I came across this item today - an AP wire story highlighting several law professors who have banned the use of laptops in their classrooms.
I attended law school during a time of transition with regard to laptop use in class. When I arrived at my school in 1999, the classrooms had only recently been renovated to have power outlets at each seat, and I would estimate that nearly half of my classmates used laptops to take notes. By the time I graduated in 2002, more like two thirds of my classmates were using laptops, and some of the classrooms had ethernet ports at every seat so that students could surf the web during class.
I was somewhat old school, I suppose, being a bit older than many of my classmates - I was 27 when I started law school - and I took notes in a bound notebook with a pencil. Although I can understand the appeal of notetaking by computer - most computer-age people, including me, can type faster than they can write - I still enjoy the old-fashioned, pencil-and-paper approach. I have always felt that there is a hard-wired connection between my hands and my brain, and I remember things best by writing them down. Typing them doesn't have the same psychological value. And a good portion of my law school classmates agreed with me.
Today, though, I am sure that nearly all law students are using laptops in class. And if they are anything like my classmates, they are using them to play solitaire and to IM their friends as much as they are using them to take notes. My professors, like the professors interviewed in the AP article, had a variety of strategies for encouraging students to pay attention to the class. Some employed the good old-fashioned fear of God, the bolt-from-the-blue, Socratic method, Paper Chase approach. Others had more creative tactics. One professor, I recall, tended to roam about the room during class discussions, requiring laptop users to keep their wits about them, and minimize their Free-Cell games and browser windows as he approached. If he happened upon a student who was so engrossed in the extracurriculars as to be oblivious to his presence, he might look over the student's shoulder and offer some advice: "You can put the ten of clubs on top of that red jack."
Perhaps I am just a small-minded fuddy-duddy mired in the twentieth century, but it's hard for me to think of any compelling justification for having internet connectivity at every seat in a law classroom. It is still reasonable, even in the internet age, to assign students material that they are expected to have read before coming to class, and to use class time for lectures and discussions about that material. The only real use for an internet connection in class is to divert the connectee's attention from what is going on in class. Even with my pencil and paper, I was not immune to distraction - in law school I was occasionally known to play backgammon or chess on my Palm Pilot. I know how hard it is to pay attention in class. It's senseless to make that even more difficult by offering ready access to the nearly infinite temptations of the internet, when the possible benefits of real-time, in-class access are so limited. I have some sympathy for professors who ban the tools altogether.