Friday, March 4, 2011
Law professors have struggled with the issue of laptops in the classroom since students started bringing laptops to class almost fifteen years ago. Some believe they are a powerful educational tool while others believe that they inhibit learning. Many balance these competing thoughts when deciding how to handle the issue; some decide to ban laptops altogether.
What has troubled me about this debate is that both sides make arguments based on untested assumptions about student laptop use and without taking account of existing knowledge about today’s law student learners. Thus, I decided to survey law students about how they use their laptops to support their learning. The results, when combined with knowledge about how today’s law students learn, show that many of our assumptions are incorrect and that laptops provide a tremendous opportunity to enhance student learning in an age of changing classroom dynamics.
Thus, I conclude that law professors should allow students to use laptops in lecture courses. In the article, I analyze five assumptions that arise in the laptop debate — what I call “laptop myths.” I first set forth the arguments commonly made in the laptop debate. I then provide background on generational research, including the modern law student’s relationship with technology. I then summarize my survey and use the survey data and learning theory to challenge some of the assumptions that underlie the laptop debate. Ultimately, I conclude that students’ self-directed learning makes good use of laptops and therefore laptops should not be completely banned from law school classrooms. Finally, I offer some thoughts and examples of alternatives to all-out laptop bans.