U Law School policy will require laptops

by Molly Moker

The University Law School will upgrade its electrical system this summer to make way for a laptop computer requirement for first-year students.

The requirement begins next semester, pending approval from the Board of Regents.

Even if they already own a laptop, first-year law students will be required to rent one and their student fees will pay for it, said April Schwartz, information technology services associate director at the Law School.

By fall 2006 all law students will be required to rent laptops, she said. Transfer students will not be required to take part in the program until that time.

Law School officials said the laptop requirement is necessary to administer electronic tests and complement in-class lectures.

To make sure laptops function properly, a $985,000 electrical upgrade in Mondale Hall will be necessary, Schwartz said.

The school will add 1,020 electrical outlets to all but four classrooms in the building, making outlets available at every chair. The school will also add an additional 88 outlets to study tables in the law school library.

Student law school technology fees will increase next semester to help fund the electrical upgrade and pay for a rental laptop, Schwartz said. She said the fee increase will be set sometime in April.

Currently, Schwartz said the Law School’s technology fee is $300 per student each semester and covers support staff, student labs, paper, printing services and the wireless infrastructure.

Schwartz said students can buy their rented laptops when they graduate. Schwartz said leases might run per semester or last all three years.

Some law students said they don’t think the new requirement will change anything at the school because many people already have laptops.

First-year law student Ryan Ahlberg said he brings his laptop to class and said about 90 percent of students in his classes also use laptops.

Ahlberg said although having a laptop is convenient, he often finds it distracting during class.

He said finding a place to plug it in is the biggest problem with using his laptop at the Law School.

Because almost everyone has a laptop at the school, Ahlberg said he does not think incoming students will have a problem with the new requirement. If such a requirement were in place when he enrolled, he said it would not have turned him away from the school.

Many law schools are requiring laptops, Schwartz said. She said the University’s Law School is modeling its requirement after several law schools, including Duke University’s.

Schwartz said she thinks the University is on top of the trend with laptops, but said the movement is definitely growing.

“Increasingly, just about every college is looking at some variation of (a laptop requirement) to tighten security,” she said.

Senior Associate Dean for Information Services at Duke University Law School Richard Danner said the school’s laptop requirement has been a positive addition to the curriculum.

“It’s very clear it’s a necessary tool for their learning,” Danner said. “I haven’t had any concerns from students about buying a laptop.”

Danner said the only complaint he has received about Duke’s law school laptop requirement is about students using their computers in class for personal use.

“It’s become a disruptive thing that the faculty must deal with,” Danner said. “But it’s just one bump in the road that they have to work out.”

Doug Lund, Information Technology director at the Carlson School of Management, said laptops are required for all full-time students in the MBA program.

The requirement was implemented in fall 2003, Lund said. Carlson is currently the only school at the University to have a laptop requirement.

Lund said students buy laptops through a special fee that was built into their enrollment costs.

Lund said students pay a one-time $2,000 laptop fee to purchase their computers. He said negotiations for next year’s fee is under way and expects it to stay at $2,000 or lower.

Joan Howland, Law School associate dean of information and technology, said the laptop requirement and electrical upgrade is one of the law school’s top priorities.

She said the outlet upgrade is necessary because without them students’ laptops could crash during in-class exams.

An average laptop battery lasts four to six hours, she said, and sometimes exams can last four hours. She also said students might have back-to-back exams and wouldn’t have time to recharge batteries.

Although Howland said many professors said they prefer electronic exams, faculty will still have the option of giving written exams.

She said she had not heard any opposition to the requirement from students or faculty.

“The faculty very much sees this as a very good integration of technology into the classroom,” she said.

The University’s law school is currently sending bids out to laptop vendors. The electrical upgrade will begin in May and finish before next semester.