Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 12, 2006

The War Over Student Use of Laptops and the Internet in Class

The Boston Globe has yet another story on the war over student use of laptops and Internet access in the classroom: Some Colleges Crack Down on Laptop Use in Classroom; Teachers Say It Distracts from Class Participation, by Cristina Silva:

Fed up with students surfing the Web and hiding behind laptop screens, more professors in Boston-area universities, as well as nationally, are banning the use of the Internet or laptops in class.  The move to ban laptops and Internet use has sparked a growing debate in academia about how far universities should go to restrict the use of technology in classrooms. Students, professors say, cannot learn as well if they are checking e-mail and instant messaging pals in class during lectures.

At Harvard Law School, professors are considering taking a faculty vote to ban laptops or Internet use in classrooms this fall....

"They are such distractions," said Harvard Law School professor Carol Steiker, who banned laptops for the first time in a class this spring. "The students end up looking at their screens, and they are not looking at each other."

Steiker decided to institute the ban because her class, Capital Punishment in America, had grown from a seminar of about 20 students to a lecture of 90, and she didn't want to walk into a room full of computer screens. She received few complaints, Steiker said, and debate in class was so lively that she is now considering banning laptops in her other classes.

I agree with the concluding quote in the story from Steve Jones, a senior research fellow for the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

If colleges attempt to shut down their own Internet network, students can log on through another provider, he said. Jones said it would be easier if professors embraced technology and opted to help students become more technologically savvy.

As I have shamelessly noted before (here, here and here), I have written about how law school faculty can use technology to counter the deleterious effect of in-class student use of laptops and the Internet in Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 551 (2004).  For New York Times coverage of my use of this technology in class, see here and here.

For video proof of the misuse of laptops in the law school classroom, see this law student playing Tetris on his laptop during class:

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