The Laptop-Free Zone

 

“The Laptop-Free Zone”

Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 43, 2009

JANA R. MCCREARY, Florida Coastal School of Law

This new article, “The Laptop-Free Zone,” addresses the hotly debated issue of laptops in law school classroom; those debates are ongoing on countless blogs, on NPR, in national newspapers, and across law school campuses. This article reports and analyzes the data collected through an IRB-approved survey of almost 450 law school students at three different law schools regarding the students’ views of laptops and reported distractions caused by laptops. To provide context, the article also addresses the current arguments against laptops, negating those points as being outweighed by the proper and beneficial use of laptops. Additionally, the article provides information to be considered in teaching adults and to different learning styles, namely, global and analytic learners, and how those concerns are matters to consider in the laptop debate.

According to the survey results, 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. Accordingly, based on the learning style information and my survey results, I suggest that laptops not be banned from law school classrooms. Instead, I argue that 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.

As a surprise to me, the survey also showed that many students make the decision to give up their laptop after experiencing attending a class without one, noting they would not have been willing to go through such an experience by their own decision. However, once they experience not using a laptop in the law school classroom environment, they often change their method of taking notes and report improved learning and classroom experiences. Accordingly, I also suggest that instead of banning laptops, we provide beginning students with only a week or two of a laptop ban at some time during the first semester of school. This compromise will serve the interest of the most students most effectively, respecting them as adults while providing supportive guidance to their own decisions about their learning environment.

 

 Source: LSN Educator: Courses, Materials & Teaching Vol. 4 No. 23, 10/24/2008

Unloading Information Overload

L. Gordon Crovitz’s Information Age column in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Unloading Information Overload,” cites the Atlantic Monthly article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, cites a new book, “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age” by Maggie Jackson, and quotes the dean at the University of Chicago Law School thusly:

The University of Chicago Law School blocks Internet access from classrooms; the dean said, “One student will visit a gossip site or shop for shoes, and within 20 minutes an entire row is shoe shopping.”

Laptop bans – not just for law students only, but legislators too.

Earlier I wrote about law school laptop bans.  The Legal Blog Watch brought this item to my attention:

Bhutan MPs in computer game ban 
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta 

Parliament in Bhutan has banned its members from bringing laptops to work – to stop them playing computer games.

Law School Laptop Bans

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a front-page story Law Professors Rule Laptops Out of Order in Class which reports on new laptop use policies or procedures at the University of Chicago; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Michigan; Florida International; Georgetown; Harvard; and the University of Wisconsin.  Recently, in an editorial in the Stanford Daily, students themselves asked the university to “Consider limiting wireless access in class.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education piece discusses the pros and cons of various policies and also the technical difficulty of effecting a ban.  It quotes several law professors, including David Cole from Georgetown who offers this interesting observation:

Several weeks into one of his law classes last year, he asked the students what they thought of the ban, letting them respond anonymously. Roughly three-quarters of the students said they favored a no-laptop policy. And 95 percent said they had used their machines for purposes other than taking notes.