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Should Law Schools Block Internet Access in Classrooms?

The University of Chicago Law School has recently adopted a policy blocking internet access in classrooms (hat tip: my colleague Michael Krauss). Some individual professors at other schools have taken similar steps in their classes. I am of two minds on this. On one hand, law students are adults. They should be able to decide for themselves whether surfing the net has greater value to them than using class time to listen to what the professor is saying. Indeed, if a high percentage of students are surfing regularly, that may be an indication that the professor isn't doing such a great job of teaching.

On the other hand, there are potential negative externalities from in-class surfing. If a lot of students are doing it, and therefore not contributing to class discussion, that will reduce the value of the class for their classmates, not just themselves. This point suggests that there may be some merit to the University of Chicago policy. For now, however, I'm not going to change my own live and let live approach to net surfing in the classroom.

dearieme:
As long as mobile phones are off, who cares?
4.16.2008 5:38pm
ResIpsaLoquitur (mail):
Oh, heck, I used to play Super Mario Bros. on my laptop during Robert Bork's lectures to my law school, and I'm none the poorer for it.

(Sadly, I didn't know Mrs. Bork was sitting behind me. I hope I didn't leave a bad impression of the school...)
4.16.2008 5:39pm
FantasiaWHT:
What small negative externalities there as far as quality of class discussions is more than offset, I feel, by the ability to have powerful research at the tips of your fingers during class discussions.

Have I goofed off during a lecture? Sure, when the prof was boring. But I've also been able to quickly look up things and add to discussions.
4.16.2008 5:43pm
jmm:
As a student, to me the biggest problem with inappropriate laptop use isn't that the mis-users are missing class (it undoubtedly helps me on the curve) - it's that they're distracting others in class who are sitting behind them. No matter how engaging a professor is, it's hard not to be distracted by Tetris shapes and banner ads and other blinky things on the many computers in the rows between the student and the professor. Internet surfing during class is very widespread at my school; I find it pretty disrepectful to the other students, and would rather internet access be banned.

One of my professors attempted to solve this by limiting the front two rows to those who didn't use laptops. (Unfortunately, he ended up letting computer users who promised not to surf the internet fill in some of those empty seats - and many broke that promise.)
4.16.2008 5:47pm
Displaced Midwesterner (mail):
The importance of laptops is in law school classrooms is pretty straightforward: taking notes. Most of the people I know who have had to take no-laptop law school classes in this modern era had only illegible pages of hand-scribbled gibberish at the end of the semester. And that wasn't very useful for trying to actually review anything interesting that came up during class discussions.
4.16.2008 5:48pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
fantasia is right-its also really fun to correct technical profesor's errors with westlaw searches while your sitting comfortably listing and he is talking straight for 1-2 hours non stop.

hey-theres gotta be some release from the academic pecking order
4.16.2008 5:50pm
Kenvee:
I had a laptop in law school, but before wireless access was widespread, so some classes I could plug into the network and some I couldn't. I would say I "goofed off" the exact same amount in each. If I couldn't get online, I would play computer games or pull up non-school-related documents to read through. And in college, when I didn't have a laptop, I would "goof off" by writing letters, stories, or my shopping list.

In either case, when I was interested in and involved with what the professor was saying or the classroom discussion, the type of distraction available didn't make a difference in how I participated. If you're going to goof off, you're going to do it no matter what. And a lot of people are able to concentrate better if they have some kind of mindless distraction going on. (ADD tendencies?) Add in the research benefits of having internet access, and I don't think there's much to be gained from banning the internet. Trust students to police themselves. The ones who can't will -- and should -- fail. Problem solved.
4.16.2008 5:54pm
Pon Raul (mail):
This negative externalities thing is BS. If they are so easily distracted, they should sit in the front row. The internet is a tool that helps people learn. For people like me with short attention spans, it is almost impossible to go an entire class without looking up things on the internet. This ranges from stuff related to class discussion to things that I am just thinking about. If I wasn't allowed to access the internet, I would be distracting people in other more obvious ways.
Plus there are many times during a class where people go off on things totally useless and non-interesting.
4.16.2008 5:58pm
GW 2L:
it's interesting how the comments here differ from a similar recent post on Above the Law.

I just wish there was a way to ban obnoxious games and websites. It's very difficult to concentrate in class when the person in front of you is browsing Perez Hilton's bright pink abomination of a site with pictures of hand drawn dildos all over scantily clad celebrities.

Bc we're not in third grade though, I think a simple reminder at the banner/log-in screen that most schools use for students to gain access might do the trick... or at least help.
4.16.2008 6:01pm
Old33 (mail):
There was nothing more liberating in law school than the feeling of sitting in Copyright class whilst downloading the entire Metallica back catalogue off of Napster.

Or so I've been told. Ahem...
4.16.2008 6:04pm
Kent Scheidegger (mail) (www):
"Indeed, if a high percentage of students are surfing regularly, that may be an indication that the professor isn't doing such a great job of teaching."

Alternatively, it might mean that the subject is just inherently boring, and the students need to grow up and learn that (1) they aren't supposed to be entertained all the time, and (2) sometimes you have to do things that aren't pleasant.
4.16.2008 6:08pm
Sam Heldman:
Anybody who can't sit through a boring hour-and-a-half or two-hour lecture without squirming around on the internet isn't nearly ready to be a lawyer. One of the necessary skills, for any lawyer whose practice involves going to court or going to meetings, is paying attention even when things aren't inherently fascinating for long stretches of time.
4.16.2008 6:10pm
Ben P (mail):
I do use the internet in class, but I can say with quite a bit of certainty that more than half of my use is related to the class. I use westlaw to pull up a case that's mentioned in passing or to figure out why the editor of the textbook chose to massacre it in the editing process, or looking up some news article to quickly verify something before I asked a question about it in class.


Even when I don't use it for strictly class related purposes, it's often for law related purposes. I was reading the Baze v. Rees decision in tax this morning.
4.16.2008 6:11pm
Ben P (mail):

"Indeed, if a high percentage of students are surfing regularly, that may be an indication that the professor isn't doing such a great job of teaching."

Alternatively, it might mean that the subject is just inherently boring, and the students need to grow up and learn that (1) they aren't supposed to be entertained all the time, and (2) sometimes you have to do things that aren't pleasant.


I'm not necessarily defending the practice of surfing in class, but I would agree it is Very common. Despite my above post, I do recognize it may be disrespectful, But I think this undervalues the situation where what the professor is talking about has no relevance to what's on the final, and little or no relevance to practicing law.

In such a situation, the only incentive to "Do what isn't pleasant" is just to do what isn't pleasant out of respect to the professor.
4.16.2008 6:19pm
scosm:

As a student, to me the biggest problem with inappropriate laptop use isn't that the mis-users are missing class (it undoubtedly helps me on the curve) - it's that they're distracting others in class who are sitting behind them.

I agree with this comment. During my last year of law school, I sat behind someone who had the baseball internet package so I was stuck watching a lot of Cubs games. I also think the research aspect is overstated...
4.16.2008 6:20pm
Gaius Marius:
JMM is right on. Yes, the law students are adults but if some students are surfing the net during class they are a distraction to those sitting behind them who might actually find the lecture interesting.
4.16.2008 6:21pm
Ben P (mail):
While I dislike possibly triple posting.


On the other hand, there are potential negative externalities from in-class surfing. If a lot of students are doing it, and therefore not contributing to class discussion, that will reduce the value of the class for their classmates, not just themselves.


This presumes the existence of discussion in the first place.

Most of the classes where I can look around the room and realize 90% of the class is looking at laptop screens rather than at the professor are classes where there is little to no interaction.

Classes where the professor actually engages the students in discussion have a much lower rate of "zoning out."
4.16.2008 6:21pm
RBG (mail):
I would have to disagree with Displaced Midwesterner. In fact, I would take the opposite position: The use of laptops has transformed note-taking in law school into an exercise in transcription. I took notes with my laptop during my first term, but when those first exams rolled around, I realized that I had far too much information to digest for the exam. Once I started taking notes by hand, I realized that one really only needed a half page of notes - a full page with certain professors - for any given 65-minute class. Learning what needed paying attention to was half the battle of doing well on law school exams. Those notes and Examples and Explanations enabled me to graduate in the top 10% at my top-10 school. Forcing students to distill the lecture into at most one page of notes would be, in my opinion, one of the greatest advantages of prohibiting the use of laptops in class.
4.16.2008 6:21pm
Gaius Marius:
This negative externalities thing is BS. If they are so easily distracted, they should sit in the front row.

PON RAUL: A student who is shelling out $30,000 a year plus (not Daddy's money or loan money but their own money from their own savings like yours truly did) should not be compelled to make accommodations to those students who choose to surf the net during class.
4.16.2008 6:25pm
Sean M:
I sit in the front row just for this reason -- I find people playing games or other things too distracting.

I also take my notes with pen and paper because I know if I have a laptop I'll goof off.
4.16.2008 6:31pm
Gilbert (mail):
People will just play solitaire or tetris or something if you block the internet, so you would have to ban laptops, but that would be unacceptable for one very important reason:

The value of Ctrl+F; totally outweighs the harms of solitaire players.

As for the internet itself, just don't block lexis/westlaw and wikipedia, those are genuinely useful in class.
4.16.2008 6:42pm
Vern Cassin (mail):
If it were the government doing it, maybe I'd feel differently, but I'm not sold on the idea that we have to abandon paternalism here. People who surf the net during class almost inevitably are learning less. The easier and more available the distractions, the more people are liable to take them. I respectfully submit that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding himself.

Why shouldn't a non-state school be able to say "hey, this is one of the rules you're signing yourself up for- no computers. It'll be better for you."? If you're uncomfortable with paternalism, call it a kind of precommitment. People might choose a law school because, by keeping them from using the internet, it produces better lawyers.

If you're sold on only regulating externalities, consider this: the more people concentrate in law school, the more knowledgeable and adroit they will be in later practice. Externalities galore.
4.16.2008 6:42pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Fortunately I got all my degrees before there were PC's. When I go to a meeting I find the constant clicking of the people taking notes on their laptops very annoying.
4.16.2008 6:48pm
Three Cheers for U of C:
The U of Chicago did the right thing. Students who whine about being deprived of the Internet need to grow up and act like the adults they claim to be. Law school is a professional school. So is medical school. I don't hear medical students whining about being deprived of their Ebay. If you need constant entertainment and can't bother to respect your teacher and your classmates for 55-75 minutes, you don't belong in a professional school.
4.16.2008 6:54pm
U of Chicago 1L:
We're three weeks into the new quarter with no Internet and I can't say that class has really changed that much. Instead of the Internet, people play games or sleep. I tend to agree with a lot of the people who have said that having research access does liven up the discussion somewhat, but in the end I think that it's the professor who encourages the students to pay attention.

I also think that a lot of people have stopped showing up for class at all. In the past people would come and surf online but would contribute something if they wanted; now there are a lot more empty seats.

In the end it doesn't matter to me since I sit in the front and take pen and paper notes, but it seems a little too paternalistic, however I imagine it's here to stay.
4.16.2008 6:54pm
pADDy:
Look, I have ADD and sit in the front of the class so I won't be distracted by others. It's simple. If you know you're easily distracted, think about where you sit. You'd do it if you were hearing impaired or had a lapsed glasses prescription. Comments along the lines of "Anybody who can't sit through a boring hour-and-a-half or two-hour lecture without squirming around on the internet isn't nearly ready to be a lawyer..." can easily be reformed to "Anybody who can't sit through a lecture without peering over classmates' shoulders to see what's on Fark or how they would play the suited ace-ten isn't ready to be a lawyer."

There are people who need a reason to get their shorts in a twist and this is an issue that some have selected. The same sorts are usually grade-grubbers so I don't see why they won't look at the bright side: The surfers are curve cushions.

And "discussion" is sort of silly nine times out of ten. People who are interested in a particular issue pay attention and participate. The vast majority of the class just hopes they don't get called on. When their issue comes along they'll participate. Even if it means leaving facebook behind.
4.16.2008 6:55pm
Colin S (mail):
I can testify that in my undergraduate Macro class, the Internet is a blessing. My teacher is exceptionally dull and boring, and tends to put people to sleep. The ability to surf the Net keeps me awake and alert, while simply listening attentively to her tends to lull me to sleep.


Both times my computer was out of battery power, it quickly resulted in me taking a class time nap.


Admittedly, probably an unintended benefit. But still.
4.16.2008 6:56pm
Displaced Midwesterner (mail):
I think RBG's point about taking a few notes by hand is logical and I'm sure it works for some people. But for plenty of others, taking notes by computer (whether to transcribe every word of wisdom that drips from the eminent professor's lips so that they may distill it into a 100-page cross-referenced and annotated outline or just to take a page or so a class in a legible way that allows for easy copying and editing later) is much better for them. Allowing laptops in no way prevents people from taking concise, handwritten notes, and if it really does work better for them, then they are not disadvantaged by their classmates using computers either. Prohibiting laptops, however, certainly does disadvantage a number of people who would do better with them.

Whether laptops or legal pads are better for notetaking overall is a pretty empirical question. While there are people who have done better with handwritten notes, I know people who did distinctly worse in the classes they had where the professors banned laptops. And going simply by personal experience from what my preferences were and those of many people I know, the majority seem to prefer laptops.

Three Cheers for U of C,

You wouldn't by any chance be a law professor who is a - how should we put it? - a less than engaging teacher, would you?
4.16.2008 7:08pm
genob:
It's been a long time since I was in law school...but I do regularly attend corporate meetings, and generally think that the presence of "connected" technology like laptops or smart phones is a huge negative in a setting where listening and interaction are required. Many VPs have banned them, and for the better.

If I were teaching a class, I would ban them from lectures. If a student thinks they can't live without the near verbatim notes they are furiously trying to transcribe, I'll post a podcast of the class for them to listen to at home. And that should solve the dilemma for the student that just has to see the Cubs game that conflicts with that particular lecture.

While I'm very sympathetic to the view that students are adults who are paying for the opportunity to attend, and should therefore be allowed to choose what to do with their time (I certainly exercised the right not to attend class quite frequently), they should also be adult enough to respect those who are also paying by refraining from engaging is disruptive behavior during the class. Listen to the podcast if you don't want to participate...or skip it if you are bored.

And professors...don't be offended if people don't show up.
4.16.2008 7:21pm
NatSecLawGuy:
I read this blog often during class. Are you telling me you don't want me reading your blog?!?!

Also, Three Cheers for U of C: Med students are just like law students they chat, surf, etc. during their lectures as well. So please share the shaming.
4.16.2008 7:30pm
What..?:
I've no problem with banning the internet in the classroom, but banning laptops altogether would be troubling to me.

You see, I suffer from developmental dyspraxia. My handwriting is mind-numbingly slow. I don't take verbatim notes with my laptop, but having a laptop in the classroom is absolutely essential to my taking class notes at even a low level of detail.
4.16.2008 7:31pm
Smokey:
Poor Einstein. How did he ever get through school without a laptop?
4.16.2008 7:41pm
tbw:
Sympathy for those who are distracted by students on the internet is misplaced. The real story is the quality of the product that students receive at law school.

Any teacher with charisma, or at least a marginally interesting point, will hold their students' attention. Unfortunately, many professors fill class time with absurd hypotheticals and unimportant theories that will have no practical use for their students. What entitles a professor to expect undivided attention when they frequently say nothing of value? It is very simple for a professor to hold student attention: a) lecture on interesting and/or practical issues; and b) prepare sufficiently that these points are presented in a coherent fashion. Such lectures have held my attention despite students playing world of warcraft directly in front of me.

As a 3l who has read this blog frequently during class, I predict that the VC will need significantly less bandwidth if other schools follow Chicago, as my own school apparently intends to do.
4.16.2008 7:56pm
MDJD2B (mail):
I'm reading this in clas, and I say NO!
4.16.2008 8:09pm
Displaced Midwesterner (mail):
Does anyone know if there has actually been anything resembling empirical research on whether students learn better with laptops or without laptops? We all have our own experience, preferences, and typical lawyer arguments (i.e., make sense logically, but no real empirical basis to know whether they are really true or not), but I haven't seen anything that really shows definitively that one side or the other has the better of it. Professors with their egos on the line mostly side with no-laptops; students with their ability to avoid boredom on the line mostly side with having laptops. But is there any non-anecdotal evidence one way or the other?

On a completely unrelated note, the sidebar ad on "Take Judicial Selection out of the Hands of Elite Trial Lawyers" is very entertaining. Should we then be giving it to incompetent trial lawyers? Or maybe just dependably average ones?
4.16.2008 8:20pm
The Cabbage (mail):
I'm surfing in class right now because we're at that portion of the lecture where the professor solicits comments about what my classmates think the 4th and 5th amendments ought to mean.

huge waste of time. Either explain the finer points of the law that we students won't get, or just give me a freaking outline and quit wasting my time.
4.16.2008 8:33pm
Adam K:
As someone who scored consecutive A-minuses (with no "bump" for participation) in Michael Krauss's Torts I and Torts II classes, all while spending a prodigious amount of time on the internet, I don't see the necessity of adopting such a policy.
4.16.2008 8:35pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
If a typical law student can spend appreciable portions of class time surfing the net without serious negative consequences when it comes to grades, then:

1. The lectures are irrelevant.
2. Grading methods are waaaay too easy.
3. Some silly group thing is happening.
4. Law school is an elaborate joke.

Or maybe all the above...
4.16.2008 8:56pm
Pon Raul (mail):

A student who is shelling out $30,000 a year plus (not Daddy's money or loan money but their own money from their own savings like yours truly did) should not be compelled to make accommodations to those students who choose to surf the net during class.



Gaius Marius: First of all, a loan is the same thing as a student's own money. Secondly, you are asking people with laptops to make accomodations for the stupid and easily distracted, not the other way around. Surfing the net during class helps people learn. You shouldn't punish these people just because some people might not have the manners to not look at other people's laptops. By the tone of your post, I assume that you are a liberal old guy who asks tons of stupid questions that force me to surf the net in the first place.
4.16.2008 8:59pm
frankcross (mail):
My inclinations were libertarian, and if kids wanted to surf, they could surf.

But I banned them because the students were disrupting each other. E.g., as soon as I would cold call on a person, she would get instant text messages. While I initially found this humorous, some were disturbed.

Plus, I found that when I banned them last semester, the students were perfectly happy. I told them I'd reverse the policy in the presence of strong dissent but got none.
4.16.2008 9:25pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

I assume that you are a liberal old guy who asks tons of stupid questions that force me to surf the net in the first place.


This conservative old guy says that perhaps you wouldn't have to surf the net for answers if you came to class prepared.

Learning styles vary, but my GPA went from barely C to B+ when I completely quit taking notes in class.
4.16.2008 9:25pm
Bored2L:
I just wanted to let you all know that I am goofing off in class right now by reading this post. I think it has been more valuable for me.

And who is really less of an adult: the people who are messing around because they feel they can get more out of the internet or the people who simply cannot handle the distraction of someone in front of them shoe shopping? (Assuming the professor who is less than interested in student participation, and God knows they are not uncommon.)
4.16.2008 9:42pm
Law Dawg:
We shouldnt have to coddle law students, if they want to surf let them surf. BTW, the best way to keep people from surfing is to keep calling on everyone and not just stick with one person. I have a professor who does this and when she thinks your surfing the internet she calls on you. It leads to better discussions and more people actually paying attention. If your a professor and you want to improve the discussion make the person you are calling on close their laptop. That way no one can send them the answer and they are focused(as long as they are prepared).
4.16.2008 9:47pm
Gaius Marius:
We shouldnt have to coddle law students, if they want to surf let them surf. BTW, the best way to keep people from surfing is to keep calling on everyone and not just stick with one person. I have a professor who does this and when she thinks your surfing the internet she calls on you. It leads to better discussions and more people actually paying attention. If your a professor and you want to improve the discussion make the person you are calling on close their laptop. That way no one can send them the answer and they are focused(as long as they are prepared).

Everyone will just "pass."
4.16.2008 10:07pm
Gaius Marius:
Gaius Marius: First of all, a loan is the same thing as a student's own money. Secondly, you are asking people with laptops to make accomodations for the stupid and easily distracted, not the other way around. Surfing the net during class helps people learn. You shouldn't punish these people just because some people might not have the manners to not look at other people's laptops. By the tone of your post, I assume that you are a liberal old guy who asks tons of stupid questions that force me to surf the net in the first place.

Pon Raul, you apparently forget that attending law school is a privilege -- not a right. Furthermore, being allowed to bring a laptop to law class is a privilege -- not a right. Moreover, surfing the internet on a laptop brought to law class is a privilege -- not a right. Since you clearly detract from the sum knowledge of mankind each time you post, I suggest that you think carefully (if at all possible) before you enter your next post.
4.16.2008 10:14pm
Gaius Marius:
As someone who scored consecutive A-minuses (with no "bump" for participation) in Michael Krauss's Torts I and Torts II classes, all while spending a prodigious amount of time on the internet, I don't see the necessity of adopting such a policy.

I'm sure your future prospective employer will appreciate you "spending a prodigious amount of time on the internet" at the office while you're supposed to be billing.
4.16.2008 10:16pm
Gaius Marius:
As a 3l who has read this blog frequently during class, I predict that the VC will need significantly less bandwidth if other schools follow Chicago, as my own school apparently intends to do.

If all else fails, hold your breath until you get your way.
4.16.2008 10:18pm
Gaius Marius:
Anybody who can't sit through a boring hour-and-a-half or two-hour lecture without squirming around on the internet isn't nearly ready to be a lawyer. One of the necessary skills, for any lawyer whose practice involves going to court or going to meetings, is paying attention even when things aren't inherently fascinating for long stretches of time.

As someone who is five years out of law school, Amen Brother!
4.16.2008 10:19pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
I'd just like to mention that after we learned about zoning in Property, I spent the next few classes playing Sim City 4.
4.16.2008 10:38pm
theobromophile (www):
I've done the handwritten notes thing in class. Advantages: keeps me focused. Although my handwriting is freakishly neat (if I may so brag), OCR does not recognise it. :( That means I have to re-type very neat, organised notes for my outlines. Laptops are much preferred. (I also like to search through my outlines when the prof mentions something. Somehow, I've yet to figure out how to do that efficiently with a spiral-bound notebook.)

Now, as for IMing... at least at my school, people will IM each other the answers. Quite convenient for the people who come in unprepared. Otherwise, you're just stuck trying to subtly point out the correct answers when you're sitting next to the professor's hapless victim.
4.16.2008 10:47pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Waste of time.

The scholars would just switch to evdo WAN systems. At least they'd be paying for their bandwidth.

Back when I went to law school, I had to read books to kill the time. Primitive.
4.16.2008 10:55pm
2L:
To me, class time is my time to relax a bit, check the news, check Volokh, and chat to friends online.

Classes are somewhat useful, and with a fun professor they're interesting enough to pay attention to, but I honestly just don't *get* why it's inherently useful to hear the law narrated to me when I can read it and learn it ten times quicker. If transcripts of law school classes were given out I'd read them all, but it feels like a waste of time to sit and listen to the whole thing.
4.16.2008 10:56pm
BChurch (mail):
I can't imagine anyone getting through three years of law school without occasionally drifting off. Especially when certain students drag the conversation off to tangential areas and won't let go (which seems to happen not infrequently-- any other students notice this, or is it just my school/classes?).

Without internet, people will play solitaire. Without computers, people will doodle. If you're so fragile that you can't focus with someone surfing the web in front of you, what's to say you won't be distracted by any of these other things?
4.16.2008 10:58pm
tbw:

Anybody who can't sit through a boring hour-and-a-half or two-hour lecture without squirming around on the internet isn't nearly ready to be a lawyer. One of the necessary skills, for any lawyer whose practice involves going to court or going to meetings, is paying attention even when things aren't inherently fascinating for long stretches of time.

As someone who is five years out of law school, Amen Brother!


If it is a necessary skill, you can be an adjunct professor of tedium. You can lead the class through simulated conference calls and semester long document reviews. Of course, we law students, like lawyers who are paid for their work, already cope with such issues as summer associates. The fact that legal practice entails tedium doesn't justify inflicting it on law students.

As noted by other commenters, banning the internet merely attempts to fix a symptom, inattentiveness, rather than the problem, the content and format of law school. In the process, it robs students of the opportunity to multi-task without any corresponding benefit. Any part of the small minority bothered by their classmates can sit in the front.
4.17.2008 1:10am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Not a law prof, hoping to become one, but...

If one of lectures was so tedious that students found the internet more useful, more power to them. The purpose is to impart information. In the end, they face a bar exam, and then being released into a sea of sharks, of which I am one. If they think they can cruise the net in a courtroom, we'll just have softer prey.
4.17.2008 1:59am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I did much better in fantsay baseball when I was in law school than I do now.
4.17.2008 2:00am
GatoRat:
I'm a computer programmer and have long found it very distracting for people to bring laptops and PDAs to meetings. I thought I was in a small minority, but I've noticed that companies are increasingly asking people to not bring electronic devices to meetings (and to turn cell phones off.) The biggest problem isn't playing games or web surfing, but the typing alone is distracting and the person typing tends to phase-out and become a kind-of human recording machine. At that point, the benefits of a face-to-face meeting become moot.
4.17.2008 2:20am
Grange95 (mail):
I attended law school in the dark ages pre-wireless internet .... but let's just say I managed to graduate in the top 10 without paying attention to many of my classes. Generally speaking, those professors who have mandatory attendance policies or other gimmicks to force students to pay attention are the same professors whose lectures add the least to the educational experience. If a professor takes the time to learn to give a lecture or initiate a class discussion to engage their students will never need to worry about whether their students have internet access. Trust me, I paid the most attention in, and learned the most from, the professors whose teachig styles made me want to come to class and participate.
4.17.2008 2:32am
Cory Campbell:
I would be willing to venture that the student likely to screw around rather than listen to the professor will overcome any hurdles limiting his/her technological support may present. Surely no one here suggests students always paid rapt attention to their professors in the pre-internet age. Some people get more from class by being able to quickly reference pertinent information online. Personally, my ADD makes a laptop a hindrance to learning - but then, I usually refrain from pulling out a notebook for the same reason. I agree the best policy is simply "live and let live" - if you're willing to sink mind-twisting amounts of money into failing law school (or barely passing law school to fail the bar, or barely passing the bar and making little more than you would without your J.D., etc.) who am I to stop you?
4.17.2008 4:55am
33yearprof:
I have banned them for exams because student do better when they write in bluebooks (more thought ans less BS). It's a pain for me to read handwritten answers but better for the students.

Next year I am going to ban laptops in class. When I converse, I want to see a face attached to an engaged brain, not a trademark and a court reporter transcribing gibberish.
I don't lecture, I play intellectual ping-pong. You can't do that with a blank wall.

Alternatively, I suppose I could make them stand up to respond. I doubt that they would pick up their laptop and attempt to type one-handed.
4.17.2008 9:35am
A.C.:
The best time to surf the net in class is not usually when the professor is talking, and it's never when the person with the computer is talking. (Okay, maybe he or she can look something up and then talk about it, but the surfing happens before the talking in that case.)

No, the real purpose of surfing the internet in class is to avoid the pain and confusion that occurs when some poor student who hasn't done the reading is being grilled. Writing that stuff down just muddles up class notes, and it's probably best for the sufferer if the other students look away until it's over. Most know to bring their focus back to class once some actual content is being presented.
4.17.2008 10:24am
Aultimer:
Don't professors give "class participation" grades anymore? That would seem to be the appropriate tool to allow the customers (students) to get what they care to out of lectures and allow the providers (lecturers) to reward in-class contribution to learning or punish distractions.

I'd also be more in favor of a ban if a professor had assigned seating, but I only remember one doing that in my career.
4.17.2008 10:59am
Aultimer:

33yearprof:
I have banned them for exams because student do better when they write in bluebooks (more thought ans less BS). It's a pain for me to read handwritten answers but better for the students.


I assure you, there are students who DON'T do better when they write in bluebooks. Some of us don't write longhand much, and it gets in the way of our learning and expressing ourselves. If you give students the option, they can figure out which writing tool works best for them.
4.17.2008 11:09am
U.Va. 2L:
Professor talking: take notes
Student saying something useful: maybe take notes
Gunner wasting class time: read e-mail, do journal work, read Volokh, etc.

For whatever it's worth, in undergrad I would keep myself busy in class by playing Tetris on my TI-86 graphic calculator. It's easier for me to stay focused if I can multi-task.
4.17.2008 11:30am
Displaced Midwesterner:

When I converse, I want to see a face attached to an engaged brain, not a trademark and a court reporter transcribing gibberish.

Well, at least there is one professor who understands the value and clarity of what he says in class. :)
4.17.2008 12:05pm
SIG357:
"On one hand, law students are adults."


Hmmmm.
4.17.2008 12:53pm
33yearprof:
Received from a colleague:
[quote]On a completely anecdotal note, one of my students just told me that all the students who received CALI awards [highest grade] in her section take notes with pen and paper rather than on their lap tops. I don't know if it means anything, but I thought it was interesting that a student would notice this.[/quote]
4.17.2008 12:58pm
Virginian:
In one class, I sat behind some guy who played solitaire constantly. The problem was...he completely sucked at it. I kept wanting to scream "move the red 7 to the black 8, you idiot!"
4.17.2008 2:13pm
Craig Oren (mail):
Students have been finding distractions from poor professors way before there were computers. Does anyone remember playing bingo in class? (The object was to guess which students would volunteer.) A professsor with a substantial problem keeping his/her students' attention is not a good professor, and probably deserves what he or she gets.

Students also used to occasionally take note by shorthand. Somehow the world survived.
4.17.2008 3:19pm
Suzy (mail):
I'm rather surprised that law profs do not demand that laptops be closed when a student is questioned in class, for the reasons that Law Dawg pointed out above. Would the prof consider it dishonest for a student to answer on the basis of notes passed over from a friend who actually had read the case? I hear that students being questioned in class are often getting answers via text message from friends on the laptop screen. Doesn't that dishonesty bother either profs or students?
4.17.2008 5:03pm
DJ (mail):
The U of C Law School takes pride in its continued use of the Socratic method in class. Students are called on without prompting or notice. The effectiveness of this pedagogic method is undermined if students aren't giving their full attention to the discussion. Accordingly, restricting classroom Internet access at the U of C makes sense.
4.17.2008 5:38pm
theobromophile (www):
I have banned them for exams because student do better when they write in bluebooks (more thought ans less BS). It's a pain for me to read handwritten answers but better for the students.

Next year I am going to ban laptops in class. When I converse, I want to see a face attached to an engaged brain, not a trademark and a court reporter transcribing gibberish.
I don't lecture, I play intellectual ping-pong. You can't do that with a blank wall.

Alternatively, I suppose I could make them stand up to respond. I doubt that they would pick up their laptop and attempt to type one-handed.

1. I write somewhat slowly, but very, very legibly. I had had professors who have given me extra time (a few minutes) on exams to finish them, because they recognised the value of neat writing.

You have several options: place word limits on each essay answer; give students a set amount of space in which to write their answers; and give students extra time if they handwrite their exams.

2. One of my professors demanded that students who were "on call" for the day not type notes. The laptop had to be closed. Other students would email notes after class. Why not try that, instead of punishing those of us who would prefer to type our notes?

3. Some of us don't write gibberish notes. I spend down time in class organising my notes for the day, inputing other info from my book (things that the professor did not have time to go over), and the like. I'm sorry that other students don't have the sense to use their time wisely, but I fail to see why other students ougth to be punished for their classmates' failings.
4.17.2008 5:52pm
Pon Raul (mail):
Gaius Marius: What is wrong with you? Talking about rights v. privileges is misplaced. This is a policy discussion about what policies schools should have, which impacts a contractual relationship between the student and the school. I think schools shouldn't treat students as babies.
4.17.2008 7:24pm
EvilDave (mail):
1) I thought many of my law school classes were worthless. So, I stopped attending. There are plenty of extra materials for law school and you can do very well if you can learn on your own. I almost always got better grades than my class attending students.
If the class isn't worth it, don't go. Attendance should not be mandatory regardless of the ABA's stance

2) Most of the classroom discussion was worthless, political rants, or downright wrong. Missing it may in fact be helpful. I am still stunned that I didn't walk down to the front row and kill the guy that proudly explained supply &demand to the business law seminar class (We are in graduate school, in an advanced course and you're proud of that elementary knowledge? And, you wasted my time with it?).

3) I totally agree that laptop surfing/games is distracting to the people behind you.

4) We have the problem that today's students are conditioned to give partial attention to multiple things. Giving full attention to one thing (the professor) seems very confining to them. It is like one of two engines is running but not engaged; the students don't know how to drive things with both engines.
I found that the BarbBri DVDs lost this problem when I used the PC to play them back at 1.2x or 1.5x speed. Almost as if I expect a certain data rate of information to stream into my brain, if the data rate is too low, I start looking for more sources.
4.17.2008 9:02pm
cchagins:
Far too much suffering in the world is caused by people incensed at the thought that they may be receiving insufficient respect.
4.18.2008 1:12am
Oschisms (mail):
My Con Law I prof threatened to kick me out of his class because I caught him in a lie using google.

Any prof that wants to ban the internet only does so because he wants to lie to the class without consequence.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the profs stuck to...Oh, I don't know...maybe case law?
4.18.2008 1:12am
Avatar (mail):
There are many ways of goofing off in class that don't require a computer.

I tended to just bring a book. It's not distracting to the neighbors, there's no clicking, and you can easily pick up the technique of reading and listening to the lecture at the same time; once you've done that, any professors who try to catch you out will instead be faced with the realization that what they're saying is elementary enough that you don't have to pay attention to follow it. ;p

(This doesn't work so well if the professor is genuinely informative during the lecture - but if you're having trouble focusing on your goofing off because the professor is too interesting, you probably don't need to goof off!)

If the professor gets snotty, revise your choice of reading material. Tolkien not okay? Grab a law textbook or a law review. My favorite trick was reading The Economist during economics classes...

At the end of the day, there has to be some recognition that the professor is going to have a few students in his class that are genuinely smarter than he is. Demanding the undivided attention of someone who's got 50 IQ points on you is presumptuous under any circumstances...
4.18.2008 3:54am
Joe Strumemr (mail):
2L at UNC taking a break from studying for finals to say this: Chicago should take some of those market principles many of the faculty like so much and use them to improve the quality of the educational experience.

The fact of the matter is that many professors - I've been at classes at two law schools and have seen lectures at several others - aren't very good teachers. Maybe Chicago is a cut above in this regard, but I doubt it.

Second, the second and third years of law school are wastes of time, mandated by legal restrictions on who can join the bar. But will I ever consult my memory of what I learned in Secured Transactions from this semester to figure out how Article 9 applies if I need to counsel a client? Of course not, and no law firm would let me.

Second and third years are full of these sorts of classes where you learn one area of law you'll never consult before moving on to the next.

So if Chicago wants to reduce computer usage in the classroom, then Chicago should make its classes more interesting or, barring that, work to change state legislation that remove the 3 year law school requirement.
4.18.2008 12:25pm
Joe Strumemr (mail):
Anybody who can't sit through a boring hour-and-a-half or two-hour lecture without squirming around on the internet isn't nearly ready to be a lawyer. One of the necessary skills, for any lawyer whose practice involves going to court or going to meetings, is paying attention even when things aren't inherently fascinating for long stretches of time.

Oh bull. But the difference, however, is that you're getting paid to do that.

In law school, you're paying for the privilege of listening to awful lectures about material that you could just as well read a hornbook to figure out.

As for the commenter who says that people paying attention get higher scores: Sure... it's that kind of earnestness that's going to make you a fantastic lawyer.
4.18.2008 12:32pm