How times have changed since our law professors were themselves law students. For starters, the wheel was invented. And, seemingly against all odds, the Earth was discovered to be round.
Ok…in all seriousness, legal education, fueled by rapidly developing technology, has drastically changed since even the youngest of our professors received their JD’s. While they undoubtedly spent long nights in the depths of a library flipping through pages of statutes and case law, our generation has the luxury of having such material easily available with the click of a mouse. One of the most controversial changes, however, has been the introduction of laptops in the classroom. Although there are obvious advantages (e.g., the ability to take well organized and detailed notes), many law professors are insisting that laptops, coupled with the availability of wireless internet connections, are adversely affecting our education. Some have gone so far as to ban the use of laptops in the classroom.
To be fair, their arguments are not without merit. We do surf the internet. Chatting on Gmail is a regular occurrence. Facebook? It happens. And, perhaps worst of all, some are too busy transcribing every word the professor says to actually understand the concepts being taught.
These are undoubtedly serious problems, but banning laptops in the classroom is not the right answer. In my opinion, there are two reasons professors should refrain from enforcing such a strict rule. First, the benefits of laptop use are great. If I don’t understand a concept or phrase, a simple Google search can often provide instantaneous enlightenment. If I remain confused, a short message to a classmate asking for clarification does the trick.
Second is the fact that education is a service industry. Law students pay enormous amounts of money and take on much debt. In today’s struggling economy, discussed earlier, those who do not excel in the classroom are having increasing difficulty locating a job. If students believe that using a laptop furthers their education, they should be allowed to do so without undue burden from the school.
Unfortunately, this is not an issue that will go away anytime soon. Professors are increasingly placing restrictions on laptop use. Those that have done so are proclaiming the ban a success and emphatically announcing that intellectual discussion in the classroom is more prevalent than in recent years—back like it was when they were in law school.