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Laptop Bans in Law School, Part II

Once again, the debate on whether law professors should ban laptops in class, which I discussed here a year ago, has returned to the blogosphere, precipitated by this opinion piece in the Washington Post by Georgetown law professor David Cole.   Cole writes that after too many requests from inattentive students cruising the Internet or IM'ing during class, he decided to ban laptops from the classroom.

Cole's editorial has drawn plenty of comments at Above the Law, WSJ Law Blog and Prawfs Blawg.  Comments are mixed.  Some oppose Cole's position as overly paternalistic or that students ought to have enough self-discipline to listen in class without a laptop ban.  Others argue that notetaking by laptop saves time, particularly at the end of the year and that many can't read their own notes.  But other commenters (as well as this UVA law student) feel that laptop use harms other students who don't surf by breaking the flow of discourse in class and creating distraction. A middle approach that would likely gather consensus is to allow laptops in class, but cut out wireless.

When I blogged on this topic a year ago, I agreed with Maule's position, that Internet access and laptops should be allowed in class to teach students to keep themselves from tempting distractions.  But now, I have second thoughts. As the Internet becomes more and more integrated into our lives, we're often not aware of the distraction. We think that we'll return an e-mail or two, not recognizing that after the five-minute interruption to send the e-mail, we need 25 minutes to get back on track.  We believe that we're working productively, drafting a brief and returning those e-mails, but it's not until we turn off our phones, shut off the e-mail and hunker down on the brief that we really recognize our productivity.

My point here with regard to students is that many who have grown up with technology simply don't recognize its intrusiveness. Many genuinely do not realize the difference between the level of attention that one can give to a class without sending IM messages or watching snippets of a sports game. That's something they need to learn, just as law students learn in legal research classes that sometimes, LEXIS doesn't have all the answers and you need to consult a good old-fashioned treatise. And the best way for students to learn what it means to focus is for professors to make classrooms a safe haven from the intrusion of white noise (laptops should still be permitted for notetaking), so that students will come to appreciate that sanctity and recreate it for themselves during their legal career.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 10, 2007 at 05:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)


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