Laptops in the Classroom

In a Washington Post column, Georgetown Law Professor David Cole writes about his decision to ban laptops from his classroom. Many of the arguments are familiar. Students take notes on laptops instead of engaging the class discussion. They surf the internet or message friends. They distract others from the class. Professor Cole also adds one new twist. He apparently surveyed his students, and they have come to like the laptop-free environment.

I have never favored banning laptops, even though I have colleagues who think we should remove the Internet (or at least have it turned off) inside classrooms. I prefer to let students make their own choices about how they learn best (one administrator has suggested to me that there are possible student accommodation issues for certain learning disabilities). If they want to tune out, it’s their prerogative, and I haven’t noticed class discussions being any different than they were pre-laptop. That having been said, Professor Cole’s evidence that his students like the laptop-free class is interesting and food for thought.

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3 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    There’s also a post on this by Rick Garnett over at PrawfsBlawg

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    There’s also a post on this by Rick Garnett over at PrawfsBlawg

  3. Anonymous 1L says:

    Ironically, I read this in class and now feel the need to post about it. I’m against the laptop ban. I tried it. My new year’s resolution this year was “no more screwing around on the internet in class.”

    The first day I showed up with a legal pad. I doodled and took less notes than normal. This wasn’t going to work.

    The second day I showed up with my laptop, but with the wireless card off. No internet whatsoever, just me and microsoft word. That, surprisingly, was even less productive. I have no idea why. I would be too engaged in the conversation to look down at my laptop, or too engaged in note-taking to engage in conversation.

    By the second week of class I was on the internet, but no instant messaging. This is probably the best scenario. I can pay attention when I want or when I get called on, but I also have something to briefly distract me (like, say, concurring opinions or anonymous lawyer) if the class hits a lull. I particularly find myself losing focus when the student being questioned isn’t totally prepared. The prof is just trying to force answers out of them, and the collective class groans. While they’re in their own little world, I can kind of zone out and come back when we’re back on topic. I actually find it helpful.

    The jury is still out on instant messaging in class. I’ll make a conservative estimate that 50% of the class uses it. It can be very helpful. A quick “what did he just say?” or “what does that say on the board?” to a classmate is a lot easier than (a) raising your hand and asking or (b) sitting there trying to figure it out for 10 minutes. It can, however, degenerate very quickly into conversations that have nothing to do with class. If properly managed it can be a pretty efficient means of intra-class communication. The problem is that it’s tough to stay on topic.

    I don’t know how these things ebb and flow with different generations. For example, the current crop of 1L’s that went straight from college to law school is somewhere in the 22-23 year old age range. We have been using instant messaging and e-mail as a primary form of communication since we were 14. It’s just the way we operate. I just wish that I could keep my conversations to class-related material rather than critiques of the professor’s wardrobe and making weekend plans.

    We are, for all intensive purposes, grown ups. There are a handful of students who choose to come to class without laptops, and that’s their perogative. Let us choose.