Revolt Against the High-Tech Classroom?

Photo by Iain Buchanan

In Law Technology News this week there was an article discussing the use of laptops in law schools that caught our collective eye. According to the article, a paper written by a Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law professor Kristen Murray “concluded that laptops actually can enhance the educational experience — and suggests educators think twice about banning them.”

What was surprising about the article was not necessarily that a growing number of students brought laptops to lecture or even how they used them in class- whether it is to verify answers, take notes, or Facebook chat. Five minutes with any twenty something would be able to testify to the trend. It was the suggestion that there was a trend of professors banning the devices in the classroom. Only a few years ago law students would not dare show up to class without their laptop. Many schools required first year students to have them. PowerPoint lecture presentations from professors were becoming the rule, not the exception, and many departments were providing lectures online for later viewing.

Apparently, the backlash has been building for some time. According to a Washington Post article professors have banned laptops from their classrooms at George Washington University, American University, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia. One professor at Georgetown Law had banned them from class as early as the 2006-2007 academic year. The feeling being that they offer too many distractions for the user as well as the students around them. Professors also fear that students merely type without thinking about what it is that is being said- a familiar complaint that has not been limited to the laptop.

Murray wrote in “Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom” that “laptops should be a welcome addition to law school classrooms because they can provide substantial educational benefits to today’s law students.”

Plenty of professors still allow laptops. According to the Washington Post Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies and law at U-Va., senses a losing battle. “In an era of iPhones and BlackBerrys, Internet-ready cell phones have become just as prevalent in classrooms as laptops, and equally capable of distraction.”

“If students don’t want to pay attention, the laptop is the least of your problems,” he said.

What do you think? Do laptops in class do more harm than good?

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