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Backlash Against Tech in School: No Laptops, No Email?

By William Peacock, Esq. on September 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For anyone who has graduated in the last ten years from law school: How did you take notes in class? For the vast majority of us, it was on a laptop. And we communicate with professors either through email or in person.

This is not news, unless you're sitting on the Supreme Court.

But, recently, I've been noticing a growing backlash: professors barring laptops from class or refusing to take emails from students. Even outside of the university system, it's happening. The Los Angeles Unified School District had a botched attempt at issuing iPads to its students which was just cancelled after a lot of expense and bad publicity.

In each of these examples, the same reason is provided: It's too much of a headache.

No Laptops in Law School?

My brother just started law school. In three of his five classes, no laptops are allowed. In a fourth, there is a "no tolerance for distracting others" policy. Why? Students were not only spending more time on Facebook than paying attention in class, but they were also distracting their neighbors.

To me, this seems like a gross overreaction. After my first semester taking hand-written notes, I switched to a laptop and "ctrl+F" (the find function) became my best friend when called upon in class. Then again, I also spent plenty of time instant messaging classmates or checking sports scores, especially in the more boring classes.

I see the professors' point, but I wonder if an alternative solution (disabling the campus Wi-Fi, or adopting a "no tolerance for tomfoolery" policy) might be more reasonable than barring laptops outright.

No Emailing the Professor?

Another example of tech backlash is a story that ran in Slate last Thursday about a professor who banned students from emailing her, with one exception: to schedule an in-person meeting.

Why? A list of complaints that anyone who knows a teacher or professor is familiar with: stupid questions that could be answered by the syllabus, emails at all hours of the night, students becoming enraged when they don't get instant responses, and of course, unprofessional tone. (Hey Prof! What's up with tomorrow's assignment?)

The results were positive: better evaluations from the students, more engagement, more visits to office hours, and way less time wasted answering "brief, inconsequential emails."

Trend or Exceptions?

These are both anecdotal tales, but they both deal with issues facing every teacher and classroom: tech is useful, but it's also a crutch and a distraction. Would classrooms be better off with fewer laptops and emails? Or do you prefer the modern, convenient approach. Let us hear your thoughts on Twitter @FindLawLP.

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