Yes, there are lockers. Sure, professors put you in a “corner” of humiliation if you fail their Socratic assault. Coloring time is back—only this time it involves different shades of highlighter. And certainly gossip and cliques are in full force—how else do you expect law students to de-stress?
But despite all of these signs, law school is not kindergarten, it’s not middle school and it’s not high school. It’s a professional education that many law students pay 15,000,000 pretty pennies (or so) for. Law school is an investment, and how a person chooses to maximize or waste that investment should be a personal decision.
So why is it that some law schools and law professors want to restrict laptop use in classrooms? This conversation isn’t a new one—it was buzzing around when I was a law student, and it’s the topic of a new paper by Temple University Law School professor Kristen Murray: "Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom." Murray’s study was based on a survey of 177 law students at Temple Law School and George Washington Law School.
In discussing Murray’s paper, the National Law Journal cites three reasons why law schools may seek to ban laptops in the classroom:
1.Students are more apt to take transcription-like notes with laptops.
2.Laptops diminish participation.
3.Laptops distract law students from class.
I understand that professors want students to pay attention and actually learn a few things in class, rather than zoning out with the Web. But law students are adults, and they should be able to decide how to utilize their class time and how to take notes (if they want to type everything the professor says, let them—they paid for it). Will some students abuse laptops and spend the entire class watching a movie or playing Scrabble? Yes. Will other students use the laptop to take notes and refer to their homework notes? Yes.
If you want students to participate more, include class participation as part of the grade or implement random, bone-chilling Socratic questioning (sure to keep students on their toes and queasy). If you want to discourage transcription, encourage tape recorders. But don’t break out your paternalism card and dictate how a bunch of adults should be using their time and taking their notes. If a law student is foolish enough to waste entire class periods on the Internet, that’s his or her problem. But I think you’ll find that most law students—while they may occasionally check their email, quickly check some headlines or use the Web to research issues being discussed in class—are paying attention and using their laptops to efficiently take notes.
So when it comes to the laptop debate, I’m with Murray when she says, "Laptops should be a welcome addition to law school classrooms because they can provide substantial educational benefits to today's law students."
Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom
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