Over the last decade, more and more schools (both undergrad and grad) became "wired," started offering school-wide WiFi access, and began requiring students to own laptops. This, initially, was seen as a great thing. Technology was being brought into the classroom, and administrators, students, and professors alike embraced it and excitedly spoke about the limitless possibilities of this brand-new resource.
Unfortunately, it hasn't panned out that way.
For many students, bringing laptops into the classroom was a boon: It allowed them to take notes quickly and efficiently, and made searching for classroom materials easily done in real time. However, for many others, it has become a huge distraction -- Georgetown Law Professor David Cole put it this way for The Washington Post: "[It] is like putting on every student's desk, when you walk into class, five different magazines, several television shows, some shopping opportunities and a phone, and saying, 'Look, if your mind wanders, feel free to pick any of these up and go with it.'" Cole is one of many professors in law schools and universities around the country that have banned laptop use in the classroom.
As students have become more and more "wired," attention spans in the classroom have waned. Laptops, smartphones, and iPhones pose a variety of distractions to students -- distractions many find hard to avoid, and can sometimes be detrimental to their overall performance. Students find themselves checking Facebook, updating Twitter, chatting on various programs, and surfing the web throughout class. Just this past week, another Georgetown Professor, Peter Tague, found himself the epicenter of a widespread rumor regarding the retirement of SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts; he unwittingly started this viral rumor after telling his students of the "retirement" at the start of his class, and then asking them not to tell anyone. Students, in turn (and completely disregarding their professor's instructions), immediately started texting, Twittering, Facebooking, and spreading the news in as many electronic formats as they could (see the breakdown of this story at NPR and Above The Law.) While the rumor was quelled within a day and no harm came of it, it underscores a painfully poignant point: Even when told not to do so, students seemingly can't keep themselves off the web and off their phones, even at the expense of their education.
One Oklahoma Professor, Keiran Mullen, finally had enough, and decided to prove his disdain for laptops in his class in a way very fitting to his science background: By dousing a laptop in liquid nitrogen and then smashing it on the classroom floor -- all while his astonished students watched (and likely put their laptops discreetly away).
Is this anti-technology trend something that will permeate all educational establishments? It's hard to tell. One thing's for sure, though: As more and more law schools climb onto the no-laptop wagon, it's in all prospective law students' best interest to start relying less on their apps, and more on their penmanship.