Rhetoric Analysis


Nicholas Barbera

Professor Jackman

English 503

21 September 2017


The Ineffective use of Technology in Education

Attending college in 2017 gives students access to many different types of technologies that were never available to previous generations. This technology is designed to increase a student’s ability to learn and understand information. It may seem that these technologies are helping us to be better students, but Cindi May argues that it is hindering performances in and outside of class. In the article published by Scientific American, A Learning Secret: Don’t take Notes with a Laptop, May uses persuasive strategies such as logos and ethos to effectively convince the audience that taking notes on a laptop can have a negative effect on the student’s ability to learn.

As technology advances and begins to slowly take over every aspect of our lives, naturally our dependence on it continues to grow. These advancements of technology play a massive role in the evolution of the classroom. Normally, we view the adaptation of technology in schools as a positive thing—but that isn’t how Cindi May sees it. Cindi May is a professor of psychology at the College of Charleston. Her job is to explore mechanisms for optimizing cognitive function in college students, adults, and individuals with disabilities. She is also a director for a TPSID grant from the department of education. Her entire life is dedicated to understanding what works best in the classroom. This makes May an extremely credible source. In her article A Learning Secret: Don’t take Notes with a Laptop, May argues why the use of technology can hinder the performance of learning. She sees the adaptation of technology by college students as an ineffective way to retain information. Even though students may record more information with a laptop or tablet, they aren’t actually retaining a good portion of what they type. Students who write out their information short-hand have a much better understanding of what they were just taught. May argues that this issue needs to be addressed before our generation falls behind.

            In her article, A Learning Secret: Don’t take Notes on a Laptop, May argues that taking notes on a laptop can have a negative effect on the student’s ability to learn. May uses her professional credentials as an appeal to ethos. In a separated paragraph, May lists off her professional achievements which gives her credibility about the claims she is making to the audience. The broadness of her experiences with adults, students, and individuals with disabilities makes her a trustworthy source. Her background in education makes her an extremely credible source to the audience. In the article May states, “Learning involves more than the receipt and the regurgitation of information.  If we want students to synthesize material, draw inferences, see new connections, evaluate evidence, and apply concepts in novel situations, we need to encourage the deep, effortful cognitive processes that underlie these abilities” (May 2). By stating this in her article, May demonstrates what kind of character she is. Her passion and dedication to implementing effective methods to education are reflected here, and makes her a respectable source. By establishing a professional credibility, Cindi May makes an effective appeal to ethos which makes her claims trustworthy.

One of May’s biggest points in this article is that more isn’t always better. By addressing the cost and benefit of using a laptop for note taking, she is appealing to logos. “Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture.  Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information” (May 2). Even though students that were taking notes on the laptop could type more, it didn’t necessarily mean they understood what they were writing. The students who wrote short-hand wrote less, but understood the information from the lecture. This is the cost and benefit scenario May references. She is creating a easily relatable fact that her audience can understand.

Another way May appeals to ethos is by naming top US schools in which supporting research was conducted. May states that, “Mueller and Oppenheimer assessed the content of notes taken by hand versus laptop.  Their studies included hundreds of students from Princeton and UCLA, and the lecture topics ranged from bats, bread, and algorithms to faith, respiration, and economics” (May 3). It is important to note that these two schools are a central hub for psychology studies. By linking her topic to research that was conducted at top institutes, such as Princeton and UCLA, she gains much more credibility from her audience.

Cindi May’s most effective persuasive strategy is her appeal to logos. Throughout her article, she references research done by Mueller and Oppenheimer, who are world-renowned psychologists, to support her claims. Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop. These are the processes that ultimately effect whether or not a person can comprehend what they are taught. This theory is backed up by two major studies conducted on real college students in a lecture hall. When May includes these two researchers, and the conclusions they’ve made, she furthers her credibility to the audience.

May uses numbers and percentages to support her claim that using a laptop to take notes has a negative impact on the students’ ability to learn. Again, she is appealing to logos in her argument. In the article, May states, “…40% of class time using applications unrelated to coursework…nearly 90% of laptop users engaged in online activities unrelated to coursework…and roughly 60% were distracted for half the class” (May 5). These are real numbers that top researchers have come up with. By quoting actual percentages regarding the misuse of technology during class time, May creates a factual basis that the audience can understand.

            Unlike many other argument based articles that are trying to legitimize a claim through emotion and feeling, May’s article skips over this. It is difficult to convey pathos in an article published by a scientific company. This company, Scientific American, is focused on bringing factual information to the audience. This often means feelings and emotions are kept out of the main points. May’s claims might be more appealing to her audience if she went this route, but her target audience isn’t expecting a pathos appeal. Her claim that using a laptop is an ineffective way for students to learn has better credibility if she states factual information instead of emotional context.

The advancement of technology is imminent, and so is its adoption by students and classrooms.

We live in a unique time in history where we are faced with the decision of adopting certain technologies to help us advance our educations. If students and teachers are unaware of the negative effects laptops and tables have on education, it may put our generation at a disadvantage. Cindi May’s use of logos and ethos to convey to the audience that technology such as laptops and tablets are hindering student’s ability to learn, is an extremely effective way to compel the audience.










Works Cited

May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don't Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American,             www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-wi....



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