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October 04, 2010


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Howard Wasserman

One drawback to the plan is that the professor (who already does not want to do any more grading than she has to) now has to at least read a whole bunch of additional papers. If she doesn't read them and the students know/suspect that, then the incentive to do any real work on the extra papers disappears. Plus, the laptop seat is going to be earned only on a *promise* of writing the papers--what if the student does not follow through.

The other question goes to your final premise: Is turning off the wireless really an option? At least in our building (and I suspect most others), the wireless is building-wide, not classroom-by-classroom. It is impossible to turn off the wireless in any one classroom; there always is a wireless the computer could find (which is why I can get wireless in my office, in the hallway, in a classroom, or in my colleague's office). Or am I misunderstanding the technology?

Dan Filler

Howard, the technology issue I'm referring to is exactly that: once you have wireless in the building, it's very hard to turn it off in selected classrooms. (But I've heard that some schools - including UCLA - have managed to do so.)

Stew Young

I reserved the right to ban laptops if class participation dropped too much for my taste - all at my discretion. I had no complaints from the class for that "threat" and class participation has been great. As I started using powerpoint in my class, I was worried that giving out the powerpoints would drop class attendance. But, I also found that if I gave out the powerpoints then the use of laptops actually decreased. So, I now give out the powerpoint at the end of the week. But, I also use the NFL blackout policy - if class attendance drops below 97%, I don't give out the powerpoint slides for that particular class. It has worked out really well.


Let's see, Dan and Stew, who pays your bleeping salary? Oh, that's right, my tuition (not to mention my taxes). And whose private property is the laptop? Why that would be mine. Oh, and as for turning off the wireless? That's what I have a Verizon aircard for. Going to try to jam the frequencies?

My experience through undergraduate and Master's programs was that the worst professors had the most draconian class attendance policies -- glad to see you continue that tradition.


Love the idea.

Jusuchin (Military Otaku)

SDN: You went to school expecting to learn. Not surf the web. You obviously didn't consider their suggestions. Rights and privileges must be earned, never handed out. Same goes for regulations, there must be a specific reason for em. And they did offer counter offers and frankly, with our generation still not getting over the 'me and only me' crap, I give props to them finding a way to cut our generation to size.

If you don't want to earn a grade, don't go to class. Stay in your local Starbucks and surf the net. Besides, penmanship has gone down in recent years. This might b incentive to either write better or have an eye in deciphering a squiggly line that somewhat resembles a word.

Aaron Worthing

Geez, the whining on this issue is stunning. i used laptops all through undergrad and law school. i was entitled to, under the ADA. i never harmed anyone's ability to concentrate.

Really, if me checking the news in class harms someone's ability to concentrate, something else was bound to get them. A woman in a low cut dress... a unique T-shirt... someone's doodles... something...

as for the fear that kids will just write everything down... or maybe people will spend less time writing, because they can write faster and thus they can devote more of their attention to listening than writing.

How about this for a change? Treat us like adults. We spend alot of money to be there. We know how we learn better than anyone. Especially in law school where any schmuck with a J.D. is qualified to be a professor, the claim that the professors know better so they can say that 100% of the class is worse off with laptops is just silliness.


I'd just like to point out for the people who want to use a laptop because it saves them significant amounts of ever-so-precious time, and without that time saving they would likely struggle to finish their work at all (e.g., because they read slow but don't actually have a disability requiring accommodation, or because of non-school obligations, or for any other reason, really), your so-called solution is instead a kick in the teeth.

Pardon me if I find the solution unsatisfactory for the blatantly obvious "fairness" reasons. People who most desire to be *able* to pay are, by the very nature of your auction, the ones *least* able to participate.

The assumption that people wanting to use laptops during class want it for web-browsing purposes is, quite simply, flat out wrong.


SDN and Aaron's attitude is one that unfortunately we see more often these days. Rather understandable given the high tuition and all, but still very badly reasoned. If you think you are "entitled" to do whatever you want because the professor is somehow indebted to you for their salary, then logically you would also be entitled to not prepare for class, not answer questions, and not take exams. And if you think that the professor cannot know better than you because "any schmuck with a J.D. is qualified to be a professor," then why are you taking classes from said schmuck? Again, if professors really did not have better knowledge, then you should be entitled to not answer their questions, and not take their exams, which I think nobody yet as gone far enough to argue. Some degree of paternalism goes hand-in-hand with the fact that this is a school we are talking about.


Needs to be reversed - start with the teaching earning 0% of their salary, and let them buy up to 100% by trading away pretensions. If a teacher wants to the front 3/4 of the class laptop free, well that's worth ~50% pay. Deduct money for skimming when grading, for arriving late, for canceling class or having unqualified subs. If a teacher has a problem with students arriving late or talking in class, the teacher should take a 10% pay cut.


Or, you could learn how to *actually manage a classroom while teaching effectively.*
Iphones and Laptops are all over my classrooms, with zero disruptions -- use it for legitimate purposes? Great. Use it for facebook? Lose your privelege. Similarly the "war on cellphones." STanding policy: if the student has a legitimate reason for checking a text (you have children or you're on call), go for it. If not, and you're just addicted to your "thumbs of power," you get mocked and told to put it up.

Results of basic classroom management skills that actually treat students like adults? All of this tempest-in-a-teacup becomes a complete nonissue.

Mark M.

You can't be serious that this is still a debate in 2010. When I was a law student from 1995-1997, I used a laptop every day in class and even tried a newton for a period of time. This isn't about "being too busy" (Do you own a cell phone that can check email, Professor?) or disruptive or the ability to ignore a windbag in favor of a little illicit web browsing. It's about efficiency and superior note-taking. If only a wiki/notebook/outliner like Wikidpad had existed then.

Any professor that has a problem with students availing themselves of such a bedrock information technology in 2010 should be offered a choice between mandatory retirement and publishing a paper explaining exactly how their personal antipathy to everyday technologies help prepare students for the real world.

Such papers could serve as both entertainment and a warning to prospective students, especially those who cling to the romantic notion of pursuing a career in the bubble of academia.


novel idea: folks who use laptops to their own detriment by surfing in class learn less and do poorer

I'm not sure why that's not incentive enough

Law Student

I don't pay >30,000 a year to have some professor complain about class participation when he/she reads directly from the tax code. Laptops are not the problem, you are. Get over it.

Rodger the Cabin Boy

Generally Professors Grade one of three ways:

1. Their examinations are based entirely on material covered in class, or
2. Their examinations are based entirely on material covered in a book they wrote.
3. They do not have examinations, but instead will grade your paper.

In situation 1, a computer is a competitive advantage if, like most of us, you can type an outline faster than writing one, or have auto-synch software. Since success is based upon having an accurate transcript to review of the exact material to be covered. In situations 2 and 3, paying attention in class is not necessary so using a laptop is neutral.

Banning laptops, except for those with disabilities, creates an incentive to cheat, and get a doctors note prescribing laptop use. The cheaters have an advantage prohibited to most of the honest. It is similar to cheaters who get extra time to take exams, or who only study for 3 of 4 classes and get a doctors note excusing them from the missed exam at the end of the year so that their GPA on the 3 classes is higher to position them better for OCI - Seriously, I know brilliant lawyers who used this strategy.

Let's be honest, most academics lack any backbone, if they had one they would be in private practice. Cheaters, especially ones armed with doctors notes, will never be punished, so why set up a situation to disadvantage the honest?

The alternative is to simply let everyone use laptops, and allow those nincompoops who cannot handle them to fail. That would be a true market based solution, not one that tailors your lessons for the lowest common denominator, and allows for cheaters to have an advantage. However, this latter economic system has been warmly embraced by the White House for years, so who am I to criticize.


32k = I can use a laptop. You want to make sure people participate in the discussion? Do a better job. I've had classes where laptops are allowed and the professor keeps the class engaged. That's what good professors do. Unfortunately some professors think that external factors should be changed instead of their style, because they couldn't possibly be the problem. For as much as some professors expect out of their students, students could expect at least as much out of their professors.


A few points:

1.) Adopt the University of Chicago system of disabling wireless classroom-by-classroom. Goodness knows if we can do it in our terrible building, you can figure out how to do it in yours.

2.) This "distracts other students" argument is ridiculous. Look around your classrooms, professor - how many people still use a pen and paper to take notes? 2, 3 max? The number is generally "0" in my classes. Doesn't justify the serious harm you're doing to students who can far more effectively study and prepare for exams using their laptops.

3.) If you are honestly concerned about people being distracted by the wonders of the internet - how in God's name are these easily distractable people going to function in a modern-day law office? Better that they learn basic ability to focus in school.

4.) If class participation is truly awful, perhaps you should look at your own pedagogy. With a few exceptions, the professors I have had are all horrible teachers, though brilliant people. Perhaps you also fit the bill. Good teachers don't have to worry about students not paying attention.

Former Teacher

If your class is so boring you can't keep a student's attention for 40-60 minutes, that's a problem. Students worried about being distracted by other people's internet surfing can sit in the front row. In most of my law school classes we had theater seating (back rows elevated), making the back rows inaccessible to disabled students. In my experience as a teaching assistant in law school and an English teacher after college, I never had a problem keeping students' attention so long as my classes were interesting and engaging. This takes work. Several professors I have had over the years were successful at this. Many were not. When will teachers realize that when students don't pay attention in class it isn't the fault of the students, of laptops or of the internet, it's the fault of the teacher? If professors were a little more self-aware and less arrogant about their positions maybe they would improve their teaching rather than malign laptops in the classroom. Of course this requires doing more than just reading the same outline to students year after year after year. I expect the worst performing teachers hate laptops in their classrooms while the best performing probably welcome them or at the least are not bothered at all. Rather than shun from progress why don't you use the laptops as an educational tool, distributing slides, examples, analysis, questions and the like that track your lectures for students to look at during class?


Having gone through undergraduate and graduate school never having even heard of this debate over laptops, I was simply amazed to find out about it when I entered law school. It never crossed my mind that a professional school, full of adults, would even consider limiting students’ options for learning. For that matter, I could hardly believe that the ABA and professors have attendance requirements (but this is another debate). I am an adult. I am paying tuition. I can manage my own learning. The only valid argument that I can see on this issue is the disruption to the learning process of other students. But strangely, it is only professors who talk about this. I have never heard a student complain about being disrupted.

As for the class participation arguments and the like, I am convinced that professors with this view are the most self-absorbed people in academia. They demand that we attend their classes and participate in a certain way, while at the same time putting little or no effort into class preparation and student feedback. Again, I am an adult. Why is that it is only law schools and law professors that have not figured this out?

Peter Orlowicz

It seems to me there is significant tension in many law schools, including the University of Chicago, between banning the Internet in class and the increasing required use of electronic means for functioning in law school. Important schedule changes, course documents and assignments, many things that are relevant to the academic enterprise, are only available through the Internet. If there was a convenient way to, say, allow access to school e-mail, Chalk and law school-related websites while disabling Facebook and, I'd consider that an acceptable compromise. I don't think professors should be in the habit of extensively using the Internet to distribute class materials and assignments, but then forbid Internet entirely in class. As it stands now, I'm somewhat grateful for the professors who don't use the Internet for their classes much, because I don't feel as much at a disadvantage for lacking Internet during class. That doesn't address the larger issue of law school communications as a while, however.

I hate the auction idea. I never sit in the back of the room unless I have no choice; forcing me to sit in the back if I want to have the use of my laptop is much more likely to send my usual level or class participation into a tailspin. I also feel I get much more out of a brief in-person interaction with a professor than I would out of writing an additional short paper. Writing a short paper is, fundamentally, self-directed learning. If a professor expects me to learn more out of class writing a paper than I do in class listening and interacting with the professor... that's a really expensive law correspondence course. The auction as proposed also disregards the significant inequalities between classes. The same professor in different classrooms may have vastly different sizes of back row, and therefore the scarcity of laptop-approved seating is varied. Likewise, classes with more students with disabilities become less laptop-friendly for everyone else, because they're taking up some of that space (assuming the back rows are, in fact, accessible to those students.) This could even lead particularly laptop-oriented students to choose classes based on avoiding classes with high numbers of students with disabilities, which can't be a good set of incentives for anyone involved, including the professor or the law school.

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