Laptops in the Law Classroom?


Recently at the end of an exam, a student had trouble uploading her answer sheet.  I noticed that she didn’t have wireless Internet access setup on her computer.  When I asked her why, she replied that she didn’t want to be tempted to not pay attention during class.

 This also reminded me of the time a professor asked me to walk around the room while he was teaching to see how many students were on the Internet instead of paying attention to him.

So should laptops be allowed during class? 

 The First Movers blog offers a student view in response to Prof. Dorf’ at Columbia Law’s policy of discouraging laptop use.  According to this policy, “if (Prof. Dorf) notice(s) someone using a laptop or other device for a forbidden purpose, he or she will lose the use of the laptop for the duration of class that day; repeat offenders will lose the use of the laptop in class for the duration of the semester.”  Other reasons for not using laptops are cited in Sherry Colb’s article.  In fact, the  University of Michigan Law School , UCLA Law, University of Virginia Law and many professors at other law schools are blocking wireless Internet access to students in class.  Here is a list of many articles and blogs about banning laptops in law school.

All of the articles have valid points on how laptop/Internet use distracts students during class and why they should be turned off.

According to Paul Caron at the University of Cincinnati Law,  the use of clickers “cuts down on the amount of in-class instant messaging and Web browsing by students with laptops.”   One student states in a blog post: “penalizing those of us who know how to use a laptop as a tool, not as a crutch isn’t the answer. This isn’t high-school; we’re all students in law school by choice and we should be allowed to choose the method in which we take notes. If that method fails, it fails no one but ourselves.” 

This seems to point to the fact that it is the professor’s task to engage his/her students during class and that it is the students’ responsibilty to resist the temptation of computer gaming and web surfing. 

Besides, we have spent a lot of money to enable wide spread use of computers and wireless access to the Internet in the law school classrooms. How can we justify turning them off?

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