a medieval method. There are many other rationales for meeting for learning as a group in a physical space, and it is even possible to achieve high engagement in a large conventional lecture room. In this regard, some lecturers across the world including City already do require students to close their laptops. This is not a problem if it is a high-engagement session. However, if it is an information transmission session, students will simply find other ways to multi-task using analogue devices, reading papers, handwriting, doodling etc. The author seems unaware that students also have smartphones, so closing laptops does not (in a large lecture room) in itself eliminate the use of electronic devices. The suggestion to collect in mobile phones at the start of meetings is almost (given data protection issues) laughable.

    The key issue is learning or interaction design to achieve engagement (or not), rather than a one-size-fits-all set of rules about devices as suggested in this article.

    This article also ignores the possibility of REQUIRING use of electronic devices during a face-to-face learning event. We have used clickers and equivalent for some time for this purpose, and that technology is evolving to using existing devices for voting. However, Dr. Martin Rich and I have developed an approach for using Moodle in-class for text based inputs as well as surveys. This includes allocating students to virtual teams which can operate digitally for short periods in-classroom without necessitating any rearrangement of chairs or physical moving.

    It is also dangerous to assume students with devices are multi-tasking on something off-topic. Some students for whom English is not their first language are using translation software, for example. Last year a student showed me their note-taking method, which involved elaborate use of a tablet with stylus on top of the electronic lecture notes, with much drawing and even hyper-links.

    A bigger problem today is students taking too few notes. I don’t believe this is primarily related to lecture capture (which is not mentioned in the Trello article), as it is clearly double effort to have to listen to the lecture a second time. I think it is related to an over-reliance on digital support materials generally, and a lack of understanding (fuelled by high school systems internationally) on how the learner should use notes proactively to create their own knowledge as opposed to reproduce the knowledge of others.

    At a recent academic conference in a large lecture room, I tracked my own note taking:
    (1) I used my laptop to access the lecturer’s abstract plus other online materials and follow up quotations (in some cases this showed that the quotes they were using could not be verified via a quote checker). I could and did download some referenced articles from online databases.
    (2) I typed my own notes incorporating some slides (in this case I had to photo and transfer key images) along with my own comments and observations. Unlike as implied in the article, I only needed to capture the actual words of the speaker occasionally when those words had special significance. If the conference had had full papers available, very little of this would have been needed.

    I was not engaged much in eye contact with lecturers, but I was engaged with their ideas.

    Where we need productivity police, as suggested earlier, is to challenge the collusion that leads to over dependence on poorly planned and poorly led meetings and learning events. This is a strategic issue not a low-level technical one.

    While the content of the article can be and must be heavily challenged, it has been useful is stimulating debate about the way we design our communication and sharing systems both inside and outside education.

    1. Thanks Clive, I’m delighted the post generated a response, which was my intention. I agree the Trello piece is a bit binary. But the argument is relevant in terms of how we learn and communicate in terms of the wider impact of technology on us and our various ways of learning, processing and communicating. Best wishes

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