U. of Chicago Law Bans In-Class Internet Use

(UWIRE) If Harvard decides to take the University of Chicago’s lead, GChatting in lecture could soon become a thing of the past.

The University of Chicago Law School has blocked wireless Internet access in most classrooms “in order to ensure the value of the classroom experience,” a press statement released by the school reported earlier this month.

“Visitors to classes, as well as many of our students, report that the rate of distracting Internet usage during class is astounding,” Dean of the Law School Saul Levmore wrote in an e-mail to the student body. “Several observers have reported that one student will visit a gossip site or shop for shoes, and within twenty minutes an entire row is shoe shopping.”

While Harvard Business School tested a program that blocked students’ access to the Internet during their scheduled classes, the program is no longer in effect, due to glitches and complaints.

According to Steven R. Nelson, executive director of the MBA program, the Business School does maintain a “laptops down” policy, where students are asked not to use their computers or the Internet unless otherwise instructed.

The University of Chicago Law School appears to be the only school enforcing such a comprehensive Internet ban, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Chicago law students have expressed mixed opinions toward the ban.

“There are students who use the Internet as a brief distraction during class and as a way to recharge, and there are other students who find it extremely distracting and welcome the freedom from it,” said Sara A. Feinstein, a third-year law student and president of the Law Students Association, the school’s student government. “We decided not to pursue a change in the policy, because of the very mixed student body reaction.”

Professors at Harvard Law School-where a panel discussion was held in April 2006 on whether the school should impose a similar rule-said they found the ban excessive.

“I think it’s extremely short-sighted,” said law professor Charles R. Nesson ’60, who is also the director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “It’s like having the opportunity to engage the real world and choosing to deny yourself even the possibility.”

Law professor Richard D. Parker, who restricted laptop usage when he taught first-year students, said he did not see the educational value of allowing Internet use during class but he also did not support the University of Chicago’s prohibition.

“One of the arguments is that our students are adults and if they want to allow themselves to become addicted to a particular form of distraction…then that’s their right,” Parker said.

Some professors in the College have tried to combat Internet distraction.

History professor Henrietta Harrison prohibited laptops her first year of teaching.

“I’m not sure whether the answer is to make it banned or just put a huge effort into explaining to students that if you’re checking your e-mail and reading the news during lecture…you’re not going to learn very much,” she said. “You would think that would be obvious.”

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