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Class Discussion:

Some commenters on the thread about no-laptop policies in law schools (and the related thread on libertarianism and actions within institutions) asked: Why not rely on each student's own judgment about whether laptops are too distracting to them? Shouldn't we assume that our adult students generally know best what's best for themselves?

It's an interesting question (a question of ethics and good sense rather than of rights-based constraints on government power) to what extent universities and law schools should be paternalistic to the students who have chosen to attend. A simple example: Many professors require students to hand in a rough draft of a seminar paper at a particular date, rather than just handing in a final draft. (If the student is late with the rough draft, they may get penalized, and in any event the student understandably thinks that the professor's rule is a demand and not just a request.) The main reason for this is to help discipline the student into getting a rough draft in early, so that the student can profit from the professor's comments, and so the student will produce a better paper and learn more about the subject and about writing in the process. Is that improper, because it's unduly paternalistic? Should I stress to students that the rough draft deadlines are optional, and that if they don't want to hand in a rough draft, that's likely to be a mistake but it's entirely up to them? I'm not sure, but I think the right answer isn't obvious.

But in this post I want to focus on something else: The role of class discussion in legal education. I want to argue that students — though they of course pay lots of money to us — are not just customers of legal education, but are also in a sense a sort of employee: Law school classes rely on students' participating in the class, as a means of helping educate the other students. Learning, the theory goes, is a cooperative endeavor, in which students benefit from hearing each other's comments.

This is most obvious in seminars, classes that are usually of twelve or fewer students, in which most of the discussion involves students discussing the materials, or each other's papers. Naturally, the discussion is guided by the professor, but the point is for the students to learn by having a conversation. That's the format for seminars in most subjects, I think, and certainly for law school seminars.

Because of this, both attendance and discussion are required in seminars. If you don't show up, your grade might be reduced; likewise if you don't talk in class. If the professor calls on you, passing is not an option. (In some large classes, professors offer a no-hassle pass option, but if you pass in a seminar, the professor may well publicly reprimand you, and might penalize you more formally if you keep doing this.) The reason isn't paternalistic concern for the particular student. Rather, it's that the student's job is to participate, in order to create the class discussion that is supposed to be the mechanism through which all the students learn.

Likewise, some seminars involve students commenting on each other's rough drafts or on each other's presentations of their works in progress. This means that students must hand in rough drafts on time, or else they won't be available as subjects for discussion, and for the other students to practice their editing skills and their constructive criticism skills. (This is why I don't need to decide whether a mandatory rough draft policy is improperly paternalistic when the students just hand in the rough drafts to me: The seminar I teach is heavily organized around students' commenting on each other's work product, so punctual submission of rough drafts and other stages of a paper is necessary for the benefit of the other students, and not just of the submitting students.)

Most law school classes are between seminars and lectures: The professor talks more than he does in a seminar, and class discussion is less important than in a seminar, but class discussion still takes up a large part of the time, and the professor's conversations with the students — and sometimes students' conservations with each other — are an important pedagogical tool. Some question whether it's an effective tool; perhaps we'd be better off lecturing more and drawing the students in less. But most of our classes do heavily rely (rightly or wrongly) on this tool.

This means that whether students are paying attention in class affects not just themselves, but their classmates. Students who tune out, either because they're distracted by non-class materials, or because they are so focused on taking verbatim notes that they aren't really mentally engaging the information, aren't doing the job they're supposed to do. (Again, I recognize that they're not being directly paid for the job, but rather have to pay us; but part of the educational transaction is that they get an education and a credential in exchange for money and class participation.) When fewer students participate in class, other students get less out of the class discussion. When a student is called on and doesn't give a good answer, other students get less out of the class discussion (especially since time is wasted, and the conversation is interrupted).

In my view, the main impetus for the non-laptop policies has not been paternalism towards students who choose to tune out. That may have been part of some professors' concern, but it wasn't the deciding factor for me, and I suspect it wasn't the deciding factor for most other professors who have experimented with these policies. Rather, the concern is about the impact of laptops on others — both (1) the distraction to other students when someone is surfing the Web or (even if Internet access is turned off) is playing solitaire, and, probably more importantly, (2) the perceived decrease in class discussion stemming from laptop use, and the hoped-for increase in the number of participants and the quality of participation when people stop using the laptops.

Now I'm not sure whether class discussion improves as a result of no-laptop policies. I've heard favorable reports from others, but the reason I'm calling this an experiment is precisely because I don't know for sure whether the results will be positive (though I've heard enough to suggest that the results are unlikely to be highly negative). But I don't think they can be faulted — whether on libertarian reasons or others — simply on the grounds that they are paternalistic towards the students, in the sense of stopping each student from doing something because we think that behavior is bad for that particular student. Rather, we're trying to improve class discussion, a discussion through which each student's participation benefits the other students as well as the participant.

That's a familiar policy, as I've said, for seminars, where attendance and participation rules are commonplace. And I think it's also an ethically permissible policy for larger classes that generally rely at least in part on student discussion, and not just on lecturing.

tarheel:
Prof. Volokh: I do think it is important -- as you have done here -- to highlight the difference between seminars and lecture classes. Many of the commenters on previous posts on this topic seem to be talking past each other because they are talking about two very different kinds of law classes.

For a seminar with 10-30 people, I agree that discussion is crucial and classroom policies intended to promote that (internet bans) are perfectly reasonable.

I am less convinced of the efficacy of student participation in large lecture classes (75-100). In my experience, a lot of student input (not questions for the professor, but commentary and discussion) is tangential at best and often just flat wrong. The result is the professor has to walk back what was just said, wasting time and losing the attention of the other students. The general sentiment I heard from my classmates in law school was that they wanted to hear from the professor, not their classmates about the important issues in a case.
8.25.2008 11:27am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
It is not a matter of the students being some kind of "employee". Each class becomes a kind of temporary subsociety with its own affiliation contract, not unlike a family that functions to induce membership of children into adult society, or at least the subsociety (tribe) of legal professionals. Much of what happens can be understood in terms of tribal initiation.

However, this opens the discussion of methods of teaching, and I submit the Lancasterian Monitorial System that prevailed in the United States until the early 20th century, when it was displaced by the lecture system advocated by Horace Mann and inspired by the industrial efficiency teachings of Frederick Taylor. The motto of the Lancasterian method was Qui docet, discit --
He who teaches, learns. The originator of the method, Joseph Lancaster, in 1798, was able to teach as many as a thousand students, using the more advanced ones to help teach the less advanced. My grandfather, who taught public school under both systems, warned that grouping kids by age would cause them to be excessively influenced by their peers and that we would become a nation of adolescents.
8.25.2008 11:32am
runape (mail):

That's a familiar policy, as I've said, for seminars, where attendance and participation rules are commonplace. And I think it's also an ethically permissible policy for larger classes that generally rely at least in part on student discussion, and not just on lecturing.


I appreciate the effort to be more thoughtful about these policies. But the policy to which you are analogizing here - that lack of attendance and participation may be penalized by lowering of the grade - is entirely different from the policy you are proposing.

Your proposed policy is a flat ban on laptops (and perhaps mandatory participation). The analog to your policy is not the traditional attendance rule (e.g., feel free to miss classes, but recognize that by so doing your grade might be lowered.) The real analog would be a policy that said, "Miss one class and you fail, without exception."

Traditional attendance policies provide students a measure of flexibility. Such policies typically have no penalty for a low number of absences, and usually have a maximum penalty of, say, a full-grade deduction even for a higher number of absences. Even under the harshest attendance policies I ever suffered through, it took a very significant number of absences (as a percentage of the total number of classes) to fail outright.

Your view relies on an overly romanticized notion of legal education. You would like to envision law school as a pedagogical experience in which there is intellectual discourse, the fruitful exchange of ideas, and so on. That's a fine view of legal education, and perhaps is similar to your experience. But it is certainly not what most law students sign up for.

Most law students, I think, would say that their priorities are (in this order): (a) receiving their degree, preferably backed by good grades and awards; (b) maintaining a personal life that is not tied to school; and (c) engaging in intellectual conversation in a limited set of courses. But even for those students who enjoy the intellectual side, surely most only enjoy it in certain select courses, and not in every class they are required (or choose) to take.

And so, to the extent you characterize students as your "employees" (with the rather staggering $150,000+ caveat), you are bundling many, if not most, students' preferred good with your view of the best good. You are imposing the bitter with the sweet; but your only justification is your sense of what is best. Your policy choice is surely suspect on efficiency grounds, but I don't think you fare much better on ethical grounds, either.
8.25.2008 11:44am
Malthus:
How about the option to pursue a legal career following a more European model, with these features:

1. The only prerequisite for practice of law is to sit for the Bar Exam and pass it.
2. Professors set their own rates and class limits, along with whatever arbitrary rules regarding note-taking, etc.
3. Grant professorship to who can actually draw students to class, regardless of professional certification.
4. Students may attend classes at will and pay ONLY for the class hours of actual attendance.

This is the way to cut student expenditures of time and money for attending boring and useless classes, satisfy the professors happy with arbitrary rules, and attract more interesting law professors like David Friedman, who while teaching law &economics, has never had a formal class in either, but who, unlike most all law professors, is highly skilled in math and science.
8.25.2008 11:46am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
As others have pointed out, if the goal is more and better class participation, just make call on students and refuse to let them have a pass if they aren't able to respond.

Also, I said it before and I'll say it again -- it would be really poor form to spring this on your students after they had already registered for a course and didn't have a meaningful chance to sign up for non-laptop banning class instead. If a professor wants to ban laptops in class, then the right way to do it is to make that clear when they sign up for the class.
8.25.2008 11:52am
Modus Ponens:
What disturbs me about this is the blanket substitution of the faculty's judgment for that of his/her students on a matter--that is, one's academic performance--which, in many instances, is best left to the latter.

Case in point: I myself am comfortable taking notes both by-hand and by-laptop. I went to college in the years before laptops were widely available, but began using a laptop consistently for in-class notes years later while in grad school. I switched between the two methods throughout my time at law school.

Generally speaking, I myself received marginally higher grades in classes wherein I took notes via laptop as opposed to handwriting them. I admit, however, that I tended to participate more in classes in which I hand-wrote my notes.

But should that option be taken away from me or from any other student; and in particular, from those students who find--as did I myself--that they perform better (i.e., are better able to cram for finals) in classes when they've taken notes by computer as opposed to by hand?

Two points of disclosure:

(1) my grades were excellent over-all; and

(2) I never took verbatim transcript-style notes, even when typing.

And one final thought:

the best way to improve classroom discussion is for the instructor to make a clear distinction between (a) information questions, and (b) "rhetorical type" questions which are actually an invitation for student back-channeling (e.g. a collective nodding of heads). No one wants to be that student who answers earnestly the latter "question" while his/her classmates snicker and roll their eyes.
8.25.2008 11:52am
Wallace:

Students who tune out. . .because they are so focused on taking verbatim notes that they aren't really mentally engaging the information,


I've heard professors complain about this, but I wonder if there's any real evidence to support it. Sure, the stenographic-type note-takers may not have time to raise their hands, but most of the ones I met usually had a good graps on the material, and could respond when called on.

As far as stimulating class discussion goes, the biggest obstacle is not laptops. It's social anxiety. In a class of 100 people, 80% will be uncomfortable talking in front of a large group and view the risks of looking like a jackass as far greater than the benefit of advancing the class discussion. The other 20% will be gunners.
8.25.2008 11:53am
OleShu:
While I can see how a no-laptop policy smacks of paternalism and while I recognize that each student is free to make their own choices about how they best learn, I always enjoyed the classes more when the professors banned laptops, as more people were involved - even if the comments were sometimes off-base.

Part of paying for law school, IMHO, is that I receive the benefit of seeing how other people approach the same problem and, in turn, adjust my own approach to reading and considering an issue. If people aren't involved, I'm not getting the benefit of my deal with the school.

Accordingly, I would look at a no-laptop policy - not as paternalism (and pandering to the lowest common denominator) - but ensuring that those people who want to engage have the benefit of their investment with the law school.
8.25.2008 11:56am
BC (mail):
I again must say that I think this is a ridiculous policy that is not only paternalistic and insulting to students, but will also not be effective.

I graduated in 2000 from a top-5 law school. After my first year (during which attendance was mandatory), I very rarely attended most of my classes and still received all As and Bs (mostly Bs). My friends even referred to me as the "correspondence student." Most of my classes were, in my opinion, boring, uninformative, and a waste of time. The worst part of the classes was listening to 5 students in a row provide wrong answers to questions posed by the professor.

For example, I took a tax law class and rarely ever attended. I decided to attend one day (I hadn't been attened in 3 weeks or so) to see if I was missing anything. During the class, the professor asked a question, whose answer was blatantly obvious (I hadn't read for the class and had no idea what the tax law stated on the issue). After the 6th student provided the wrong answer, I finally raised my hand and provided the correct answer. Needless to say, that was the last time I attended that class until the final (received a B+ and even helped teach the class to a fellow student that was really struggling).

There were a few classes/professors that I found fascinating, and I never missed those classes. Those classes provided a non-punitive reason for attendance.

I think these no laptop policies, attendance policies, etc. are merely attempts by a producer to eliminate competition for a poor product. If you want students to attend, participate, and learn, improve your product. Don't turn into the RIAA.
8.25.2008 11:57am
runape (mail):

Part of paying for law school, IMHO, is that I receive the benefit of seeing how other people approach the same problem and, in turn, adjust my own approach to reading and considering an issue. If people aren't involved, I'm not getting the benefit of my deal with the school.


That is somewhat contradictory to your preference for a laptop ban, isn't it?
8.25.2008 12:02pm
A.C.:
For those of us who type faster than we write by hand, using laptops actually frees up time that we can then use to participate in class. Or to take more notes -- sometimes one is the better use of time, and sometimes the other one is. It depends on the material, and that can vary from day to day even within one class. I found that it sometimes made sense to use class time to sort out a complex issue that had been bothering me, which may or may not have been the thing the professor decided to spend a lot of class time on. People from different backgrounds have different ideas about what is difficult and what is blindingly obvious.

And not everyone learns the same way. Some students need to take things in and mull them over before they can contribute usefully in class. Some think best with their mouths running. Some are hard of hearing and don't even know what the other students across the room are saying. Some are natural debaters and like a verbal sparring match better than anyone.

I don't think there is any way to impose one learning style on a large lecture hall of students. In particular, I don't think it is fair to impose an extroverted learning style on introverts. Some of the best students in my law school were very quiet in class. But if I wanted to know what they thought about something, I could always ask them.
8.25.2008 12:12pm
A.W. (mail):
No, sorry, this is still anti-libertarian.

And it is not fair to the students either, especially those with disabilities. You are being a classic technophobe pretending the problem is the technology and not the people using it.

For instance, you want class participation? Rather than these contrivances, how about GRADING PARTICIPATION? A non-paternalistic approach says "I need you to go from A to B. But i don't particularly care how you get there (barring dishonesty, cheating, etc.)." You are trying not only to manage the outcome, but the process, too. In fact, you are ignoring the outcome in favor of the process, so that a slouch who takes notes by hand is treated kindly, but a class leader who engages in a sharp and interesting class discussion, and is always prepared, is punished because he uses a laptop to help him. Its unfair and wrong.

Otherwise you end up with mismatches between ends and means which is bound to create problems. Let's be clear: computers are only one way of taking notes. Complaining that the computer is the problem is like complaining that students use ball point pens, instead of good quill pens. If you think the method of notetaking is the problem, as opposed to the mind involved, you are being technophobic and frankly silly.

Your students are adults. Some might be older than you. They don't need instructions on how to learn, and if participation is so important as to avoid those kinds of third party effects, then deal with the effects, not some proxy for them.

As for the canard about playing solitare, I can say as a relatively recent student in a very tech-friendly law school, that when i saw my fellow students goofing off during class, somehow amazingly i picked up the pieces and moved on. /sarcasm. Really, if you are motivated, seeing someone who is not doesn't hurt you at all. and if you are not motivated, well, then that is your own problem, and let's be blunt, that is paternalistic--to say that gosh, if i see someone playing Half-Life 2 on school time, my brain will just wilt!

Its pretty remarkable for a so-called libertarian to make this argument. Well, then, i guess in greater society, we can ban drugs, sodomy/adultry, anti-Obama or anti-McCain speech, and so on, because our poor brains cannot even function having seen such things. Now we know how to paralyze these young lawyers into thoughtlessness: solitare. I suppose the ABA will step in and label the viscious use of solitare an unfair courtroom tactic.

But again, the problem isn't the technology but the people using it. i suppose pen and paper should be banned, too, because my gosh, someone might doodle, or even play tic-tac-toe with their neighbor, and that will crush the spirits of their fellow lawyers-to-be.

Really, the concern of the busy body is not good logical basis for your proposed policy. If someone says if Janey says "i can't concentrate because Bobby is goofing off" the proper answer is "play through the pain, Janey." Sheesh.
8.25.2008 12:13pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
As someone who cannot read his own writing, I would strongly protest a no-laptop policy. Why assume that those with laptops are not/cannot pay attention? Forbid their laptops once they have demonstrated they are not.

Further, I would allow internet access to Lexis and Westlaw. I injured myself during 1L, and could not haul all of my casebooks around with me. Being able to pull up the cases electronically was a godsend.

Sure there will be people playing solitaire. There will also be people doing the crossword puzzle, or thinking about the hot classmate two students down. There is no way to mandate attention in the class.

True that tapping on keys can distract fellow students. Having worked in cubicle land, however, I believe being able to tune out distractions is an essential work skill.
8.25.2008 12:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As others have pointed out, if the goal is more and better class participation, just make call on students and refuse to let them have a pass if they aren't able to respond.
The problem with refusing to let students pass is that while this provides good incentives for students to be prepared, it provides a very bad class experience for everyone else if the called-upon student isn't prepared. The only way to resolve this would be to allow him (or her) to pass but to penalize him if he does.

And it still misses the point, anyway. The ban on laptops isn't to keep an individual student from passing when called upon; it's to keep as many students engaged in the class as possible.
8.25.2008 12:17pm
musefree (www):
To those who think it is anti-libertarian, It is Prof. Volokh's class and he has the right to conduct it in anyway he pleases. The students are voluntarily signing up for it, presumably with the full knowledge that the professor has the power to make whatever course policies he deems fit.

Banning laptops in class is not anti-libertarian. At worst, it is paternalistic.

A government banning drugs on the other hand, is anti-libertarian, because you do not voluntarily agree to it. This point is hardly complicated.

Libertarianism is primarily about opposition to coercion. Since the government is the only entity that has the legal right to coerce, the proper scope of libertarianism is limitation of government power.
8.25.2008 12:26pm
darelf:
I... hate formal education, but I have absolutely no problem with rules such as these.

You're taking classes from a particular school, from a particular set of professors, in order to gain whatever educational benefit you believe they are able to impart to you. If you buck their methods, then I must question why you bother at all.

Personally, I have found my "success" in my career to be unaffected by my lack of a degree. If you must, or you feel you can gain something from the experience, you ought to enter it with the idea that you are going to learn something from these professors that you could not otherwise learn on your own. That you are paying for their expertise in teaching, and that possibly their methods might work if you give in to them. As always it is your choice to do it or not.
8.25.2008 12:27pm
The Ace:
It does not violate libertarian principles for you to bad laptops. You are in a "non-government" situation and you have the right. It does violate libertarian free-market philosophy, however. You consistently argue that "output" or "utility" will be maximized when free markets are allowed to work. Apparently, the law of the free market do not apply in your classroom. There, output will be maximized when there is strict regulation.
8.25.2008 12:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Sheesh; it's amazing how many people aggressively choose to miss the point no matter how many times it's explained to them: it's not about you. So complaining that you personally prefer laptops misses the point. Complaining that you get better grades or take better notes with laptops miss the point. Complaining that it's "paternalistic" misses the point. (Paternalism would only apply if the ban were for the primary benefit of the individual who's being denied the use of the laptop. Seat belt laws are paternalistic; drunk driving laws are not.) And complaining that it's anti-libertarian not only misses the point but demonstrates a lack of understanding of libertarianism.
8.25.2008 12:31pm
frankcross (mail):
David, that makes sense and its my position. But this is a question of externalities, and you might be surprised how many libertarians wish away externality problems, claiming they offer no basis for common rules.
8.25.2008 12:36pm
GMS:
You guys took notes in law school?
8.25.2008 12:38pm
runape (mail):

Sheesh; it's amazing how many people aggressively choose to miss the point no matter how many times it's explained to them: it's not about you.


This is an inaccurate characterization of many of the criticisms of this policy.

To the extent you are suggesting that critics of Eugene's policy are ignoring the externalities issue, you are mistaken. The point is, first, that the supposed externalities are speculative; and second, it is unclear why people with poor attention-spans should be subsidized at the expense of people who learn better with laptops. (Are you advocating for an increase in the number of lawyers with poor attention spans?)

And once you set aside the externalities question, there remain only paternalistic (or self-aggrandizing) justifications for the policy. And I don't think Eugene would deny that his approach is paternalistic in the sense that he believes he knows what works best, and he is willing to follow that belief over the beliefs of his students, many of whom are likely to disagree with him.
8.25.2008 12:42pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

it's not about you. So complaining that you personally prefer laptops misses the point. Complaining that you get better grades or take better notes with laptops miss the point.

I am the customer; Prof. Volokh is the vendor. In a free market, if he doesn't meet my needs I am free to seek another vendor. Once I enter his law school, am I free to select classes that meet my needs? Otherwise his law school is not a free market.
8.25.2008 12:59pm
Recent Law School Grad:
Regardless of the libertarian arguments... Prof. Volokh's no laptop policy appears to disregard the value of laptops to students with disabilities.

My eyes have a focusing problem. When I frequently switch focus between near (notes) and far (the professor, other students, the class) I lose concentration and get headaches.

I suffered through high school and the first half of college until I switched to taking notes on my computer. My grades improved substantially and I started actually learning from lectures because I stopped getting splitting headaches and losing focus.

Using a computer to take notes allows me to work around my disability because I don't have to look at my notes while I'm typing. I can keep my eyes focused at a distance on the professor and other students and only occasionally have to glance down and change focus to the computer.

If I'm writing notes by I hand I have to look down at what I'm writing and that cycle of changing focus from far to near is what causes problems for me.

If Prof. Volokh's new policy were thrust on me, instead of being visually engaged in the lecture, I would stop making eye contact with the professor and other students and just stare at my notes trying to listen without looking.
8.25.2008 1:01pm
SpenceB:
[ "Law school classes rely on students' participating in the class, as a means of helping educate the other students. Learning, the theory goes, is a cooperative endeavor, in which students benefit from hearing each other's comments." ]


Surprising how much speculation, custom & ritual {..learning "theory"} is so heavily embedded in the formal education process.

Despite our 21st Century hi-tech information society, the commonplace daily instructional/educational process has not been objectively evaluated with scientific tools -- statistics, data collection, control groups, random assignment, etc.

Basic education processes haven't changed in many centuries. It's assumed that a person standing in front of and 'controlling' a group of seated persons is absolutely the best way to transfer knowledge.

Any failures in this ancient system are automatically attributed to deficiencies in the individual seated persons.

But obviously, the 'system' has many components: teacher, students, syllabus, textbooks, prior learning/preparation, schedules, classrooms, visual aids, test & evaluation processes, chairs/desks, location, physical environment, noise/distractions, financial &social incentives, etc etc. These other system components can well cause 'failures' in the learning system... not directly attributable to individual student malfunctions.

Are student laptops really one of the primary problems in this complex learning system... nope, doesn't even make the Top-10 list.

Since the school faculty/administrators are the system 'managers', all system failures are directly attributable to deficiencies in their design & management of that system
8.25.2008 1:16pm
guessing (mail):
I am having a hard time seeing how an laptop experiment is drawing so much criticism. Certainly Pof. Volokh is free to make whatever reasonable rules he wants for his class. Nobody has to attend his school or register for his classes. If students want his teaching, they must pay his price. There would be no paternalism objection if he phrased his policy this way -- so why do we complain that his motivation is for the students' good instead of his mere whim?

The sky is not going to fall. All those bright young students will be just fine, just like they were before laptops.

Besides, the really interesting subject that has not yet been addressed is enforcement. What happens when 30 students stage an "LCD-in" and break out laptops for class?
8.25.2008 1:17pm
Kenvee:
I certainly understand the value of a good class discussion on a topic. Students who don't "get" the material or aren't paying attention and thus can't answer class questions waste everyone's time.

But... what if someone isn't paying attention because he's writing frantically to take in every word on his hand-written notes? What if she isn't paying attention because she isn't feeling well? What if he's daydreaming about a cute girl or planning his evening? In all of those cases, you would penalize the student by (1) in-class shaming, or (2) lowering the grade for poor class participation. You wouldn't forbid the student from taking hand-written notes, being sick, or daydreaming. I see no reason why the supposed attention problem from laptops can't be handled the same way. Students who cannot focus if they bring their laptop will stop bringing it if they want to pass, but students who have no problem with them and find them beneficial will continue bringing them.

Similarly, problems with other students being distracted by what's on another's screen can be solved by having "laptop zones", where the easily distracted sit in the first few rows. Those who want to bring laptops or just don't care will sit further back.

I think that a no-laptop policy is just amputating the leg for a sprained ankle. There are other solutions that will fix the concerns being raised without taking away a tool that many, many students find beneficial. Why not explore those first before taking the more extreme option?
8.25.2008 1:18pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
To the extent you are suggesting that critics of Eugene's policy are ignoring the externalities issue, you are mistaken. The point is, first, that the supposed externalities are speculative;
1) So what? The benefits of lots of things about law school, including law school itself, are "speculative." But the professor gets to be the one to speculate; that's why he's the professor and you're just the law-talking guy.

2) Perhaps that's why E.V. explicitly denominated it as an "experiment."


I am the customer; Prof. Volokh is the vendor. In a free market, if he doesn't meet my needs I am free to seek another vendor. Once I enter his law school, am I free to select classes that meet my needs? Otherwise his law school is not a free market.
That's like complaining that once you enter the Ford dealership, you aren't free to select a Chrysler. His law school is not a free market; it's just a "vendor" in that market. You get to choose which vendor to deal with, but not what that vendor's product line is.
8.25.2008 1:31pm
frankcross (mail):
Tony, the free market is not in classes but in law schools. You may transfer to another school or you could have insisted that you wouldn't enroll absent a laptop allowed rule. But prospective students, I'm sure, don't really care enough to insist on such a rule. When purchasers in a market don't really care about an attribute, sellers don't attend to it.
8.25.2008 1:33pm
SATA_Interface:
Tony, you missed the boat with that awful free market reference. As a student, you are free to apply to schools in order to get an education in any field where there's a teacher available; nobody would restrict your choices of a vendor.

Once you are accepted and are taking classes, that free market concept goes out the door. Do you pay the Professor or the school? There is your customer and vendor relationship.
8.25.2008 1:37pm
tarheel:
I asked this on the first thread on this topic, but have yet to see a satisfactory answer. What possible rationale is there for banning laptops instead of turning off WiFi. If the issue is distracting other students, this would effectively eliminate it (aside from the very small number of students who might play solitaire or minesweeper), but still accommodate those who wish to type their notes. If the issue is distracting the laptop users themselves, how is typing notes instead of writing them by hand any more distracting?
8.25.2008 1:49pm
runape (mail):

So what? The benefits of lots of things about law school, including law school itself, are "speculative." But the professor gets to be the one to speculate; that's why he's the professor and you're just the law-talking guy.


This is question-begging. At issue is why professors are or should be "the one[s] to speculate." Eugene is attempting to offer a defense. I disagree with his argument. You are assuming his argument to be correct.
8.25.2008 1:50pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Umm, teaching is a paternalistic endeavor. Law school is not a democracy. I would hope that professors would adjust their policies from time-to-time to try to make the learning environment better.

I also think students will learn from having to detach themselves from their laptops every now and then. You can't always use them in practice. And most (all?) bar exams are hand-written.
8.25.2008 1:50pm
tarheel:
Public_Defender: I think almost all can be either typed or written. In NC this year, it was probably 10:1 typers vs. writers, not least because we were told graders would rather read typed essays.
8.25.2008 1:52pm
one of many:
A nice analysis, the only modification I would recommend is not considering seminar students as employees with the job of participating but instead to consider participation as part of the tuition required of the students.
8.25.2008 1:59pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Tony, the free market is not in classes but in law schools. You may transfer to another school or you could have insisted that you wouldn't enroll absent a laptop allowed rule. But prospective students, I'm sure, don't really care enough to insist on such a rule. When purchasers in a market don't really care about an attribute, sellers don't attend to it.

Changing laptop policies after I've enrolled is bait and switch, then. They have my money, and count on my unwillingness to go to the trouble of transferring.

That's like complaining that once you enter the Ford dealership, you aren't free to select a Chrysler.

No, it's like complaining that once I've bought the car, I'm forced to sit still as the back room person tries to sell me an extended warranty, undercoating, paint protection, etc. I wanted the car, not to be subjected to this extraneous bs that primarily serves the vendor and not me, the customer.

Do you pay the Professor or the school? There is your customer and vendor relationship.

Schools will not willingly pay professors shunned by students. One professor at my school had only a handful of students in his upperclass courses. They actually rejiggered the 1L curriculum so he would get more work to do -- 1Ls had no choice over the profs they got.
8.25.2008 1:59pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

I am having a hard time seeing how an laptop experiment is drawing so much criticism. Certainly Pof. Volokh is free to make whatever reasonable rules he wants for his class. Nobody has to attend his school or register for his classes.


Except that Professor Volokh apparently didn't disclose this new requirement to students when they registered for his class. He apparently decided to announce it only after they had already registered for his class and after it became impractical for them to register for a different class instead.

Again if he wants a no laptop policy in his class, he should announce it when students sign up for his class so that they can make an informed choice and opt for a different class. Now that the students have relied to their detriment, he should be barred from changing the rules.
8.25.2008 2:02pm
Curt Fischer:
Add my voice to those wondering why the no-laptop policy is drawing so much criticism.

What are the conditions of matriculation at UCLA? I would imagine that UCLA policy allow professors, not students, to set classroom-level regulations and policies. Did anyone who accepted an offer of admission there think otherwise?

If UCLA policy gives rule-making authority to its faculty, how in the world can anyone Prof. Volokh's exercise of this power as "anti-libertarian"? Assume it is the official UCLA policy, arguendo. Then, the "anti-libertarian" agent is UCLA, not Prof. Volokh. By stripping students of their right to set their own classroom rules, UCLA refuses to respect the "natural rights" of the students to use laptops. Right?

Maybe one of the sour grapes here can find out the official UCLA policy, and perhaps lead a campaign to curtail "professorial discretion" in the classroom. Good luck!
8.25.2008 2:02pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I would imagine that UCLA policy allow professors, not students, to set classroom-level regulations and policies.

OK, beginning this term, all students will incise their notes on palimpsests. Palimpsests and styli are available in the school bookstore. We have found that incision focuses the mind, prevents distraction, and makes simultaneously solving today's Jumble impossible.
8.25.2008 2:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
No, it's like complaining that once I've bought the car, I'm forced to sit still as the back room person tries to sell me an extended warranty, undercoating, paint protection, etc. I wanted the car, not to be subjected to this extraneous bs that primarily serves the vendor and not me, the customer.
Primarily serves the vendor? Professor Volokh gets paid the same amount whether you play minesweeper or ask insightful questions in class.

Changing laptop policies after I've enrolled is bait and switch, then. They have my money, and count on my unwillingness to go to the trouble of transferring.
There's only a bait and switch if there was a bait. Are you claiming that UCLA puts in its application materials a promise that one can use laptops in class?


Again if he wants a no laptop policy in his class, he should announce it when students sign up for his class so that they can make an informed choice and opt for a different class. Now that the students have relied to their detriment, he should be barred from changing the rules.
Same error as the previous poster. Detrimental reliance requires that one demonstrate reliance. First you'd have to find a student who claimed to have signed up for the class because it allowed laptops.
8.25.2008 2:14pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Detrimental reliance requires that one demonstrate reliance. First you'd have to find a student who claimed to have signed up for the class because it allowed laptops.

Why not remove the chairs and make the students stand during the entire class? Any student who wanted to complain would first have to claim s/he signed up for the class because it allowed sitting.
8.25.2008 2:20pm
A.W. (mail):
David,

> The benefits of lots of things about law school, including law school itself, are "speculative."

I suspect runape is just being polite. Bull---- is more like it. Or if I don't speak for runape, then I certainly speak for myself. Just how hard is it to concentrate when you know someone, somewhere in the class is playing solitare? Sheesh. If you are that distractible, then maybe the law isn't for you.

As for participation, the bull---- comes in when you suppose that changing the method of note-taking has an impact on attention, or that making taking notes easier somehow makes people pay less attention in class. In either case, rather than get at a hoped-for underlying cause and hope for a beneficial result, why not instead put the incentive where it belongs—on the result—and then deal with it that way? A libertarian approach to life says set up incentives to encourage the correct results, and then sit back and watch how they do it. The innovation of students themselves might surprise you. So, the bull---- is pretending that there is a better way of ensuring attention in class rather than incentivizing attention itself.

And none of you paternalism defenders have explained how you deal with people with disabilities, as both I and the recent grad have brought up repeatedly.

Its amazing that we should live in this technological age, and there are some luddites who want to resist the obvious progress. I suppose next quill pens will be required?
8.25.2008 2:26pm
Avatar (mail):
One points out that in a -truly- free market, I'd be free to pick up the necessary manuals, review them on my own, and sit the bar without ever having seen a law school. While I have no doubt that the experience of law school would be beneficial, if you're brilliant and well self-motivated, is it worth three years and over one hundred thousand dollars? Quite possibly not, huh?

You can talk about a free market in law schools, but the fact remains that in most states, they've been granted an exclusive license by the government, and their credential is necessary to legally practice law.

It's good to see EV willing to critically examine whether his proposed changes to his teaching practice would be beneficial or not; the key to a successful experiment is for the one running it to be open to it unfolding in ways they didn't expect.
8.25.2008 2:27pm
Angus:

He apparently decided to announce it only after they had already registered for his class and after it became impractical for them to register for a different class instead.

What do you expect EV to do? Personally phone every student after they register for his class to tell them about his laptop policy? At every school I've ever taught at, all classroom policies are announced in the first week of classes. Heck, EV gave them more notice that most professors would.
8.25.2008 2:28pm
OleShu:
When a student pays for a law school education, do they not enter into a contract with a school, implicitly with the understanding that the school will guarantee an environment in which the "ideal" learning can be undertaken? As many students learn best through open discourse, doesn't the school violate the contract when the faculty fails to provide an environment where all are expected to participate (some of the worst law school classes are those where only 5 students participate frequently).

I agree that students should not be forced to attend classes and that participation should not be graded. But I found very few professors in law school asked black and white questions; rather, they sought shades of gray. And if professors find that the presence of a laptop in the room leads to greater discourse, then it only makes sense that such would become a necessity (to ensure performance under the educational contract).

I find it hard to understand the pro-laptop phenomenon, given that no one in my class (graduating in 2007) had used laptops in their college courses; accordingly, no one "knew" whether it was the most effective form of studying for them. I recognize that some people from the working world may be familiar with taking notes on laptops during meetings, but do not know anyone in my class who came to law school with such an experience.
8.25.2008 2:32pm
Golda:
The no lap top policy criticism is truly laughable. You don't even have to go to law school in California to be a lawyer. Second, anyone who goes to law school knows well before they even apply that the professor will decide the manner of classroom conduct. The policy is niether anti-libertarian nor anti free-market. The policy is arguably pedagogical and, for better or worse, EV is the pedagogue. The policy is arguably adminstartive and, for better or worse, EV is the administrator. The policy is neither unreasonable, nor arbitrary. (To the extent that someone has a physical disability, reasonable accomodation will be made, as in any area of education today.)
8.25.2008 2:34pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

What do you expect EV to do? Personally phone every student after they register for his class to tell them about his laptop policy?


Include it in the course description.
8.25.2008 2:36pm
runape (mail):
At the risk of stating the obvious, no one is denying that law schools can do this; the question is whether they should.
8.25.2008 2:58pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
In either case, rather than get at a hoped-for underlying cause and hope for a beneficial result, why not instead put the incentive where it belongs—on the result—and then deal with it that way? A libertarian approach to life says set up incentives to encourage the correct results, and then sit back and watch how they do it.
No, that's an economic approach, an entirely separate question from a libertarian approach. If this were within the bailiwick of libertarianism, then no "incentive" would be appropriate, either. A libertarian approach to life is the non-initiation of force; since E.V. didn't force anyone to enroll in UCLA Law School, that hasn't been violated.


And none of you paternalism defenders have explained how you deal with people with disabilities, as both I and the recent grad have brought up repeatedly.
There's no paternalism, but the answer to this question is simple because, by law, E.V. has no choice: people with relevant disabilities will have to be allowed laptops if necessary. That's a requirement imposed from Washington DC., and as such is irrelevant to the question of what policies E.V. should voluntarily establish.
8.25.2008 3:01pm
Mad Max:
I want to argue that students — though they of course pay lots of money to us — are not just customers of legal education, but are also in a sense a sort of employee: Law school classes rely on students' participating in the class, as a means of helping educate the other students

Sorry, YOU are THEIR employee, not the other way around. They pay you a lot of money, remember?
8.25.2008 3:06pm
Anony:
I think the critics of the laptop policy (myself included) are simply disappointed in EV. Of course he has the power to do this, and he's not a direct state actor so it's not anti-libertarian in the strict sense of the word. But it does violate the spirit of libertarianism and free choice. It's disappointing to see a staunch libertarian turn around and act in a paternalistic and authoritarian manner once he has the power to do so.
8.25.2008 3:07pm
Golda:
I don't understand the disappointment. It's like your saying that you are disappointed EV becasme a pedagogue, at all. Stay away from teaching (or most other responsible positions) true libertarians because you have to excercize authority.
8.25.2008 3:12pm
frankcross (mail):
Changing laptop policies after I've enrolled is bait and switch, then. They have my money, and count on my unwillingness to go to the trouble of transferring.

No, it's a conventional marketplace transaction in which you have assumed the risk of a change in policy unless you negotiated otherwise.

There's no detrimental reliance because it is a required course. But let's consider the analogy. If all the chairs were removed, I trust the students would protest en masse to the Dean, and the policy will be changed. We'll see if they do that with the laptops.
8.25.2008 3:14pm
T.J.M.:
When did academic freedom and pedagogical authority become ant-libertarian?
8.25.2008 3:19pm
Angus:

Include it in the course description.

At every university I've taught at, course descriptions for basic courses (and even some advanced ones) were written years ago as boilerplate in order to cover every faculty member who might teach the course in the future.
8.25.2008 3:22pm
A.W. (mail):
David

> No, that's an economic approach, an entirely separate question from a libertarian approach.

Now you are just arguing over the meaning of words, rather than whether I am right. And I am.

> A libertarian approach to life is the non-initiation of force

Ah, so how exactly does he plan to ban laptops without the initiation of force?

By the way, that is not how I have understood libertarianism; it is instead an extreme version of the idea that should be able to do whatever you want, so long as you do not harm anyone else. But clearly that doctrine is meaningless, if the mental papercuts imagined here are enough to limit your freedom. So a true libertarianism doesn't count bull---- like hurt feelings as an externality.

> There's no paternalism

Nah, you are just treating grown men and women like drooling idiots who can't stand to see someone else play solitaire, and as though they are too stupid to be able to type and listen at the same time. Nothing paternalistic about that.

> but the answer to this question is simple because, by law, E.V. has no choice: people with relevant disabilities will have to be allowed laptops if necessary. That's a requirement imposed from Washington DC., and as such is irrelevant to the question of what policies E.V. should voluntarily establish.

But then, OMG, they will create all these externalities! So what will he gain. Indeed, one laptop can be more distracting than 10, or 100, because of the white noise effect.

The point is his policy won't work if he has to accommodate. And he has to accommodate—no choice in the matter. But then it also has the effect of singling out those with disabilities. People with disabilities have a right to privacy about those disabilities, too, at least to the extent that this is possible. So what was EV say when they ask "why does HE get to use a laptop and I don't?"
8.25.2008 3:24pm
Curious Passerby (mail):
All these poor students who can't live without their laptops!!!!!!

What will they do when they go to court some day? How will they refocus their eyes? How will they find the right case? How will they remember what the opponent said? It's a harsh world out here without laptops...
8.25.2008 3:25pm
guessing (mail):
It is helpful to imagine if the roles were reversed. What if Prof. Volokh decided to record his lectures on enhanced DVDs that included scrolling text at the bottom to give extra information beyond the things he discussed at length. He could give you a full transcript and make available a copy of the DVD for every class. I imagine that most students would still complain because they want a live teacher who can respond to their questions and adapt his lectures accordingly. It is no different, in my thinking, for a professor who recognizes that he does a better job when he adapts his lectures to his students to experiment with ways of maximizing the feedback he gets. If laptops may cause a problem, let the man experiment.
8.25.2008 3:27pm
Anony:

Golda:
I don't understand the disappointment.


It's the bait-and-switch paternalism that bugs me. EV could've made this new policy apparent before students enrolled in his class. Instead, he chose to change things at the last minute in a way that will inevitably favor certain students over others, and in a way that restricts individual choice.

Just because an authority figure has the power to do something doesn't mean they should do it. I would think self-professed libertarians would understand that.
8.25.2008 3:30pm
T.J.M.:
"The point is his policy won't work if he has to accommodate. And he has to accommodate—no choice in the matter. But then it also has the effect of singling out those with disabilities."

Those who get special accomadation are always singled out, it is the nature of the special accomodation rule, from elementary school on. You don't know it wont work if one or two are so accomodated -- the policy, as it stands now, has one person taking computer notes, anyway.
8.25.2008 3:32pm
Anony:
T.J.M.:

I don't understand the one-notetaker idea. It goes beyond a blanket restriction on free choice. EV is admitting that computerized notetaking is valuable, yet is STILL not letting the rest of the class enjoy the option. Again, disappointing.

EV, if you want to do it right, try this "experiment" in an optional class and make it widely known before the registration period. Then all the students are at least consenting participants.
8.25.2008 3:39pm
tarheel:
Curious Passerby and others: Gimme a break. Prof. Volokh posted on this himself (and his colleagues have also posted multiple times). I assume he did so not so that a legion of admirers could laud his brilliance but to get feedback on this experiment. That's what he is getting, and most of it is quite level-headed and reasonable (not all of which I agree with, but . . . ). It is an interesting and controversial question at all law schools, so a spirited debate should be expected.

To characterize this debate as a bunch of whiny law students is overly dismissive, in my view.
8.25.2008 3:47pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

If accommodating doesn't ruin it, then it probably wasn't doing much in the first place.

If computers are such a bane to education, then even accommodating a few will ruin it.

As for the point that accommodations single people out, you are absolutely right. Sometimes singling out is unavoidable. But this is not an unavoidable situation. This situation is easily avoided--just let everyone bring in laptops and grade for participatin. Then laptop, no laptop, whatever works for you.
8.25.2008 3:48pm
Golda:
"It's the bait-and-switch"

Not a libertarian objection. A contract objection, without merit for the multiple reasons set forth above, not the least of which it does not apply to the whole class, it only applies to the exceedingly rare students who wouldn't take his course without laptop. None of whom had a reasonble expectation to begin with.

its "paternalistic"

It is pedagogy. Are you honestly saying that true libertarians cannot distinguish between paternalism and pedagogy. If so, than it is both weak in analysis and unreasonable in practice.
8.25.2008 3:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
When I was in college, we were not allowed to bring those neat little transistor radios--look it up--with an earphone to class.
This seems to be a whole hell of a lot simpler than the subject of laptops today. "It interferes with what I'm trying to teach you. Therefore, it is forbidden." Seems easy enough.
Of course, law school classes might be easier today, and so be manageable while surfing the web, than the liberal arts undergrad courses were forty years ago. Nobody ever thought he dared try the radio thing. He'd be lost for sure.
Not so certain today.
8.25.2008 3:56pm
T.J.M.:
"If accommodating doesn't ruin it, then it probably wasn't doing much in the first place."

So your proposing we give educational accomodations to everyone, whether they need them or not. All based on your probably analysis. But we don't do that because, as a matter of educational policy, it makes no sense.

"EV is admitting that computerized notetaking is valuable"

No such admission is made or even implied.
8.25.2008 4:04pm
A.W. (mail):
Golda,

Mmmm, right, pedagogy never veers into paternalism. Good to know.

Sorry, but we are talking about people who have have been in school a minimum of 17 years of their life if they never skipped any grades. I think by now they know how to learn and how to type and participate. Really, the notion that making it easier to take notes makes it harder to participate in class discussion is just silly. The issue is making them want to participate. incentivise participation, and let them figure out if a laptop helps them or hinders them, in meeting that incentive.

Anything else is rank paternalism, and frankly a silly imposition of needless conformity.
8.25.2008 4:07pm
Anony:

T.J.M.:

"EV is admitting that computerized notetaking is valuable"

No such admission is made or even implied.


EV set up a policy so that one student per day brings in a laptop, takes notes, and then distributes those notes to the entire class. He turned one student a day into a scrivener. Of course that implies that computerized notetaking is beneficial.
8.25.2008 4:13pm
frankcross (mail):
It seems a little silly to speculate about accommodation for those with disabilities, absent any evidence of a need in EV's class. If one such student produced the externalities, he could reverse the rule. But it's not much of an argument until we know whether anyone has such a need.
8.25.2008 4:14pm
A.C.:
It all comes back to the question of whether classroom participation is useful in the first place, and whether (or to what extent) professors should impose it on students who prefer to learn in other ways. Lots of people do better at "mentally engaging the information" when they are NOT speaking. Doesn't mean they will never talk, just that they prefer not to on the first pass over new material. Class participation rewards enthusiastic talkers, who may or may not be the most enthusiastic students in general.

I think the problem is that professors can't tell, just by looking, which students are thinking furiously about the course content behind their laptop screens and which are surfing the net. The two activities look similar, in a way that writing notes by hand and listening to the radio do not. A professor who bans laptops is really trying to get at the net surfers, but inadvertently causes problems for people who are trying to be serious students but happen to prefer grappling with the material in other ways.

For the record, I enjoyed active participation in many law school classes. What I did not enjoy was sitting there while professors tormented students who clearly hated the process, or while students who took too much pleasure in holding the floor wasted everyone's time. My goal was to learn the material, and stuff like that didn't help.
8.25.2008 4:15pm
Golda:
How ant-libertarian of you AW. You would take awayh EVs academic freedom and pedagogical authorty, all in the name of your phantom paternalism.
8.25.2008 4:18pm
Sum Budy:
Professor Volokh:

I think you're confusing two different things. In a seminar, the goal is active discussion of the material among the participants. In fact, the best seminars I took were ones where the material was either much too difficult to be tested with a single final exam (and thus better approached collectively by the class as an exercise in group problem solving) or was policy-based, and thus inappropriate for straight lecture. In both types of seminars, discussion is absolutely necessary to move the class along.

On the other hand, while the Socratic method is useful for bringing out fine points in a lecture, by the second year of law school, every student realizes that a 120-person lecture on an introductory topic is not the appropriate place for an in-depth discussion of legal issues. My first year of law school, I was a "participator." By my last year, I realized that my main goal assimilating the structure of a subject, and that goal was better satisfied by diligently taking notes.

Unfortunately, it's tough to diligently take notes that are useful to me if I'm handicapped by a silly rule against laptops. The fact is, nobody handwrites anymore and in fact I find it quite physically painful.
8.25.2008 4:25pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

> So your proposing we give educational accomodations to everyone, whether they need them or not.

What I think, and I said this two threads ago, is that we shouldn't discriminate against the non-disabled either, if we have a choice in the matter.

> But we don't do that because, as a matter of educational policy, it makes no sense.

It makes no sense to allow everyone to use a laptop?

Admittedly sometimes you can't avoid creating different treatment between a disabled person and a non-disabled person. Putting materials into Braille is one very obvious example. But in a surprising amount of the time, you can treat everyone the same without disadvantaging the handicapped person. For instance, every tv sold after a certain year is closed captioned. Thus the deaf have access to most TVs. My uncle who is fully deaf enjoys that, and my mother probably isn't deaf enough to be disabled, but she likes it. And I am not deaf at all, and sometimes I just prefer it, for instance when trying to translate from British English to American English (try watching MP and the Holy Grail with captions—its like a whole new movie!). And for that matter, every building built after a certain year is wheelchair-accessible. The ramps can be used by everyone, but are only actually needed by some.

So on the same principle, forget this flakey concern about externalities. Grade them for participation, and then say "bring a laptop, or don't. your call." Then if you need one for your disability, you can bring it, and if your disability is hidden, it will remain so. Everyone wins.
8.25.2008 4:38pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
EV set up a policy so that one student per day brings in a laptop, takes notes, and then distributes those notes to the entire class. He turned one student a day into a scrivener. Of course that implies that computerized notetaking is beneficial.
No, it doesn't. It implies only that E.V. is being especially accommodating, in case certain class members really think that they need a transcription of the class.
8.25.2008 4:44pm
T.J.M.:
"It makes no sense to allow everyone to use a laptop?"

Not relevant, in the least. The point is, is that it makes sense to EV to teach the class in the way he chooses. If you don't trust him to teach in the way he chooses, than fire him.
8.25.2008 4:45pm
wb (mail):
"It's the bait-and-switch"

"paternalistic" "non-libertarian"

It is interesting how many responses are little more that arguments by slogan or by name-calling with little objective basis. For example what is the bait - the course syllabus, instructional method, and grading basis - and what is the switch - the same course syllabus, the same instructional method, and grading basis. Hmmm. Paternalistic? EV this this will make for a better class experience for all. He never claims he is doing for the students what they can't do for themselves. Libertarianism is simply irrelevant to this issue.

As for those who can't read their own writing, learn to write so you and others can (assuming you are not disabled).

I don't recalling anyone complaining about the noise, but I finding the "click-click-click" of people typing rather distracting. I know others with the same opinion. I claim such an environment detracts especially from a seminar class. (Nope its not as bad as the jackhammer the university has going outside the building.

Regarding the suggestion of simply disabling the WiFi yet allowing laptops, that is the option that I choose whenever possible. But its is each professor's choice.
8.25.2008 4:45pm
Former EV Student (mail):
For what it's worth, it's peer pressure that stymies classroom discussion. Many students are afraid of being labeled a "gunner" if they raise their hand too much. On top of that, after first semester, grades make 60% of the school question their intellect.

As EV told my class, 'Most speech is restricted by social convention, not by the First Amendment.' I say that classroom speech is restricted by social convention, as well, and not formal classroom rules or procedures.
8.25.2008 4:56pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

Not relevant. We are talking about fairness, that's all.
8.25.2008 4:56pm
tarheel:
Great point by Former EV Student. In my experience, this is why professors end up with uncomfortable silence when they throw a question to the class for volunteers. If you get the dreaded "gunner" label as a 1L, it will stick forever.

It's a terrible, anti-intellectual ethos, but it is pervasive and hard to break. I think this has far more to do with the perceived lack of classroom discussion than laptops.
8.25.2008 5:03pm
T.J.M.:
Now its "all" about 'unfairness,' after anti-libertarianism and bait and switch don't work. I

t applies to everyone, who is able, equally. It will make a better class for all in the teacher's pedagogical judgment. It sounds not only fair but is the only truly just arrangement.
8.25.2008 5:07pm
Doug B. (mail) (www):
As discussed here at LSI, why not try to improve class discussion simply by making class participation a significant part of the grade matrix? If improved class discussion is what Eugene and others seek, it would make a lot more sense to just give students a direct and tangible incentive to improve class discussion rather than ban classroom use of a particular technology.
8.25.2008 5:09pm
Anony:
wb:

Given the amount of criticism, I doubt this will make for a better classroom experience "for all." That sentiment goes to the heart of paternalism -- I know what's good for you, so I'll restrict your choice to make things better for you.

Law students have been in school for at least 15 years. They're adults. Why shouldn't they be able to choose what method works for them? And if EV is so sold on the no-laptops idea, at least tell students before they sign up. Hence the bait-and-switch.
8.25.2008 5:19pm
Anony:

David M. Nieporent:

No, it doesn't. It implies only that E.V. is being especially accommodating, in case certain class members really think that they need a transcription of the class.


But it's not a transcription necessarily. It's one law student's attempt at notes, which will likely approximate a transcription given the pressure on that student. If EV wanted to encourage transcription, he'd record each class and make that available.

Why would EV mandate a classwide notetaker with a laptop if he didn't think that laptop would aid the notetaker? EV's being both paternalistic and hypocritical at the same time.
8.25.2008 5:24pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

> Now its "all" about 'unfairness,' after anti-libertarianism and bait and switch don't work.

Now you are just putting words in my mouth. Fairness matters to most people, but no it is not the only thing. Second, I am not being anti-libertarian, if that is what you are attempting to say. Third, I am not accusing him of a bait and switch. Dropping a class probably isn't that difficult, presuming we are talking about an elective.

And "now?" I said exactly this in the first thread, as well as pointing out how unlibertarian it was, right from the beginning.

> It applies to everyone, who is able, equally.

And if we let everyone use laptops, it would apply equally without the qualification. Doesn't that seem fairer?

> the teacher's pedagogical judgment.

You guys act like as if the average law professor has a lot of knowledge on the subject. Here's a hint: they don't. They know the substantive subject of discussion, but very few of them have any of the training we normally associate with a teacher. If Volokh has any special training he is the exception, not the rule.

> It sounds not only fair but is the only truly just arrangement.

Well, I didn't realize you had cornered the market on justice. But actually it seems more just to allow for the maximum freedom within reasonable pedagogical limits, namely by grading for participation. Go after the issue itself, rather than hope that going after the proxy will work instead. That way, if computers can actually enhance participation (they can, and I did), the students will almost certainly figure out how to do so.
8.25.2008 5:32pm
Valda:
Law students have been in school for at least 15 years. They're adults. Why shouldn't they be able to choose what method works for them?

Why don't they teach themselves? They don't because they place thier faith in another whom they think can.
8.25.2008 5:36pm
A.W. (mail):
Valda,

Why don't they teach themselves?

Because the bar associations of most states require this form of instruction. Believe you me, if i could have skipped law school entirely, I probably would have. I only say probably because I went to a very good school, and there is a value to that that has nothing to do with what i actually learned there. If i had not been admitted to a top law school, I would almost certainly have ditched the law school route entirely.
8.25.2008 5:45pm
T.J.M.:
A.W.

"Fairness matters to most people, but no it is not the only thing."

Your the one who said:

"We are talking about fairness, that's all."

Then there is this, astounding statement:

". . .it seems more just to allow for the maximum freedom within reasonable pedagogical limits . . ."

You would decide the "reasonable pedagogical limits" for EV? How paternalistic.
8.25.2008 5:46pm
Valda:
"Because the bar associations of most states require this form of instruction."

California, where EV teaches, does not.
8.25.2008 5:50pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

> Your the one who said:

> "We are talking about fairness, that's all."

Um, "that's all" doesn't mean that this is the only subject on our plate. Its called an idiom.

> You would decide the "reasonable pedagogical limits" for EV? How paternalistic.

A person not in authority over another making a suggestion to that other person, cannot be paternalistic. I am not forcing him to do anything. I am not his boss. I am arguing for the wisdom of one policy over another. And if you think that is paternalism, you need to look the word up.

Valda

> California, where EV teaches, does not.

A decent point, but do you really think they are all going to stay in California, or want to limit themselves solely to California for the rest of their lives?
8.25.2008 5:57pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Why don't they teach themselves?


Depending on the course and the instructor, that's sometimes the case.
8.25.2008 5:57pm
A.C.:
It's almost certainly the case when other students botch the answers in class and the professor never explains what the correct answer is.
8.25.2008 6:09pm
Valda:
"A decent point, but do you really think they are all going to stay in California, or want to limit themselves solely to California for the rest of their lives?"


Almost all will. And after passing the California bar, almost all will stay . . . don't want to go through that again.
8.25.2008 6:10pm
A.W. (mail):
Valda,

You had a very different experience than me, taking the bar. After all the build-up, it was a pussy cat. And i took what is reputed to be the 3rd hardest bar in america. (NY and Cali are reputed to be first and second.) I said after the first day to my family, "after this, I have no respect for anyone who fails the bar, unless they have a good excuse." That's not to say you don't have to work hard and study, but if you are reasonably dilligent, it is not bad at all.
8.25.2008 6:15pm
Valda:
Well, AW, glad you are so diligent or bright or whatever you were trying to pat yourself on the back for. If you have not seen the kids, puking in the bathroom or curled up in the fetal position, at the Oakland convention center after the first hour of the California Bar Exam, then you don't know what you missed.
8.25.2008 6:22pm
12345:
Maybe this was already mentioned (I didn't read the whole comment thread) but a lot of people spend the time in class checking email or searching the web or whatever simply aren't getting much out of the class discussion, and therefore it's more efficient for them to be doing something else. At least partly, the professors are to blame for this, because they are not endeavoring to make the material as interesting or engaging as it could be (which is what they are being paid to do). Now that there's competition for the attention of students and the professors aren't getting the rock star ego boost of having 100 people raptly listening to every word they say, of course they're annoyed. It would be dishonest to claim that the professors realizing that *gasp* maybe they aren't as intellectually fascinating as they think they are isn't at least partly driving the no-laptop movement. But to that, I say the professors should step up their game and make people WANT to be engaged and pay attention. If this were really a "free market" situation, they profs would be forced to compete for the students' attention and they would try to become more engaging.

Also, I'm sorry to say that the amount of attention I paid to the professor has VERY little relation to the actual grade in the course. If I can ignore 2/3 of what is said in class and get the same grade (since, lets be honest, most of the learning I'm going to be doing will be on my own with casebooks and outlines), why should I waste my time listening to some student recite the facts of a case I already read and know? Even in classes with "participation" credit, they are distributed so inconsistently and subjectively (at least in my classes, no one even knew if they'd gotten any participation points until grades came out) that there's really not much incentive to participate.
8.25.2008 6:25pm
Angus:

Law students have been in school for at least 15 years. They're adults. Why shouldn't they be able to choose what method works for them? And if EV is so sold on the no-laptops idea, at least tell students before they sign up. Hence the bait-and-switch.

Anony, if you are this angry about a professor setting particular rules of conduct for his classroom, how ever will you manage when judges set particular rules of conduct for their courtrooms?
8.25.2008 6:30pm
T.J.M.:
"I am not his boss. I am arguing for the wisdom of one policy over another."

On the basis that it is "unfair" to the disabled, when it's not. And on the basis it's anti-libertarian, which it's not. Care to try again.
8.25.2008 6:39pm
Curt Fischer:

the professors are to blame for this, because they are not endeavoring to make the material as interesting or engaging as it could be (which is what they are being paid to do).


I disagree that professors are paid to "make the material as interesting or engaging as possible." Where did you get that idea?
8.25.2008 6:40pm
Curt Fischer:
12345: Sorry I misquoted you slightly in my previous post. ("possible" should have been "as it could be") I hope it didn't cause confusion.
8.25.2008 6:41pm
Valda:
"Anony, if you are this angry about a professor setting particular rules of conduct for his classroom, how ever will you manage when judges set particular rules of conduct for their courtrooms?"

. . . or share a secretary, or comply with securities regs that make no sense, or . . .
8.25.2008 6:44pm
TRE:
I have a radical idea, why not have an exam at the end of the class that tests the course material, and then leave it up to the student to decide how to do the best on the exam?
8.25.2008 7:00pm
TRE:
P.S. Forget about laptops, why do we have required attendance?
8.25.2008 7:03pm
TRE:
"This means that whether students are paying attention in class affects not just themselves, but their classmates."

Just because the alleged purpose of classroom discussion is to promote learning does not in any way mean that students who are not paying attention are affecting their classmates.

It remains to be demonstrated that classroom discussion actually promotes learning.
8.25.2008 7:05pm
theobromophile (www):
I haven't read the above comments, to a huge mea culpa if this has already been said:

Some of the reason that students compete to get into top-flight universities, and why employers (and others) regard the graduates of those schools so highly, is because of the learning that takes place between students. The summa graduate of a lesser-ranked institution may be as talented as the graduate of a university that is held in higher regard, but has not had the opportunity to be pushed by his fellow students.

You will learn the same material anywhere, but it is the other students and professors that distinguish a top school from others.

Perhaps the better way to deal with this would be for law school administrators to make it a part of the school's code of conduct, to which the students agree as a condition of applying to the university. My alma mater required us to agree to abide by the honour system if admitted, then attend a orientation session about it, receive our books with it, and sign off on more stuff (IIRC). The benefits of that system were explained pretty clearly: the ability to take our exams without proctors, anywhere in the school; the ability to have take-home exams that we could hand in weeks later, on our honour that we only spent the alloted amount of time on them, etc. The same could be done to foster an environment of intellectual engagement (or, at the very least, not active disengagement). If students, before applying to UCLA, were made aware of the system, if later required to sign on to it, and if it were administered by students - the primary beneficiaries of such a system - it would seem less paternalistic and could be presented as a feature, not a bug, of the law school.
8.25.2008 7:10pm
Horatio (mail):
I wonder if UCLA, and by extension, EV, would be in violation of the American's with Disabilities Act in banning any methodology which enables a student to capture information in class?.

I can't write more than a paragraph before my handwriting gets to a point where even I can't read it. Can I record Prof Volokh's lectures and the accompanying class discussions directly to my laptop, or must I buy a digital voice recorder?

How about video recording? I want to see EV's body language to determine if his words and behavior match or if he's being sarcastic in cases not necessarily reflected in his tone of voice.

Just asking
8.25.2008 7:38pm
gwinje:
I took Prof. Volokh's Crim class last fall and after about two weeks of it, I would have stood on one foot if he told me too.

And though I have no problem with his decision, for what it's worth, you have no choice about classes or professors your first year at UCLA.
8.25.2008 7:44pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

What is the bait and what is the switch?

The bait: Law schools have recommended laptops for their students for many years, and UCLA is no exception. Laptop use in the classroom, during the exam, and on the bar exam, has become the default condition, the expectation, reinforced by the schools' propaganda pages -- like having chairs in the classroom.

Here's where it all began, little more than a decade ago. I forget who the original culprit was:

On-line classroom technology: Kent College of Law puts course material on laptop computers.

Ebony April 1, 1995(?!?) COPYRIGHT 1995 Johnson Publishing

Chicago-Kent College of Law is the first law school in the country to use on-line student-teacher connections and to put most course material on laptops. The phone line hookup enables students to reach teachers or the library 24-hours a day. The advantages are discussed.

For Edmund Greenidge and the other students at Chicago-Kent College of Law, the library never closes, help from classmates and professors is never far away and book bags are never crammed with bulky legal briefs.

That's because they are the first law students in the country to have most of their class materials on laptop computers. The school is also the first to get on-line with telephone technology that lets them ...


The switch: Leave that >$1K piece of hardware we recommended you buy at home.

Now, Professor V. was a techie before he was a lawyer, so I hope and expect that he will analyze the data carefully.

Problem: Lack of attention in class hampers discussion. (Class discussion assumed to be desirable; let's not go there.)
Solution: Ban laptops except for one backup.
Results: Measure increased attention and quality of class discussion -- metrics to be selected by Professor V.
8.25.2008 7:44pm
pluribus:
I get the impression from the above discussion that rules are OK in libertarian circles, but only if they aren't enforced. Do libertarians even approve of law school or bar exams? I wonder. When I was in law school, the professors, not the students, laid down the rules. When I went into court, the judges, not the lawyers or the parties or the witnesses, laid down the rules (and, boy, there were a lot of them). I had to stand while addressing the judge (what's wrong with sitting down?). I had to ask permission to approach the witness (why couldn't I just walk right up and show him or her a document?). I was not permitted to walk about the courtroom, but had to maintain my place at the counsel table. I had to dress appropriately. I was forbidden to eat or drink or chew gum. Why didn't I realize that this was on a basic level wrong?
8.25.2008 8:09pm
A.W. (mail):
TJM

You can hallucinate paternalism all you want, but I am not issuing commands, but arguments. If you can't grasp the difference, I can't help you with it.
8.25.2008 8:13pm
David Warner:
To those whose criticism is premised on the the assumption that a student would be required to take notes by hand/palimpsest/whatever without a laptop:

Are you aware that under EV's plan, notes will be provided to students so that they don't have to take them?

If so, are you arguing that note-taking is a valuable method of learning and not a brainless transcription exercise?

Just as most libertarians recognize the it to be a legitimate function of the state to protect that state from foreign threats, so EV, as the "state" inside the classroom seeks to free the class from attention drains foreign to the purpose of the class (note-taking, web surfing, public copulation, excessive ambient noise, et. al.). Freed from those drains, the students have more attention to spend/share as they choose, in good libertarian fashion.
8.25.2008 8:19pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

When I went into court, the judges, not the lawyers or the parties or the witnesses, laid down the rules

Did any judge make the court reporter write with a pen?
8.25.2008 8:21pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

are you arguing that note-taking is a valuable method of learning and not a brainless transcription exercise?

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. -- Bacon
8.25.2008 8:25pm
Angus:

Did any judge make the court reporter write with a pen?

Do all judges allow lawyers to type on open laptops during court?
8.25.2008 8:43pm
pluribus:
Tony Tutins:

Did any judge make the court reporter write with a pen?

No, they made them use stenotype machines and forbade them from using electronic recording devices. I never heard them complain.

(BTW, Tony, you apparently missed the part where nobody is required to write in Volokh's course--with a pen, a pencil, a stylus, or otherwise. Notes are taken and provided to all.)
8.25.2008 8:48pm
tarheel:

When I was in law school, the professors, not the students, laid down the rules. When I went into court, the judges, not the lawyers or the parties or the witnesses, laid down the rules (and, boy, there were a lot of them).

All well and good, but irrelevant, since that is not the justification Prof. Volokh is offering. It would be one thing if he was doing this to prepare his students for the cold, hard world where they have to write things by hand and take directions from higher authorities. Instead, he is offering a pedagogical justification, one that is reasonable (and within his authority) but is subject to some significant questions, which are being asked here and elsewhere.
8.25.2008 8:50pm
tarheel:
Sorry, "were doing this . . ."
8.25.2008 8:51pm
A.W. (mail):
David

> Are you aware that under EV's plan, notes will be provided to students so that they don't have to take them?

I hate using other people's notes.

> If so, are you arguing that note-taking is a valuable method of learning and not a brainless transcription exercise?

Good note takers separate the wheat from the chaff. Didn't you know this?

> Just as most libertarians recognize the it to be a legitimate function of the state to protect that state from foreign threats, so EV, as the "state" inside the classroom seeks to free the class from attention drains foreign to the purpose of the class (note-taking, web surfing, public copulation, excessive ambient noise, et. al.).

Okay, its official. That is the lamest metaphor ever slung on this site. But who knew? Note taking was alien to the classroom experience! Who knew?

> Freed from those drains, the students have more attention to spend/share as they choose, in good libertarian fashion.

Ah, slavery is freedom, war is peace. Exactly who do you think you are fooling?

Angus

> Do all judges allow lawyers to type on open laptops during court?

They did, until around... say... September 11, 2001. Then suddenly you couldn't bring even a cell phone into the average courthouse, without special dispensation. Are you saying that EV should be worried about bombs?
8.25.2008 8:56pm
pluribus:
tarheel:

All well and good, but irrelevant, since that is not the justification Prof. Volokh is offering.

So Prof. Volokh is subject to criticism not just for his decision but also for not making it for the right reason? I would have thought it was ennough to make a correct decision, but then I am not a libertarian.

It would be one thing if he was doing this to prepare his students for the cold, hard world where they have to write things by hand and take directions from higher authorities.

Is it your position that, in his classsroom, Prof. Volokh is not a "higher authority"? Or that he is not trying to prepare students for the real world of legal practice? Curious. I had thought that the benefits of law school were practical as well as theoretical.
8.25.2008 9:13pm
Sam H (mail):
One thing I haven't seen mentioned:

It isn't in your best interest if the other students in the class do well. Either in grades for the class or later in life. After all, they are after the same jobs you are.
8.25.2008 9:13pm
David Warner:
"I hate using other people's notes."

I hate comment section bogus argument spam. I guess we're even.

"Good note takers separate the wheat from the chaff. Didn't you know this?"

I wasn't aware you were a court recorder. Apologies.

"Okay, its official. That is the lamest metaphor ever slung on this site. But who knew? Note taking was alien to the classroom experience! Who knew?"

Evidently EV, at least alien to the experience he envisions for his classroom. It's his duty to make such determinations to the best of his ability, by virtue of his profession and the position the law school has enlisted him to execute. It might have been democratic for him to make the decision by committee, but democracy is not identical with libertarianism, and is indeed often inimical to it.

"Ah, slavery is freedom, war is peace. Exactly who do you think you are fooling"

Evidently not Angus, although that may be because he seems to have had his fill already.
8.25.2008 9:16pm
Doc W (mail):
The core of libertarianism is opposition to initiation of force or threat of force, and to fraud (which can be snuck in as a kind of coercion). There's no injustice if a freely-entered contractual agreement vests authority to make certain decisions in one or the other party.

The rub is that contracts can't cover every single thing. So it comes down to what a reasonable person would understand as the "default" options. In a class in which students are taking notes, if some feel more efficient typing them in rather than writing longhand, and if that can be done quietly, then I think it starts getting a bit close to the line when a prof bans laptops, unless the possibility of this sort of restriction has been explicitly agreed to before tuition has been spent.

"A bit close to the line" I say, not necessarily over the line from a strict libertarian standpoint. But I think most libertarians share (with me) an anti-paternalistic personal attitude that goes beyond legalistic distinctions. A lot of that is coming through in the responses to Prof. Volokh's post.

If Prof. Volokh believes that holding one's own in a group discussion is an important component of a legal education (even though the effect may not be measurable by course exams or papers), then he may reasonably impose the requirement, in my view. He is requiring students to obtain what he takes to be (and can reasonably, expertly argue IS) a relevant experience. I think however that we should steer clear of the notion that the higher-aptitude or better-achieving students have an enforceable responsibility to help the rest get by, that their time and effort can be imposed upon for that purpose. And I think Prof. Volokh comes perilously close to putting it that way in his post, whether or not it was his intention. In my view, THAT is the sort of thing that would have to be explicitly agreed to up-front.
8.25.2008 9:17pm
David Warner:
"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. -- Bacon"

By writing, he means composition - i.e. writing letters, essays, closing arguments, et al...

If you're wasting your time stenographing, you'll be both unready and less exact than you suppose.

If that was the point you were making, my apologies.
8.25.2008 9:21pm
tarheel:
pluribus: People are commenting on the argument he has made, not the argument you think he should make. I suspect, but don't know, that Prof. Volokh would not offer the "I walked 5 miles in the snow uphill both ways" argument because he thinks his justification is better (and I agree).

If Prof. Volokh thought it was enough to justify the change with a simple "Because life is hard," as some are advocating, I doubt he would post two long comments on the experiment.
8.25.2008 9:33pm
Sum Budy:
David Warner:


If so, are you arguing that note-taking is a valuable method of learning and not a brainless transcription exercise?


I'm absolutely arguing that because when I read somebody else's notes, they rarely picked up on the same useful bits that I did, even if we were both taking notes from the same class.

Despite all the hoop-la about "transcriptions," nobody actually does that. I may transcribe when the professor is straight lecturing from her notes because everything she says is deliberate and chosen for a reason. However, after the umpteenth example of the same thing, I'll stop writing. I'll also stop writing for questions or clarifications that I don't need to understand the material. In the end note taking is something very personal and very important to being able to re-create the big picture any time in the future that you need to do so. Some do it better than others.

Also, I feel the need to respond to this:


Some of the reason that students compete to get into top-flight universities, and why employers (and others) regard the graduates of those schools so highly, is because of the learning that takes place between students. The summa graduate of a lesser-ranked institution may be as talented as the graduate of a university that is held in higher regard, but has not had the opportunity to be pushed by his fellow students.


Give me a break.

I've heard this b*llsh*t before -- sometimes, surprisingly, from people who I have had huge amounts of respect for in the legal world.

Students who don't go to Harvard and Yale are pushed just as much by their peers as those who go to Harvard and Yale. People who make comments like the above make me wonder whether they really must think that the vast majority of non-Harvard/Yale students must be imbeciles. Hint: They're not. (And I have objective proof: many of my 2nd-tier-law-school professors also taught -- and graded exams -- at top-5 schools. None saw any massive difference in skill.)
8.25.2008 9:35pm
Curt Fischer:

many of my 2nd-tier-law-school professors also taught -- and graded exams -- at top-5 schools. None saw any massive difference in skill.


Maybe that's why they stayed professors at second-tier schools.
8.25.2008 9:44pm
David Friedman (mail) (www):
"It's an interesting question (a question of ethics and good sense rather than of rights-based constraints on government power) to what extent universities and law schools should be paternalistic to the students who have chosen to attend."

I think your distinction here is too sharp. A lot of people are libertarians at least in part because they think freedom works--produces desirable consequences. To the extent that the arguments for freedom working are arguments against paternalism working, such people are likely to be sceptical of paternalism--even when it doesn't violate rights.

One possible response is that one reason freedom works is that individuals can choose commitment strategies, in part as ways of dealing with their own imperfect rationality--a point Sunstein and Thaler discuss in Nudges. One such commitment strategy is to be a student at a school that follows some paternalistic policies.
8.25.2008 9:52pm
guest:
My crim law professor at a top-10 school banned laptops after he witnessed some of my classmates surfing the web during class. He rejected the "we're adults, it's up to us to sink or swim" argument on the basis that he felt a professional duty to our future clients to maximize his pedagogical effectiveness. I don't necessarily agree, but I thought I'd toss that out there.

Also, re: the point that EV should let students know before signing up - the aforementioned crim professor is starting his no-laptop policy this semester, not after he caught the web surfing, because he also felt it would be unfair to change the rules of the game halfway through the semester.
8.25.2008 9:53pm
pluribus:
tarheel:

pluribus: People are commenting on the argument he has made, not the argument you think he should make.

I thought people were commenting on his decision. Silly me, that's what I was commenting on, unaware that others here didn't care a whit about the decision, just his reasons for it. Yes, tarheel, rest assured I am not under the impression that anybody here (except possibly you) is commenting on the "argument" I think "he should make" (whatever that is). I probably should not be amazed at how many different ways you can obfuscate, but I still am.
8.25.2008 9:55pm
tarheel:
pluribus, what the hell are you talking about? Look back at what I have written on this thread. I have said repeatedly that the decision was perfectly reasonable and defensible. I think there are better alternatives, but that is not my decision to make. Does that get me kicked out of the EV Fan Club now?
8.25.2008 10:14pm
T Hart:
After reading through the comments, I'm confused as to what those who disagree with the no-laptop policy would do about it? Have the government/ABA/administration step in to forbid Mr. Volokh from banning laptops? How is that libertarian? Shame him into changing his policy? How is that not paternalistic?
I would think a libertarian would allow those who provide a product (a professor as an employee of a school providing legal education) to provide it in the manner they choose. And if there are enough students who simply cannot learn in that fashion (sans laptops), then the marketplace will produce an alternative (a law school which allows laptops.)
8.25.2008 10:44pm
pluribus:
tarheel:

pluribus, what the hell are you talking about?

Dear tarheel, I would recommend that you stop worrying about laptops, take a deep breath, and think about the value of civility in discourse. It is valuable both on a theoretical and practical level.
8.25.2008 10:55pm
theobromophile (www):
People who make comments like the above make me wonder whether they really must think that the vast majority of non-Harvard/Yale students must be imbeciles. Hint: They're not.

Hint: never said, nor implied, that they were. I stand by my assertion that people go to the best schools they can, in part, to be surrounded by better students.

And I have objective proof: many of my 2nd-tier-law-school professors also taught -- and graded exams -- at top-5 schools. None saw any massive difference in skill.

"Not massive" =/= "non-existent."
8.25.2008 11:31pm
A.W. (mail):
David

> I wasn't aware you were a court recorder.

That's my point. I am not a court recorder. That is why someone else's notes are no good.

> Evidently EV, at least alien to the experience he envisions for his classroom.

Yeah, first, just because Volokh thinks it, doesn't mean its like prophesy, you know? Really there is a worship in your arguments that is downright creepy.

Second, obviously he knows notes are needed. He is not banning all note-taking, but only by a certain method. Its like the old joke: "I know what kind of woman you are, we are just negotiating a price."

> It might have been democratic for him... [blah, blah, blah?]

Straw man, much?

Really, and you call me "comment section bogus argument spam?" You can't even defend the lame claim that note-taking is inimical to the classroom, or that his restrictions add up to "freedom."

Sum Budy

> Students who don't go to Harvard and Yale are pushed just as much by their peers as those who go to Harvard and Yale. People who make comments like the above make me wonder whether they really must think that the vast majority of non-Harvard/Yale students must be imbeciles. Hint: They're not. (And I have objective proof: many of my 2nd-tier-law-school professors also taught -- and graded exams -- at top-5 schools. None saw any massive difference in skill.)

As a graduate of YLS, I say hell yes. This elitism is counter-factual. First, there are tons of qualified people who don't get in, sometimes more qualified on paper than the people accepted. I am convinced that the flipping of coins or some similar mechanism is involved. Second, the notion that Yalies push each other is ludicrous. For God's sake, there are no grades. Yalies still try very hard but its about our own inner drive, and nothing else. And frankly, I think most lawyers have it. Why torture yourself for all those years, if you are not driving toward something?

Don't let someone from a "better" school make you feel like you are less. You are the sum of your abilities and you don't necessarily need "Ivy League" stamped on your head to shine. The truth is, the difference between the top and bottom of law schools is a matter of inches, not miles. You can believe it when I say it, because it is so clearly a statement against interest.

Now, if you end up being a potential employer, all I wrote above is a lie. Yalies are the best, no substitute, etc., please pay me tons of money. :-)
8.26.2008 12:02am
Sum Budy:
Theobromophile:


"Not massive" =/= "non-existent."


To paraphrase two such professors: (#1) There are a just few more "superstars" at [Top-5 school] but otherwise there's almost no difference in grading and intelligence. (#2) The top half of the class at [Top-60 school] is better than the top half of the class at [Top-5 school]; the bottom half of the class at [Top-5] school is better than the bottom half of the class at [Top-60] school.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions. Your original post said the following:


but has not had the opportunity to be pushed by his fellow students


Since you seem to agree that the difference is "not massive," do you really think that a tiny difference would affect student dialogue to the extent you claim it does?

And it's probably not even worth responding to this, but what the hell:


Maybe that's why they stayed professors at second-tier schools.


Actually, they didn't. One of the unfortunate problems of having phenomenal professors at 2nd-tier schools is that it's incredibly difficult to advise incoming students about professors. Many of them have moved on...
8.26.2008 12:33am
theobromophile (www):
Don't let someone from a "better" school make you feel like you are less. You are the sum of your abilities and you don't necessarily need "Ivy League" stamped on your head to shine.

To state that which I thought would have been obvious: I never said, implied, or meant that.

Are we done with our straw men for this evening?
8.26.2008 12:38am
Tony Tutins (mail):
theo -- in my experience, "the learning that takes place between students" did not take place in the classroom. It was more apt to take place off campus, at a pub. Or it took place before class, with a study partner. In the classroom, people wanted to get on with it, and they wanted the gunners to die.
8.26.2008 12:52am
theobromophile (www):
but has not had the opportunity to be pushed by his fellow students

Are you really taking the position that one's fellow students do not at all influence the quality of education that one receives?

[Raises hand] Here to say that I shamelessly borrowed and learned from my peers and wish I had done it more. Outlining methods, exam-prep methods, oral advocacy skills, legal reasoning, class prep... you name it, I did my best to learn from those who were good at it, and wish I had done more of it. There's no reason to exclude one's fellow students from the group of potential (albeit unwitting) teachers.

Actually, they didn't. One of the unfortunate problems of having phenomenal professors at 2nd-tier schools is that it's incredibly difficult to advise incoming students about professors. Many of them have moved on...

Well, by your own admission, they wouldn't be moving on for the students....
8.26.2008 12:53am
theobromophile (www):
Tony Tutins,

Err.... um... is it wild generalisation/straw man night on this thread?

Last time I checked, law students are deep-down sad that waterboarding is a prohibited method of torture, because they would just love to use it on the gunners. That hardly means that they want class discussion to die down (especially in seminars... FYI: about 1/2 of my classes during 2L and 3L year were under 20 people), or don't appreciate when their classmates give clear, concise, and thoughtful answers to questions.

I, for one, forever appreciate the people who "got" subjects that went straight over my head.
8.26.2008 1:02am
A.W. (mail):
theo

I wasn't addressing you, but the sentiment. You remind me of that song by Carly Simon... i bet you think this post is about you, don't you?
8.26.2008 1:18am
Tony Tutins (mail):
theo -- Prof. V. is proposing his no laptop policy for his 1L Crim Law class, with its 64 enrolled students. Did the class discussion in such a class help you gain insights into the nature of criminal law?

To whomever: taking notes, like other forms of writing, helps one understand the subject matter. It exposes holes in one's understanding, gaps in logic. Note taking is idiosyncratic to the notetaker: some things s/he already knows and barely jots down; some things seem intuitive and receive only a few cryptic jottings; others make no sense at all, and receive a detailed analysis.

But when I go back to my handwritten notes and can make out only ferschnerled opipo, the whole act of notetaking was a waste of time.
8.26.2008 1:26am
David Warner:
"Straw man, much?"

I try not to. But I realized my error about 10 minutes after hitting post. I'd assure you it wasn't intended as a straw man, but I doubt you'd believe me, or perhaps it would go over your head. Hint: I'm aware you're not a court reporter.

Here's a different analogy for you. GM discontinued the Oldsmobile line. Perhaps the libertarian thing for them to do would have been to let their customers decide if they wanted Oldsmobiles or not, but they decided to free up those resources to pay gold-plated benefits to UAW retirees develop exciting new models.

Likewise, EV has decided to discontinue the "OK, now children, write down everything I say" line, to free up attention resources to produce a better product. He represents the people who own the law school - his call.

As for EV, I find him to be one of the most original, liberal (in the best sense of the word), and at times even entertaining voices on the net. That why I'm here. Why are you?
8.26.2008 1:33am
Public_Defender (mail):

Public_Defender: I think almost all can be either typed or written. In NC this year, it was probably 10:1 typers vs. writers, not least because we were told graders would rather read typed essays.


I guess that depends on the state, and students should check their state's rules and learn how to write essays longhand if required.

But I stand by my other point--you can't count on always being able to use a laptop in practice. Some old-fashioned judges don't want them in their courtrooms. Also, if you practice criminal defense, good luck getting a laptop through jail or prison security. Often, the only thing I can bring in are papers directly related to that client, a pad, and a pen.

The comments show that some students are waaaaaaaay too dependent on their laptops. Professor Volokh is doing those students a favor.
8.26.2008 5:52am
A.C.:
I'll vote with those people who think that taking individual, personal notes in class is THE defining activity a student can perform in large classes. (Seminars are another matter, especially if they are based around the students' writing.) When I take notes, I am doing all of the following:

1. Listening to another person's words,
2. Decoding them to see if they make sense (this is not a given, especially when other students are talking),
3. Deciding whether they represent new information,
4. Deciding whether any new information is relevant to the course content,
5. Deciding how the new, relevant information relates to what went before,
6. Condensing that information as much as possible in order to transcribe it efficiently, and
7. Actually writing it down.

If a professor makes #7 more difficult, it puts a greater burden on the previous six steps and introduces mistakes. I find that writing by hand, which is slower for me, actually increases the chance that I'll write down irrelevant material or simply transcribe things wrong. It also cuts into the mental energy I have available for class participation.

You wouldn't want a professor to put unneeded burdens on any of the other stages in this process. I doubt that anyone would appreciate a professor who deliberately made it harder for students to hear, or one who lectured in a convoluted style meant to obscure the relationships among different parts of the material. So why should students put up with a professor who makes the physical act of writing things down artificially difficult?

Giving me someone else's notes would do absolutely no good, unless they actually were a verbatim electronic transcript that I could attack the way I process the spoken word in class. That processing is how I take in the material. However, I still wouldn't like the policy because it would nearly double the amount of time I spent on this activity. This might crowd out other useful law school activities, like reading the casebook and writing papers.

And lawyers do use laptops in court where I am. I wouldn't think of showing up without one, even if I had all the same information on paper. It looks unserious. The world is changing in that respect.
8.26.2008 10:01am
A.W. (mail):
David

> GM discontinued the Oldsmobile line. Perhaps the libertarian thing for them to do would have been to let their customers decide if they wanted Oldsmobiles or not, but they decided to free up those resources to

God, another terrible metaphor. There is so much wrong with it, I don't know where to begin. First, Olds was ended precisely because it had failed for years to match up to the competition. It's the equivalent of not only failing Volokh's class, but flunking out of the school entirely. Presumably, if Olds had met its benchmarks for profits, GM would have kept it on.

Second, GM owned Olds. Volokh doesn't own his students.

If you want to talk about cars as a metaphor, what this is like, is a big car company like GM saying to one of its specific brands, let's say Saturn, "you must increase profits. Therefore I am going to ban you from using computers to engineer your cars. But I am not going to pay attention to whether you actually increase profits or not." Maybe in fact using computers is what is keeping back Saturn (in my example), but it seems to me the most rational, efficient and liberty-maximizing way to increase profits, is to reward the increase of profits and then turn around and say, "I don't care how you do it (short of unethical, illegal or dishonest methods), but increase your profits." That is certainly what happens most often in the real world; they incentivize the outcome, rather than the process.

> As for EV, I find him to be one of the most original, liberal (in the best sense of the word), and at times even entertaining voices on the net. That why I'm here. Why are you?

Oh my, I think I heard the net-worship version of "questioning my patriotism."

You seem to think that because I disagree with him on one point, that I hate him somehow, or perhaps you have taken my comments that he is not perfect, that he is unlikely to have any special training to be a teacher, etc. to mean I have a dislike of him. I don't. First, you can like a person without making more of them than they are. Second, you can disagree with a person without hating them. My gosh, if only the Democrats could figure those two things out.
8.26.2008 10:11am
David Warner:
"But I am not going to pay attention to whether you actually increase profits or not"

And this corresponds to the Volokh situation how?

Note: my question to you re: EV was not rhetorical.

"unlikely to have any special training to be a teacher"

If that is relevant, perhaps I should point out that I do. In that capacity, I can point out that note-taking ability is a singularly invalid method for "separating the wheat from the chaff."

Although it is not unclear why a more valid method might concern you.
8.26.2008 11:22am
Timkin:
Getting back to the post. I also don't understand the criticism. EV is trying to teach a course in the best way he can; he thinks this rule will help. Students at UCLA are not and cannot be so dependent on a laptop that this is an imposition, fr the vast majority. But even if it is an imposition, it's not in any sense unreasonable. People have, after all, learned criminal law without them. The criticism all appears to be that the critics have better judgment about the policy. But they offer only appeals to irrelevant concepts like, libertarianism (or its spirit) and complain about phantom "unfairness," somtimes related to plainly unrelated contract claims. I agree with the poster that said, if you don't trust EV to make these minor judgments to teach the course in the best way he can, than EV has no business being a teacher. Moreover, substituting your judgment for his judgment will certainly not make him a better teacher, or his class a batter class.
8.26.2008 11:32am
A.W. (mail):
David

> And this corresponds to the Volokh situation how?

Because like in the Volokh situation, he is getting at what he thinks is the underlying cause of the lack of participation, rather than incentivizing participation itself, and harnessing the creativity and intelligence of his students, by allowing them to figure out how to go from point A to point B.

> In that capacity, I can point out that note-taking ability is a singularly invalid method for "separating the wheat from the chaff."

Ah, so you argument is "who are you going to believe? Me or your lying life experience?"

I mean if your point is to say most people don't do a good job at that, maybe that is true. But it worked very well for me. And that is precisely why a one-size-fits-all approach is exactly the wrong approach, because what works for me doesn't necessarily work for others.
8.26.2008 11:38am
A.C.:
Actually, I think the policy in question would make a class better for a few students and significantly worse for a lot more (including me). I don't think it would have an impact one way or another on the people it is meant to reach, namely those who care so little about the class that they would be inclined to spend the bulk of class time checking sports scores on the internet. People who care about how class is run generally do so because they actually care about their classes and know what policies they prefer.

Like it or not, most professionals nowadays do almost all of their writing on keyboards. This is a social change -- people in the professions used to write by hand or dictate and have professional secretaries do the keyboarding. But now the tools are better and more portable, and a general education includes information about how to use them efficiently. This change lets people GET MORE DONE. Taking away the modern tools means that people will get less done, or will do it less well, which is okay if that's the goal. I don't think it is, though.
8.26.2008 11:48am
Samual:
That is your judgment; it's not EV's. In the class you teach, we will do it your way because you were hired to excercize that judgment. Same for EV.
8.26.2008 11:54am
A.C.:
Hey, I'm just arguing back. He can do whatever he wants, and I'm not going to make any arguments based on theories to dissuade him. But his decision will affect his students in a lot of ways, not just in whatever positive way he hopes it will. I'm presenting a first-person example of one such situation in order to contribute to the "class discussion" on this matter.
8.26.2008 12:03pm
Sarah B.:
I think the problem is learning in a classroom is a process such that it is difficult to impossible to say laptop or no laptop is better. You won't know until your in it and even then you wont know. You maybe surprised, though. Hopefully good surprises happen in classrooms.

That is why someone must make the call. In this case, EV.
8.26.2008 12:24pm
A.W. (mail):
Timkin

> EV is trying to teach a course in the best way he can; he thinks this rule will help.

I am sure he means well. I didn't say he was evil, just wrong. And I don't think anyone in this thread would argue he doesn't mean well.

> People have, after all, learned criminal law without them.

1. Many people with disabilities have not.
2. People also once learned without cars, electric lights, air conditioning and so on. Should we do away with those, too?

> But they offer only appeals to irrelevant concepts like, libertarianism (or its spirit)

Freedom and efficiency are not irrelevant.

> The criticism all appears to be that the critics have better judgment about the policy.

Actually my argument is that Volokh should grade for participation, and then let his students exercise their judgment. Some will chuck their laptops; some won't. Treat them like adults and they will rise to the occasion.
8.26.2008 1:01pm
A.C.:
And my point boils down to a personal observation (based on sitting through a lot of law school classes) that, for at least some students, chucking the laptops would have a negative effect both on class participation (an intermediate goal) and on learning the material (the final goal). I wouldn't go so far as to make laptops mandatory for students who have already worked out some other way to learn, but neither would I support taking them away from students who find them helpful.

Paper, pens, and books are technologies too, after all. At some point, I'm sure the traditionalists complained that using them prevented students from developing the kind of memory that was necessary in an oral tradition. Laptops are only getting the attention now because they are extremely common (not novelties anymore) but not yet 100% dominant. Something else will be the up and coming tool eventually, and then we will argue about that.

Anyone want to start a more general discussion about the use of technology in legal education and practice? I'm having a slow week (August!) and would love to play a few rounds of that.
8.26.2008 1:19pm
theobromophile (www):
A.W.: On a comment thread, in which people reply to each other and the original post, it is quite reasonable to assume that, when one's words are quoted, that the person quoting them and discussing them is replying to oneself. If such was not your intention, state so up front, or as a later clarification, but there is no need to get snarky and full of yourself over it.
8.26.2008 1:20pm
theobromophile (www):
Anyone want to start a more general discussion about the use of technology in legal education and practice? I'm having a slow week (August!) and would love to play a few rounds of that.

A.C.,

Sure! :)

PowerPoint: sometimes good, sometimes bad. Best when the professor provides copies of it, so you don't spend the whole time trying to re-create what is already there.

Loved, loved, loved PowerPoint in Tax. My prof put up the problem, clicked through to each step in the process, and then the final result. A thing of beauty.

The advantage to PP over writing on the blackboard (even if the prof has good writing) is that the prof can face the class and discuss the material, rather than writing on the board, moving out of the way so everyone can see it, and talking with his face turned towards the board to explain.

Not sure how I feel about those remote-control clicker things that some professors use.
8.26.2008 1:27pm
sleepy:
The problem with PowerPoint is that they usually dim the lights. And then, if I don't have my laptop open for some helpful distractions, I'll usually fall asleep.
8.26.2008 1:36pm
Timkin:
"I am sure he means well. I didn't say he was evil, just wrong. And I don't think anyone in this thread would argue he doesn't mean well."

The point is he is the only one who can teach his class, so if this helps him teach, then he makes the call.

"'People have, after all, learned criminal law without them.

1. Many people with disabilities have not.'"

Of course, they did.

"2. People also once learned without cars, electric lights, air conditioning and so on. Should we do away with those, too?"

Besides the fact that I don't know why EV wants cars in his classroom, this is a strawman. The lights are not getting in the way of his teaching.

"Freedom and efficiency are not irrelevant."

They are only relevant to the extent the Professor believes they pedagogically help him teach the class.

"Actually my argument is that Volokh should grade for participation, and then let his students exercise their judgment. Some will chuck their laptops; some won't. Treat them like adults and they will rise to the occasion."

So you would substitute you judgment for EVs. That's what I said. Besides, they signed up to be treated as students. If they have an injured sense that there adulthood is being assaulted, they need to grow up.
8.26.2008 2:05pm
A.W. (mail):
Timkin

> The point is he is the only one who can teach his class, so if this helps him teach, then he makes the call.

Ah, so Volokh is automatically right about everything. So why did he turn on the comments in this thread, and indeed respond to comments in a previous thread? He posted it here, he opened it for comments, read the comments and even responded with two posts to those comments, because he just wants everyone to say "well, its up to him therefore we cannot even criticize his decision."

I have more respect for Mr. Volokh than to think he just wants to hear everyone assume he is right all the time and praise him for his brilliance. And as a point of fact he is more often right than wrong, and he is one of the smarter people around. But he is off on this one.

> Of course, they did.

No, there are disabilities that require one to use a computer to accommodate. Dysgraphia for one. And there are a few people up the thread who have other conditions.

> The lights are not getting in the way of his teaching.

Neither, have we established that the laptops are, either. Indeed, the very notion that a device that makes note-taking easier would somehow make it harder to keep people's attention is at best counter-intuitive and most likely, wrong. (Mind you, computers + internet is a slightly different discussion.)

> So you would substitute you judgment for EVs.

No. To repeat myself, I would substitute his students' judgment for his. Maybe what Volokh says would be best for Volokh if he was a student, but the diverse backgrounds, abilities and even learning styles represented in his classroom, chances are that a one-size fits all approach would be wrong. In a recent case, I argued that a woman's failure to wear a seatbelt in her wheelchair was contributory negligence (when she fell out of it), by arguing that "sometimes the most negligent thing you can do is assume nothing can go wrong." But that is a breed of a larger point, which is that sometimes the most foolish thing you can do is assume you have accounted for everything. That is what Volokh is trying to do here, and it is bound to fail.
8.26.2008 2:26pm
Valda:
"so Volokh is automatically right about everything."

He's right about what helps him teach.

"Neither, have we established that the laptops are, either."

He says they are and you don't beleive him.

"I would substitute his students' judgment for his."

Again, that's your judgment call. EVs is different. Besides want to bet he doesn't fail at teaching his class?
8.26.2008 2:36pm
David Warner:
"Because like in the Volokh situation, he is getting at what he thinks is the underlying cause of the lack of participation, rather than incentivizing participation itself, and harnessing the creativity and intelligence of his students, by allowing them to figure out how to go from point A to point B."

So if your Saturn workers were using their laptops to pound rivets into the (plastic) Saturn body panels, this problem would be best solved by a more comprehensive profit-sharing plan? Oh, I'm sorry, targeted production bonuses?
8.26.2008 2:44pm
A.W. (mail):
Valda

First, again, what is the point of a comment thread of the right answer to everything is "Volokh is automatically right about everything?"

> He says they are and you don't beleive him.

Yes, because I have my own life experiences to draw from and in my life experiences, laptops were an unmitigated boon to my education. I am intelligent enough to admit that is not automaticaly true for everyone, so rather than a top-down solution, I favor freedom and outcome based grading, rather than him trying to dictate to you the exact method of taking down your notes.
8.26.2008 2:45pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Unfortunately, in my experience in teaching it's rarely the case that laptops and similar devices are really banned as a result of a balanced consideration of the student's benefits and the harms to other students ability to learn. Most frequently professors ban these 'distractions' out of an emotional sense of outrage that these students aren't paying attention to them or simply because the students 'should' be paying attention.

In particular any class that bans laptops or similar distractions but doesn't clamp down on overzealous note taking is likely to have other underlying motivations for the ban.
8.26.2008 2:56pm
Valda:
"because I have my own life experiences to draw from and in my life experiences, laptops were an unmitigated boon to my education. I am intelligent enough to admit that is not automaticaly true for everyone."

This apparently leads you to discount actually teaching (like EV) as relevant life experience. Moreover, your experience appears woefully inadequet, if you have not taken Professor Volokh's class without a laptop. In fact. Did you take any law school course without a lap top? If so, did you learn the material?
8.26.2008 3:00pm
A.C.:
Well, I took some law school classes without laptops. Seminars. Computers weren't banned, but they weren't useful either. After the first couple of weeks I realized it wasn't worth taking my computer out of the bag.

For first-year classes and the larger classes in second year (Tax, Corporations), I consider laptops essential.

Perhaps the real question is whether first-year classes are more like seminars or more like traditional lecture classes. I believe they are the latter, albeit with a bit more class participation than most.
8.26.2008 3:42pm
A.W. (mail):
> This apparently leads you to discount actually teaching (like EV) as relevant life experience.

Ah, the old, "who are you going to believe, Volokh or your lying life experience?"

I know this is a very academic blog, and I like that to some degree, but could anything be more calculated to send the lemmings off the academic cliff on a misdirection of theory, than "gee, you should trust someone else's alleged life experience more than your own"?

And by the way, what exact life experience are you talking about? He hasn't actually banned the laptops yet, because he hasn't started the class yet. So has he tried taking those students who are shopping or playing solitaire, and taking away their computers and then seeing if they actually pay attention in that case? I see no reason to answer that question in the affirmative. There is frankly no good reason to think his life experience is somehow better than my own, which is actually true of most people in most cases. He just has the aura of a teacher, so you assume has some special educational voodoo. He doesn't. He is just a guy who is a few years senior of you, who learned a lot on the subjects he teaches that you haven't. When you want to teach elementary school, you are taught how to teach; not so with professors.

Really, are you a student in his class, just trying to suck up? What is with you guys and your belief in the God-like perfection of Volokh, so he couldn't possibly ever be wrong?

By the way, if you are trying to suck up, a little advice. I got honors from Deans, Circuit Court Judges and even an ex-presidential candidate, in law school, and each one can be counted on for a solid recommendation even years after the fact. They didn't come to respect me because I sucked up, but because I told them what I really thought. Thus when I said they were wrong, and backed it up with facts and logic, they respected it; and when I agreed, it meant all the more for them, because they knew it was genuine. Volokh and I disagree, and when I later say to him "you are right" it will mean more than when it comes from a sycophant.

In short, you can keep your integrity and still get their recommendation; in fact, it helps you to get one.
8.26.2008 4:42pm
Valda:
Once again, AW, you have to tell us how wonderful you are. You do it because your argument is based solely on your limited experience.

I don't trust you. Your experience is ad hoc. It is clearly deficient, where it isn't wholly irrelevant.

Since you haven't answered my questions, I take it you have not taken a class with EV, sans laptop. You have no expereince teaching EV's class or any class. You haven't taken any law school class, sans laptop. Or if you have, you somehow managed to learn the material, disproving your laptop thesis. (Your supposition that EV has never taught a class without students using laptops is also without any bases)

Your inability to even conceive that EV might have learned something about teaching his class (that you don't know) or computers (that you don't know) just shows how unworthy of consideration your opinions are.
8.26.2008 6:15pm
Valda:
And although I should make you do your own research, EV, does not at all represent the mythical Professor you make up in your post:

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, criminal law, religious freedom law, and church-state relations law at UCLA Law School, where he has also often taught copyright law and a seminar on firearms regulation policy. Before coming to UCLA, he clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Volokh is the author of the textbooks The First Amendment and Related Statutes (3d ed. 2008), The Religion Clauses and Related Statutes (2005), and Academic Legal Writing (3d ed. 2007), as well as over 50 law review articles and over 80 op-eds, listed below. He is a member of the The American Law Institute, and an Academic Affiliate for the Mayer Brown LLP law firm.

Volokh also worked for 12 years as a computer programmer, and is still partner in a small software company which sells HP 3000 software that he wrote. He graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in math-computer science at age 15, and has written many articles on computer software. . . .
8.26.2008 6:38pm
A.C.:
Valda, are you in love with EV?
8.26.2008 9:08pm
Valda:
Never met him.
8.26.2008 9:17pm
pluribus:
A.W.:

I got honors from Deans, Circuit Court Judges and even an ex-presidential candidate, in law school, and each one can be counted on for a solid recommendation even years after the fact. They didn't come to respect me because I sucked up, but because I told them what I really thought. Thus when I said they were wrong, and backed it up with facts and logic, they respected it; and when I agreed, it meant all the more for them, because they knew it was genuine.

All of this--and you are so modest, too.
8.26.2008 9:31pm
David Warner:
When making charges of upsucking, one might suppose it would be prudent to ask the question "cui bono?" Once you guys have anything on the cui side or the bono side, get back to us. Until then, stop digging. For your own good.

It did give me a good chuckle, however. First time I've ever been accused of that failing.

As for the question at hand, I'll concede it is a close call. I'm comfortable conceding that the "libertarian spirit" would incline, if not compel, one to prefer pluralistic policies, some of which are indeed suited to the classroom setting.

I'll even concede that some students are both capable of the counter-intuitively complex multi-tasking involved in simultaneous note-taking and full engagement with the lecture/discussion (similar to that mastered by an accomplished pianist) and likely to garner more benefit from doing so than from mere engagement alone with notes provided later (ideally by the professor). The other side of the equation, however, is the proportion of students who overrate either their capacity to do the above or the benefit thereof, or who merely resist change qua change.

The problem is distinguishing one from the other, and self-selection doesn't help much there.

The research on this question is mixed, unlike the research on note-taking in reading, which shows a clear benefit in comprehension. I'm inclined to think that lecture note-taking, like operating a slide rule or copying manuscripts, is a skill once valuable yet now largely obsolete, and that a classroom could profitably do without it, at least on the graduate school level, given sufficiently valuable lectures/discussions.
8.26.2008 10:13pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I'm inclined to think that lecture note-taking, like operating a slide rule or copying manuscripts, is a skill once valuable yet now largely obsolete,

How is one supposed to remember what he thought at the time, if he didn't take notes? If this skill is obsolete, what replaced it?

The law student is supposed to organize the cases into an outline for use on the exam. Is DW suggesting the student should just borrow an outline from an upperclassman?
8.27.2008 2:33am
Public_Defender (mail):

Most frequently professors ban these 'distractions' out of an emotional sense of outrage that these students aren't paying attention to them or simply because the students 'should' be paying attention.


Did you read this before you posted? This gets my nomination for the most self-refuting comment.
8.27.2008 5:43am
A.C.:
What Tony Tutins said. People who take note-taking seriously tend to take outlining seriously as well. I wouldn't have been caught dead using a commercial outline in law school, except as a final check once I completed my own. And even then I would check it against the material covered in class, because not every professor includes exactly the same material.

Forget about study groups, too -- no way would I outsource this process. PRODUCING the notes and the outlines is far more important that just having them.
8.27.2008 10:22am
David Warner:
"Is DW suggesting the student should just borrow an outline from an upperclassman?"

From my own post:

"with notes provided later (ideally by the professor)"

If you can take better notes that the professor himself, I doubt you really need much help mastering the material.
8.27.2008 12:54pm
A.W. (mail):
Valda

> Once again, AW, you have to tell us how wonderful you are. You do it because your argument is based solely on your limited experience.

Ah, so the average law student doesn't know how they took notes. Good to know.

> You haven't taken any law school class, sans laptop. Or if you have, you somehow managed to learn the material, disproving your laptop thesis.

Of course people can learn without laptops, at least as long as they don't have a disability that prevents it. People used to learn law with quill pens. And for that matter, without law school at all. And some still do that last one. Hell, some oddballs might even use quill pens. But the question is what is the best way, and the answer is very often "it depends." Thus top-down enforced conformity is a bad idea.

If you want participation, grade for it. Let the students themselves figure out how to increase the quality of their participation instead of assuming you, or in this case, the God-like (in your mind) Eugene Volokh, can come up with a

> EV, does not at all represent the mythical Professor you make up in your post

I didn't say he did. I said people in this thread do. Every time you say "well Volokh says it, so it must be true" you do. Really, I get from you a creepy worshipful vibe similar to what I see in Obama rallies. Volokh has a lot going for him, but he is a human being and he is wrong here, and someday on some topic he will be wrong again. Between us, only one of us seem to get that.

A.C.

Lol. You captured exactly my thought in a lot less words.

Pluribus

> All of this--and you are so modest, too.

If I am going to say "you don't have to suck up" I have to establish that I didn't and got good results. If you have another way for me to say it, let me know. But I don't think saying, "you don't have to suck up. I didn't, and all my professors hated me and blackballed me out of the job I wanted" quite does the job, does it?

But I am sorry that those achievements grates with you. But if you think I am expressing an arrogant self-image by saying that, I will say it probably has more to do with your own issues than anything I said. I didn't say "I am the greatest because this guy likes me and so does this one." I merely noted that I didn't suck up and it didn't hurt me at all.

I suppose you also thought it would have been arrogant of Abraham Lincoln to say that he was born in a log cabin and therefore any person can grow up to be President.

David

> When making charges of upsucking, one might suppose it would be prudent to ask the question "cui bono?"

Mmm, once again… cue up Carly Simon: "You're so vain… I bet you think my comment is about you… don't you? Don't you?"

As for the question (presented in needless Latin, undoubtedly to bolster your own academic inadequacies), my supposition answered it.

> I'll even concede that some students are both capable of the counter-intuitively complex multi-tasking

Actually the counter-intuitive notion is that a device that makes note-taking easier, makes it harder to do other things. Note taking is itself a form of multi-tasking, and one of the tasks easier unusually makes the others easier too.

Remember, I conceded that cutting off the internet probably would help and is appropriate, so we are talking only about computers as a note-taking aid, not as letting you shop and so on. Although from the discussion above, perhaps a smarter approach would be to let them have westlaw or lexis access. Depending on the equipment at the school's disposal, you can severely limit the websites accessible through a network.

> The research on this question is mixed

Therefore the only logical thing is to say to the students "figure it out for yourselves." Sheesh.

Besides, you are talking about whether one should take notes at all. Volokh isn't talking about abolishing note taking entirely, just one particular method of it. Until Volokh talks about banning note-taking by pen and paper, your comment is off-point.
8.27.2008 6:34pm
pluribus:
A.W.:

I am sorry that those achievements grates with you. But if you think I am expressing an arrogant self-image by saying that, I will say it probably has more to do with your own issues than anything I said.

All the posters here are capable of bragging, but not all the posters here do so. Some don't do it because it's in bad taste. Others because they realize that the issues discussed here aren't about them. If I won the Nobel Prize for Economics (or if I claimed in an anonymous post to have won it), it wouldn't add one jot or tittle to the force of my arguments, which would stand or fall on their own merits. I don't know if you are a phony or merely a braggart. In either case, it doesn't add one jot or tittle to the force of your arguments, which must stand or fall on their own merits.

I suppose you also thought it would have been arrogant of Abraham Lincoln to say that he was born in a log cabin and therefore any person can grow up to be President.

I have studied Lincoln at some length and have yet to catch him in an arrogant statement. I haven't studied you at all, and already I have caught you in several.
8.28.2008 2:16pm
A.W. (mail):
Pluribus

Wow. On the issue of how best to influence people to say nice things about you, you think experience is irrelevant.

If I didn't know better, I would assume you were a parody of an academic.

> I have studied Lincoln at some length and have yet to catch him in an arrogant statement.

First, I said "would have." Not "was."

Second, pointing out you have gone a long way is not arrogant. Telling other people they can do the same isn't, either. In general I fail to understand how by empowering others to believe in themselves, or in the case of my discussion of sucking up, to stand up for their own beliefs, is somehow arrogant. Seriously, are you posting this from Bizarro world? I am telling people "believe in yourself and speak your mind." And you want to say I am arrogant? And in my hypothesis, I imagined Lincoln encouraging people to believe that nothing is impossible. Again, arrogant? Really?

No, the truth is you have a hang up that is is short-circuiting even basic logic.
8.28.2008 2:48pm
David Warner:
"> When making charges of upsucking, one might suppose it would be prudent to ask the question "cui bono?"

'Mmm, once again… cue up Carly Simon: "You're so vain… I bet you think my comment is about you… don't you? Don't you?'"

I will grant your expertise on the subject of vanity, but I'll give your "truth to power" advice a shot here:

Where am I mentioned anywhere in the original sentence? Its called third person. You might want to try it sometime.

"As for the question (presented in needless Latin, undoubtedly to bolster your own academic inadequacies), my supposition answered it."

Nice theory on why one might use the phrase "cui bono?" on a law blog. I'm sure that former presidential candidate was wowed by just such insight. Although, again, I defer to your demonstrated authority on academic inadequacy.

"> I'll even concede that some students are both capable of the counter-intuitively complex multi-tasking

'Actually the counter-intuitive notion is that a device that makes note-taking easier, makes it harder to do other things. Note taking is itself a form of multi-tasking, and one of the tasks easier unusually makes the others easier too.'"

Fascinating watching the time it takes you to get a point in print. From my original post in this thread, I was talking about the value of note-taking as a practice, however accomplished, as EV was in the original post.

"> The research on this question is mixed

'Therefore the only logical thing is to say to the students "figure it out for yourselves." Sheesh.'"

In the absence of any opportunity cost, this would be correct. Perhaps were you giving the lecture, I would encourage maximum note-taking to minimize class attention wasted on your half-formed thoughts.

"Besides, you are talking about whether one should take notes at all. Volokh isn't talking about abolishing note taking entirely, just one particular method of it. Until Volokh talks about banning note-taking by pen and paper, your comment is off-point."

I refer you here where EV discusses the policy. He clearly envisions less note-taking, with the intention of the added attention going to discussion/engagement with the lecture. He is indeed taking a somewhat libertarianish method to achieve this vision (i.e. not banning), but it is clear where he is headed. As I said earlier, it is a close call, but my results track well with those of the professors EV mentions. I don't ban it either, I just don't predicate class success on doing it.
8.28.2008 2:53pm
A.W. (mail):
David

> Where am I mentioned anywhere in the original sentence? Its called third person. You might want to try it sometime.

Now you are just being disingenuous. Yes, you used third person in that sentence. And then a moment later, you said this:

> It did give me a good chuckle, however. First time I've ever been accused of that failing.

Never lie when the truth can be cut and pasted.

> From my original post in this thread, I was talking about the value of note-taking as a practice, however accomplished, as EV was in the original post.

Amazing, you keep missing the point. EV is not talking about cutting off all forms of note-taking.

> In the absence of any opportunity cost, this would be correct.

No, in the absence of evidence, the wise person remains neutral.

> He clearly envisions less note-taking

Yeah, well, when he can hope for whatever outcome he wants, but there is no reason to think that making it more difficult to take notes means they will take less of their time to take notes. If they end up with less notes, it is only because the time crunch doesn't allow for it, which doesn't exactly help participation, if instead of notes with pauses, it becomes constant note-taking.

You have a lot of trouble keeping your eye on the ball, don't you?

> He is indeed taking a somewhat libertarianish method to achieve this vision (i.e. not banning)

No, he is talking about a ban. When he says the rule is "no laptops in class" that is a ban. Again, utterly disingenuous.

I mean really, if you cannot be honest about things that can be cut and pasted, what is the point of talking to you? You don't even tell good lies.
8.28.2008 3:34pm
David Warner:
A.W., you chose the sentence for the Simon serenade, not I. Good thing cutting and pasting skills are not the ultimate test for culling the wheat from the chaff!

You are however correct that I was baselessly accused of creepy worshipfulness, not upsucking. Mea culpa I'm sorry. Almost slipped into Latin again. Whew!

"You have a lot of trouble keeping your eye on the ball, don't you?"

Depends on the ball. The mendacious non-sequiturs you're pitching? Ted Williams might have difficulty.

"Amazing, you keep missing the point. EV is not talking about cutting off all forms of note-taking."

Nor is anyone. Cutting-off is not the same as reducing the emphasis upon.

"No, in the absence of evidence, the wise person remains neutral."

I am neutral on the question of whether the process of note-taking itself enhances learning (aside from the utility of having notes at all, provided by a scribe, for instance). Given that greater participation demonstrably does enhance learning and that attention freed from the neutral activity can be then spent on the positive, I favor doing so to the extent practical.

Are you trying not to understand, or are you so taken in by the repartee that you've forgotten that step?

"> He is indeed taking a somewhat libertarianish method to achieve this vision (i.e. not banning)

No, he is talking about a ban. When he says the rule is "no laptops in class" that is a ban. Again, utterly disingenuous."

You are correct. Your statement is utterly disingenuous. The original "not banning" referred clearly to note-taking, not laptops.

I'd say that my honor has now been (more than) adequately defended. As I am not a cruel man, I'll now let you go.

Farewell.
8.28.2008 8:26pm
A.W. (mail):
David

And now the liar calls me a liar and unleashes new lies. I admit I like to argue, but really, what is the point with a serial liar?

Go ahead, tell yourself you won the debate. When talking to yourself, sometimes it helps to lie.
8.28.2008 9:21pm