An Experiment in Laptop Usage Policies in the Classroom

My colleague David Achtenberg has used a unique policy for regulating student use of laptop computers in his large enrollment Civil Procedure class.  He designates the back three or four rows in the classroom as an “Internet Usage Zone” where students can, within limits of reason and legality, use their laptops in any way they wish.  The rest of the classroom is designated an “Internet Free Zone” — students can use their laptops only for class notes and for referring to class-related materials on their laptop or a flashdrive.  These students are directed that they may not access the internet for any reason and they may not use their laptop for recreation, diversion, or “doodling.”    He emphasizes to the students that there is no relative advantage or disadvantage to their choice (and in fact he was unable to find a difference in grade outcomes related to the choice in prior years). 

This is Professor Achtenberg’s third year implementing this policy. He conducts a survey after grades are submitted.  The survey results this year indicated that approximately:

  • 71% thought the policy made the learning environment slightly (46%) or significantly (25%) better,
  • 25% thought it had no effect
  • 3.5% thought it made the learning environment slightly worse.  (No one responded that it made the environment significantly worse.)

Asked whether they would favor such a policy in future classes

  • 93% would somewhat (36%) or strongly (57%) favor such a policy
  • 3.5% didn’t care
  • 3.5% somewhat disfavored such a policy. (No one responded that they strongly disfavored the policy.)

More information about Professor Achtenberg’s approach, a copy of his policy and the way in which he introduces it to the class, and the complete survey results, including student comments, is available at




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