Laptops, Be Gone! Law Prof. Makes the Case Against Classroom Laptop/WiFi Use

Professor Maureen A. Howard of the University of Washington School of Law writes in the Huffington Post that laptop use by students during class does more harm than good.  She refers to a new book by a former Google executive which suggests (to her) that:

 It turns out that we humans are pretty darned awful at multitasking. Our brains just aren’t designed to do multiple tasks simultaneously and do them well. This conclusion is supported by teachers like Professor Diane Sieber at University of Colorado who found that laptop “addicts” in class performed no better than students who didn’t attend class at all!

Professor Howard also takes on the popular argument advanced by the Let-Me-Keep-My-Laptop camp: it’s the teachers’ fault for not engaging us.  Her response: even if, so what?

Retorts to concerns of professors like Ian Ayres at Yale is that it is we professors who are to blame for not grabbing and keeping the attention of 21st Century students. This view was humorously endorsed by NYU law students (#5 U.S. law school per U.S. News& World Report) in a music video acknowledging widespread internet surfing during NYU law school classes. The not-so-implicit message is that professors are responsible for student frolic and detour during class because we are boring.


But much of day-to-day post-graduation life in law–or in any other profession–can be pretty darned boring. And it is career suicide, if not professional malpractice, to “zone out” or surf the web during a meeting/presentation/deposition/trial/surgery/real estate closing because the work isn’t as entertaining as a television reality show.

Our role as post-graduate educators should include mentoring students about post-graduate professional expectations and professional behaviors. Allowing students to surf the internet unrelated to class work hamstrings their ability to learn both substantive information and professional behavior needed for a smooth and successful transition into the post-graduation workforce. How well-received would a recently-graduated, newly-hired entry-level management trainee be if she started surfing eBay for Prada shoes in the middle of a monthly department meeting, no matter how boring the meeting? We are failing students if we tolerate mindless election of disposable entertainment over legitimate education in the classroom–because the behavior will not be tolerated after the diploma is awarded and the student is no longer paying the freight, but pulling in a paycheck.

The piece sometimes fails to distinguish between laptop use for taking notes and for surfing the Internet, although Prof. Howard may presume that Wi-Fi is going to be available inside a law school building, thus available in all classrooms.  (And strangely, she never flatly says that she wants laptops gone.)  In any case, it’s a thought-provoking piece that links to some other recent coverage of the fact that some higher-ed. professors – including those who embrace technology’s role in education – are increasingly coming down against laptops in the classroom.

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