Laptops in meetings

By Murray Bourne, 09 Oct 2007

I always take my laptop to meetings. Most of the time I need to use it to display some example website we are talking about, or perhaps refer to a document from the institution's Intranet or maybe I will check the agenda for the meeting. I will also use it to take notes or send myself an email reminder about things I need to chase up later.

But in most meetings, there are slabs of time where the topic is not relevant to me and I grab the opportunity to clear some of my email inbox, which has inevitably grown since the meeting began.

A NYTimes article on this topic by Microsoft employee Dean Hachamovitch (general manager of Internet Explorer), Minding the Meeting, or Your Computer? refers to Microsoft's 7 Rules for Using Laptops in Meetings [PDF]:

1. Make sure there's a point. [in bringing a laptop]

2. Designate a laptop. [Appoint one laptop user only]

3. Be ready to explain why you've brought a laptop.

4. Use some discretion.

5. Turn down the bells and whistles.

6. When in doubt, leave them out.

7. Dissect your meetings. It may turn out that improper laptop use may merely be symptomatic of a greater concern.

Actually, there seems to be a lot of overlap in these 7 Points. I could summarise them as: "Bring a laptop to a meeting if there is a good reason to do so - and make sure it doesn't distract others."

Laptops and Effective Learning

It is the last of the 7 points I want to comment on, especially in relation to education. Our institution has a compulsory laptop program. All students need to buy a laptop when they enroll and the laptops are supposed to help the students' learning.

Of course, many students play multiplayer games and lecturers get upset when this occurs in lectures. My return comment is usually along the lines that if the lesson is engaging and learner-centred (rather than the delivery of some Powerpoint slides) then it is less likely that students will play games on their computers. Think of the wasted potential...

My point here is that it is the same situation as meetings. If the meeting is relevant and our opinion is being sought, we are unlikely to give our attention to the laptop. However, if we are being told stuff that is not relevant, it is better to spend the time efficiently. Our students make the same strategic decision.

Digital Immigrants

One of the characteristics of a digital immigrant is that they will do crazy things like print emails. Others will take minutes of meetings on paper and then spend hours typing up the minutes later. C'mon people, join the 21st century!

I will continue to take my laptop to meetings and use the tool - and the time - wisely.

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