Laptops in the Classroom

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Project Overview

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The disheartening "wall of laptops" has become matter of course in law school classrooms across the country. Although technology can clearly benefit students, it also creates a physical and psychological barrier between students and their professors and peers. Faculty and students have been debating the merits of allowing laptops and internet access in classrooms for the past few years, but HLS has yet to hold a vote on whether or not to ban these technologies in the classroom. Rather than continuing to look at the issue from these polarized extremes, and rather than simply resigning themselves to the status quo, I believe teachers should reconsider their attitudes and approaches to the rhetorical space of today's "wired" classrooms. To that end, I am attempting to rally support for a faculty/student panel on the issue, the main goal of which will be to empower teachers to take charge of their classrooms and develop a considered approach to the use and/or elimination of technology in their classrooms on a course-by-course, day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis.

Faculty/Student Panel Progress

IT, Student, and Faculty Support

Professor Nesson and I agreed that a critical first step was to secure a base of support for this idea before approaching the Dean with a proposal. To that end, we have sent emails to the HLS IT Committee and the Law School Council in order to secure their support. The LSC was very responsive and expressed interest in the panel but will not be able to confirm their support until their next board meeting, which will be held in January. They suggested that it might be best for me to attend a meeting to present our ideas to the group; my LSC contact has promised to contact me after winter break to determine how best to proceed. Professor Nesson reports that the IT Committee was also excited about the idea, and will likewise put it on its agenda for their next meeting.

Berkman Center Collaboration

I have also contacted Gene Koo regarding his December 7th forum on networking and the use of technology to develop learning communities in order to determine whether we might be able to collaborate on our respective efforts. As of Tuesday, December 5th, I had not received a response.

Proposal

Once we have support from the IT committee and LSC, I will schedule a meeting with Dean Kagan to make our proposal.

Potential Panelists

We have not yet officially approached these individuals, but they represent a range of approaches to the laptop issue and we believe they would each bring a unique perspective to the discussion. I will make appointments with them once we have support from the IT Committee and LSC:

  • R. Parker (likely to participate per Professor Nesson's previous conversations with him regarding this issue)
  • J. Halley
  • E. Warren
  • R. Nesson (likely to participate if Professor Nesson asks her very nicely?)

We are open to suggestions so please feel free to recommend or volunteer other panelists!

Additional Information

The Traditional Debate

While the purpose of this project is to shift professors' thinking about how to approach laptops in their classrooms, it is crucial to understand the arguments on both sides of the traditional debate in order to understand how/when/why laptops can be beneficial and how/when/why they might be superfluous or even detrimental. Another layer of the debate is whether internet access should be available in classrooms, giving us three "cells" of traditional arguments around this issue:

1. Allow laptops, allow internet

2. Allow laptops, ban internet

3. Ban laptops entirely

Again, I do not believe that looking at the issue in this limited, all-or-nothing manner is the most useful way to address the issues created by technology in the classroom. However, we can learn a great deal about how to develop novel approaches by looking at the arguments from all sides with an open mind.

Background Memos

My memo on the pros and cons of laptops/internet in the classroom is available here.

My memo on how disheartened teachers feel about technology is available here.

Podcast

My podcast on this issue is available here.

Questions, Comments, and Support

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this project, offer criticisms or concerns, ask questions, voice your support, or volunteer to help out...