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Laptops in the Classroom Distract Non-Users More Than Users

To be, or not to be laptop free in the classroom?  That is a question that has raged throughout the blogosphere for the past few years.  Most of the discussion has centered on whether students who use laptops in class are distracted from the learning process by e-mail or online surfing. 

Turns out, however, that the greatest danger from laptops in the classroom isn't distraction to the users, but rather to non-users, at least according to this recent article, "The Laptop-Free Zone" by Jana McCreary of Florida Coastal School of Law (H/T Legal Theory Blog).  McCreary reports that a survey of 450 law students at three different law schools showed that:

students who do not use a laptop are overwhelmingly more likely to be distracted by others' laptops than students who are using their own laptops. In other words, yes, laptops cause distractions, but that primarily affects students who are not using a laptop.

At the same time, even though many students are bothered by laptop use, McCreary suggests a balancing approach, rather than an outright ban.  She writes:

professors must do their best to teach to all students - to those who feel they learn best by using a laptop as an aid and to those who complain of the distractions caused. I do this by implementing a laptop-free zone, restricting the first or first few rows in my classrooms to no laptops. This creates an area where students who are distracted by neighboring screens and nearby typing are free (as possible without an all-out ban) from those distractions. Further, doing so still respects those students who have learned to use a laptop as an educational tool.

I'm not quite sure how students who are distracted by laptops will have the ability to function in real world situations.  These days, most lawyers take computers to court, to depositions and settlement conferences.   If law students can't focus on the professor because a flashy computer screen (I'm assuming that students are required to silence the sound) or keyboarding noise bothers them, how are they going to manage in the real world?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 13, 2008 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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