My principal asked me this question the other day in response to teacher complaints about students burying their heads in laptops during class. We don't, of course. I actively encourage students to bring in their own laptops to supplement our computing facilities. However, if teachers have an issue with student laptop use in class, they should tell students to close their laptops, right? There's your policy.
Several teachers in the Fresno Unified School District were concerned that the recent introduction of 1000 Asus Eee computers into the classroom would be disruptive:
There are also mixed feelings among educators. Stephen Lewis, a geology professor at California State University, Fresno, thinks laptops are a useful tool, but they can also hinder the teaching process -- he often sees students with their heads buried in their laptops instead of paying attention to a lecture.
"Teaching and learning is a person-to-person business. Are we moving toward a remote-control classroom?" Lewis said.
At the university level, this definitely presents a challenge, where student autonomy tends to be a core value. However, at the K-12 level, when it's not laptop time, it's not laptop time. Ideally, teachers have sufficient authority to have students break out their laptops when it adds to the classroom experience and put them away when they should be engaged in lecture or discussion.
Calculators get put away as needed, classes don't go to the computer lab or library when they don't need to, and teachers don't always use LCD projectors, smartboards, or interactive devices for quizzing and tests. In the same way, for K-12 at least, teachers can and should decide when laptops add value, whether they are supplied by the school or by the students themselves.
I don't believe that there are too many teachers out there who don't believe that a computer can be an asset in class, even if the teachers lack the training or experience to use them effectively (there's another issue entirely). However, even I, geeky teacher that I am, know that there is a time and a place for everything. Policy, shmolicy...I'm the teacher and I can close a laptop lid as easily as I can confiscate a cell phone.
The answer, though, is not to ban them from classes and lectures to prevent distractions. Students need to understand how to balance the educational, professional, and entertainment value of technology tools and there is no better place to learn that than in the classroom.