Laptop Computer in Classroom Policy

A number of faculty members have expressed concern with the distractions associated with students using their laptop computers during class to send and receive email messages, surf the internet, and the like.

Having reviewed existing policies and practices at the University of Washington as well as relevant federal and state laws, the law school administration has determined that we cannot presently have an outright ban on the use of laptop computers in class.

First, a number of students have physical or learning disabilities that we are required to accommodate under federal and state law. Thus, even if a faculty member issued an outright ban on the use of laptop computers, an exception would have to be made for students with disabilities that could be accommodated by allowing them to use a computer during class. However, such a policy, when coupled with the very visible accommodation that would have to be made for a select number of students with disabilities, would be tantamount to our disclosing to our disabled students' classmates a disability that they might not wish to be made public.

Second, different students have different styles of learning. Thus, while we as individual faculty members may not believe that typing everything one hears in class is conducive to learning, some students may need to engage in that sort of transcribing activity in order to process information effectively.

It is clear that faculty members have the authority under the Student Conduct Code for the University of Washington to regulate the conduct of, and where necessary, to exclude from any class session a student who is disorderly or disruptive. Thus, for example, instructors have the authority to ban the use of cellular telephones, pagers, MP3 players, and other conduct that distracts other students or interferes with the instructor's ability to teach. However, while cellular telephones, pagers, and MP3 players as a general matter lack a legitimate pedagogical use by students, thus justifying a blanket ban on their use, laptops can be used for both legitimate uses (for example, taking notes) as well as illegitimate uses (day trading).

In light of the above considerations, faculty members who are concerned with the misuse of laptop computers by students may issue policies designed to regulate, but not to prohibit, their use by students. For example, faculty members can:

  • Restrict types of use - a faculty member can tell students that they may only use laptop computers to take notes and not for any other purpose.
  • Minimize distracting effect on other students - a faculty member can require students to mute their computers and to set them up before class begins in order to avoid distracting other students.
  • Regulate where students using laptops may sit - a faculty member can require students using a laptop to sit in the front row(s) of the classroom (both so that other students and the faculty member can police their use of the laptop for legitimate purposes).
  • Punish a failure to comply with the restrictions on laptop use – if a student violates a faculty member's use-of-laptop policy (such as by using it to surf the internet instead of taking notes), the faculty member can ban the student from using the laptop in class for the remainder of the year.

Source: Administrative Policy

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