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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Law Schools Consider the Laptop or in-class-internet Ban

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
Go to Comments | 4 Comments

Law schools have been wrestling with the following scenario for a while now -

The students sit in class, tapping away at their laptops as the boring old law professor mechanically plods through his lecture. Except one. Instead of hunching over a portable computer or a notebook, he’s playing solitaire with a deck of cards on his desk. The professor halts his droning. “What are you doing?” he demands. The student shrugs. “My laptop is broken,” he says.

Inside Higher Ed: Hey, You! Pay Attention!

LOLcat - Im on ur laptop, bannin its internets
Photo: Gillicious; with apologies for the LOLcat, surely this trend has run its course but I couldn’t resist.

As internet-addicted as I am, I probably come down on an unexpected side of this issue. Theoretically there’s nothing wrong with internet access in class, but in my experience it’s an annoying distraction and I wish more of my professors got rid of it. In fact, I wish more of them banned laptops in class entirely. While I certainly wouldn’t force anyone to get a legal education, I’m tired of sitting through classes filled with student-zombies who haven’t yet figured out that there’s really no such think as multi-tasking, just dividing ones attention between multiple things, thereby managing to do all of them poorly.

Only one of my professors so far has seen fit to implement a full-on laptop ban. It remains one of my favorite classes in one of my least favorite subjects (no small feat there) and the model for how I think law school classes should be conducted. He had a paper-notes-only policy and I actually found I enjoyed the class more and was forced to prepare in a more effective manner. When ones name was called there was nothing but ones book and ones brain. As a result I prepared as methodically as I knew how to for every class, recited my case briefs in the car on the way to school and knew that even this level of preparation would only get me through the first few questions before he would ask me something I never would anticipate. Then I would have to think on my feet, so I had to know the material well enough to give myself something to work with. My prof had no problem implementing his laptop ban. He proclaimed. We obeyed. Simple enough.

The across the board internet-access-in-the-classroom ban Chicago recently implemented on the other hand seems lackluster and possibly even counter-productive -

Late last month, as students returned from spring break, the University of Chicago Law School announced that Internet access would be blocked from classrooms. While individual professors at law schools have created policies banning laptops or allowing them only for specific uses — and while some colleges don’t even have classroom Internet access, or mandate classroom-only use without any enforcement — the move by Chicago appears to be the first institution-wide directive of its kind. Already, there’s been an uproar among students and even senior administrators, while some law professors have stepped up to defend the policy.

So I just thought of about 8 different ways to circumvent that, as did, I’m sure, most of the bright law students at Chicago -

Not surprisingly, many students don’t hold the same view, and most who responded to requests for comment did not want to be quoted by name. “Surfing the Web was widespread in class, but to be honest, class discussion hasn’t changed much since the ban,” wrote one in an e-mail. “People now play chess, solitaire or just go through their pictures in class.” Another suggested that some students even save Web pages to their hard drives to read later in class.

In other words, rather than fixing anything, the policy is an invitation for students to invest in circumvention measures, taxing an already busy student body with yet another unnecessary hurdle.

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4 Responses

  1. Salmon Chase says:

    I made it through law school with flying colors, passed the bar without the use of barbri… and if I hadn’t had the internet in class, I probably would have gone crazy.

  2. [...] 1: Figure 2: Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Schools Reconsider Laptops as Educational [...]

  3. Sherry says:

    I honestly don’t know what I would have done the last few years without the Internet in class. I still have a high ranking (top 5%)…it’s just that some professors and/or topics are just boring beyond belief. I’ve heard of one professor at our school who doesn’t allow laptops, and I’m fully committed to avoiding any of his classes if at all possible!

  4. lukegilman says:

    I really don’t think paying attention in (or even attending) class has much of any effect on grades. My complaint is just that it brings down the overall interestingness of the class due to the collective drag on attention.

    It’s sort of a tragedy of the commons issue perhaps; as long as I’m the only one surfing instead of paying attention in class there’s little harm and it’s a net benefit for me (‘net’ get it? sorry…) but when everyone starts surfing we turn into a bunch of drones and people start dropping the ball in the class discussion. If the class is painfully boring anyway I suppose this wouldn’t matter.

    One benefit of laptops/internet that I did enjoy were the giant chat rooms we used to set up 1st year. That way HypoMan could dominate the discussion all he wanted and the rest of us could still have an intelligent discussion of the issues.

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