Georgetown Law Prof Blasts Laptops in the Classroom as Bad for Learning

by Reads (2,775)

Not only do many students like having laptops in college these days, at many places it is required. Checkout a recent article in the University of Virginia school newspaper titled Laptop Dependent where a student journalist interviews other students to find out how they depend on laptops. Among reasons cited as to how students depend on laptops are:

  • Checking email constantly to keep up with organizations and classes a student is involved in
  • Ability to move around and have all of your work in one place
  • No need to depend on library computers for doing research while at the library
  • Checking email and weather on a laptop (often while still in bed) is the first thing most students do when they get up in the morning
  • Doing homework while staying online and chatting with friends
  • Taking notes in class

And the list goes on of course.

Some people at Georgetown such as Professor David Cole have no love for laptops

In fact, David Cole, Professor of law at Georgetown University, discussed in a Washington Post op ed recently his reasons for banning laptops in the classroom (even though Georgetown requires incoming law students to have a laptop and the campus is wireless). His list of arguments in favor of doing away with laptops during class are:

  • Students taking notes turn into stenographers and not thinkers as they just try to write down everything the professor says.
  • Students are using laptops to chat, check sports scores, "buy shoes" or do other non-learning related web surfing. This can distract students nearby or the professor who knows it’s going on.
  • When students are more engaged in their laptops and taking notes, there is less give and take in the classroom, which is important to a law education in particular.
  • According to the professor: "Taking notes the old-fashioned way, by hand, is so much slower, one actually has to listen, think and prioritize the most important themes."

The Prof goes on to say that he understands the temptation of checking email, and that even while writing his article he got distracted and checked email "at least a dozen times." So it seems the only cure for the Internet addiction he admits to having is to simply refrain from having web access.

As a test, Cole banned all laptops from the classroom, but allowed two students to type notes on their laptops that could be shared with the class as a whole. He claims that after doing this and then conducting an anonymous survey the following results were found:

  • 80% of students felt they were more engaged in class discussion without a laptop
  • 70% said that overall they like the no laptop policy
  • 95% admitted that when they had a laptop they used it for purposes "other than taking notes".

Cole concludes that "The personal computer has revolutionized our lives, in many ways for the better. But it also threatens to take over our lives. At least for some purposes, unplugging may still be the best response."


So what do you think, should students be able to do as they please in the classroom by having a laptop (they are paying to be there after all) or is Professor Cole doing them a favor by banning laptops?



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