Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Still More on the Law School Laptop Wars

Laptop_6 Interesting article in today's Chicago Tribune:  E-slacking: It's Laptop Over Lecture: When Classes Are Less Than Riveting, Graduate Students Are Jumping Online to Shop and E-mail. But Some Professors Are Fighting Back, by Jodi S. Cohen:

As professor John Decker reviewed bail guidelines and other criminal procedures one recent evening, some students in his DePaul University College of Law class had other things on their minds. One shopped on eBay for Cirque du Soleil tickets. Another switched between checking her e-mail and Fox News headlines. And, from the back of the room, a 24-year-old White Sox fan refreshed his screen to see whether the team was still ahead of the Pirates.

With universities rapidly installing wireless networks, Internet surfing has taken the place of the crossword puzzle as the most popular classroom distraction. Some professors are so fed up, however, that they're barring laptops or finding ways to shut off the wireless network capabilities in their classrooms. Bruce Ottley, another DePaul law professor, hasn't taken it that far, but his syllabus contains a stern warning: "If you do bring a laptop computer to class, it is to be used EXCLUSIVELY for taking notes," the syllabus reads. "Students found to be using their laptops in class to surf the Internet, to send or receive e-mails, or for other non-class-related purposes will be required to leave and will not be permitted to return for the remainder of the class."...

At the University of Michigan Law School, students don't have that choice--a computer system blocks them from being able to access the Internet during their scheduled class times. Some students get around the system by borrowing the account names and passwords of students who aren't in class at the same time....

At the University of Chicago Law School, professor Randy Picker has no intention of banning laptops or Internet access. About 90 percent of his students bring computers to class, and he encourages them to use the university's wireless connection to pull up his PowerPoint slides or research a topic raised during class discussion. "Obviously the Web is something of a distraction, but there are a lot of distractions," Picker said. "My job is to make them want to pay more attention to me than what is on the screen."

(Hat Tip:  Howard Bashman.)  Shameless plug:  In a recent article, Rafael Gely and I take Prof. Picker's approach and argue that law faculty should enlist new technology (wireless handheld transmitters) to keep students engaged in the classroom. Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 311 (2004). For New York Times coverage of the use of this technology in law schools, see here.

For prior TaxProf Blog coverage of the law school laptop wars, see:

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