“Banning Laptops in the Classroom: Is It Worth The Hassles?”
In the December 2007 Journal of Legal Education, Kevin Yamamoto published his aptly-titled piece (“Banning Laptops in the Classroom: Is It Worth The Hassles?,” describing his experiment with banning laptops in his upper-level classes. I suggest that all faculty members who have ever wondered whether laptops do more harm than good for the classroom experience read this article. I found it eye-opening. Ultimately, after careful analysis, Professor Yamamoto concluded that banning laptops in his tax class was a positive and beneficial exercise that a majority of his students supported, such that he planned to continue banning laptops.
I have also contemplated banning laptops in the classroom, for two main reasons. First, my experience leads me to believe that students who are transcribing classroom discussions are less engaged than students who are listening to the discussion and jotting down notes by hand. As a practical matter, it is very difficult to type everything a professor says while simultaneously processing what the professor is saying. Second, I am concerned that students who are surfing the ‘net or using their computers for purposes unrelated to the class are distracting those around them. When I have been asked to evaluate the teaching of my junior colleagues, I sit in the back of the classroom, and I find students who are overtly surfing the ‘net to be horribly distracting, with the flashing pages and such.
In addition, it is not a bad idea for students to maintain some proficiency with taking notes by hand. The reality is that lawyers in practice tend not to use laptops when taking notes at meetings with clients or deal conferences or depositions. My own recent experience as an expert witness confirms this. If we are brainstorming or preparing for testimony or some such, we all work with yellow pads. When I meet with clients, I sit face to face with them and take notes on paper, as opposed to opening my laptop, putting it between us, and tapping away with minimal eye contact.
That said, I have not yet gone so far as to ban laptops in class because I am concerned that there might be legitimate overriding reasons for using computers of which I am not aware. (Professor Yamamoto’s article works through some of the objections to banning laptops, which makes his article particularly good, but I imagine there might be more than he presents.)
It is ironic that we have come so far in this age of technology, yet sometimes the technology itself has downsides that outweigh the upsides. Perhaps other faculty members who have successfully banned laptops in the classroom will post their comments on this thread.