Tomasz Walenta

During a lecture early this semester, English 311 professor Lawrence Danson put aside the dilemma of Prince Hamlet to discuss a topic decidedly not Shakespearean — laptops.  

“I quite literally thought,” Danson said later, “let’s take the machine out from between us.”  

An increasing number of students bring laptops to class, saying that it helps them take notes more efficiently. But some faculty are expressing concern — not only about distractions like checking e-mail or Facebook, but about disrupting the classroom environment.  

“There’s something about typing on a laptop that puts students in a passive mode,” Danson said. “I’m thinking [aloud] to them, and I’d like my students to be thinking back.”

The Faculty Committee on the Course of Study discussed the issue in the fall and concluded that individual faculty should make their own decisions on laptop use, according to Peter Quimby, deputy dean of the college. Some have banned their use, he said, while others encourage laptops so that students can access course materials or other resources on the Web.

“What we are clear about is that faculty members have the authority to set limits that make sense to them, and should be actively engaged in conversations with students about the classroom environment,” Quimby said.  

While Danson discourages laptops during his lectures, he has stopped short of banning them. Brian Lesh ’12 is one of about 10 students in the class of about 70 who continue to use their laptops. “My laptop is really helpful when I need to find a term,” Lesh said, “and I don’t have to spend hours flipping through my sometimes- illegible notes.”  

Christina Gupfinger ’12 said she understands professors’ concerns, noting that in one of her larger lectures, “most of the students have computers and are playing games and [are] on Facebook.” Gupfinger said she brings her laptop to the Shakespeare class to try “to get down everything [Danson] says” because it will help her in preparing for the final exam.  

Danson said he would prefer, however, that students “just watch me trying to work with a passage of Shakespeare’s language, rather than taking down the specifics.”  

Added English 311 preceptor Catharine Diehl: “You search for recognition in students’ faces. It certainly doesn’t automatically happen if people aren’t using laptops, but they’re one thing that makes it harder to achieve.” 

By Isia Jasiewicz ’10

While most seniors spent their spring breaks typing away at their theses in cramped Firestone Library carrels, Xiaohang Quan ’09 traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to present findings from her thesis research at the annual meeting of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).  

Quan, a physics major from China, discovered a way to improve the algorithms of the hardware used to record data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, the world’s largest particle accelerator.  

“What I’ve found is a way to improve how one of the big CERN experiments chooses which data to record and which to throw away,” Quan explained, thus helping researchers analyze findings more efficiently. Her thesis examines the jet-selection criteria associated with the analysis of data from the LHC, which collides opposing particles in an attempt to re-create the condition of the universe immediately after the Big Bang.  

“I got interested in high-energy physics and particle colliders pretty early on from the various physics course I’ve taken,” Quan said. “The LHC is such a huge thing right now that I can’t help being interested in it.”  

Quan traveled to Geneva with physics professors Christopher Tully *98, James Olsen, and Daniel Marlow to discuss her research with designers of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, a project within the LHC that may detect dark-matter particles. Quan said she was “thrilled” to meet with experts in the field, many of whom, she added, were surprised to hear that she was an undergraduate.  

While Quan’s achievement attracted attention from the national media, she insisted that her findings are just “a normal part of the research cycle.”  

Tully, Quan’s thesis adviser, said that Quan is “one of the brightest undergraduates I have ever worked with,” and that he was excited to share her discovery with the CMS designers. “There are many young students who are able to make an important impact at the LHC, and there is increasing involvement of a new generation of great minds entering science,” he said.