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Results of Student Survey About My No-Laptop-in-Class Experiment

are in this memo I wrote to my colleagues (with pie charts). Summary:

What effect did the no-laptop policy have on Strongly negativeSlightly negativeNeutralSlightly positiveStrongly positive
... your concentration in class?2%8%19%40%31%
... your finding the class time interesting?0%6%42%29%23%
... your learning the material?4%19%41%19%17%
... the usefulness of your notes for studying?19%33%21%12%15%
... your overall enjoyment of the course?0%12%34%29%25%

With this in mind, let me offer a few suggestions to my fellow professors:

(1) If you think a no-laptop policy might help, experiment with it. I've noted above some reasons why my experience might not be generalizable from the sexy first-semester Criminal Law class. But if some of us get and report more data in other classes, all of us will get a better perspective.

(2) If you want to try a no-laptop policy, tell students up front about the generally positive reaction my students have reported. This should make them more open to the experiment, and at least decrease any immediate flak you might get from the students. No need to start the semester by making your students resentful.

(3) Warn students in the syllabus about the policy, and briefly explain that it's an experiment from which you're trying to learn, for the benefit of future students. My sense is that this will help students feel open to the policy, and will help deflect skepticism about whether the policy will work: I'm not sure whether it will work myself, you can tell them — that's why I'm trying this as an experiment, though I also have some tentative feedback from others that leads me to think it will be a successful experiment.

(4) For the second- and third-year classes, note the policy in the class description, so that students won't be surprised — or, if they will be surprised, you can politely convey to them that the surprise was their fault.

(5) If you do try such a policy, please conduct a survey after the end of the course, follow up with the students at least once to get a decent response rate, and share the results with the rest of us.

SFJD (www):
I was one of the few in law school who thought laptops in class was a crazy idea and generally bad. After I caved I learned 2 things: 1) it is tremendously easier to not pay attention, and 2) it is nice, if you do actually use it to take notes, to have a searchable document of notes at the end of the semester to study with. For instance, while writing your outline you hit a snag on a small issue, ctrl+f on the word file and voila, there are the class notes you (hopefully) took straight from the professor.

Too many students also used their laptops to blindly type every word and thought the inability to do so meant they would not take good notes. Handwriting may force them to listen and then write, a better strategy (IMHO) for memory retention. On the other hand, I also thought it was not the school's job to hand hold students and make them pay attention, take notes, do their homework, etc. etc., and I always felt that if students were not mature enough to do what they needed to do to pass and get the work done, they didn't deserve to be there anyway. It is their ridiculously overpriced education they are pissing away by buying shoes instead of listening to their professors anyways. That is why in the end I disagree with laptop bans.

Not a law professor though, so that is my uninformed (former student) opinion.
3.4.2009 5:59pm
Fred R. (mail):
(4) is crucial. I got surprised by a professor deciding to ban laptops three days before classes started--his right to do so, of course, but it did not endear him to many of us, since many of the good classes were long since full, and it's more or less impossible to find a good substitute at that stage.

It may seem silly to think laptops are that important, but in my experience, having them adds substantial value(for example, letting us pulling up cases mentioned in class to read the text directly). Not having them, on the other hand, makes class discussion a little better, but imposes a disproportionate cost--if nothing else, than by making us scribble frantically, and then transcribe later is nothing more than a waste of time and effort better spent outlining, or working on reading--the real cost is the extra prep time.
3.4.2009 6:00pm
Arkady:
My God, how did any of us in the Dark Ages (BC) ever get through it? I found this depressing:


The usefulness of your notes for studying? Negative 19% Slightly Negative 33%.



Would I be off the mark if I said that better than half the folks in your class didn't know how to take good summarizing notes? Am I being unfair?
3.4.2009 6:03pm
fred R. (mail):
I agree with SFJD about the paternalistic side of laptop bans--part of what professional school seeks to develop is a work ethic and (for lack of a better word), professionalism.

I think in the long run, it may hurt the school to create students who can give off an air of professionalism/diligence when distractions are artificially removed--but that the risk is that they will be unable to match that in a firm setting, where laptops, and all the rest of it are readily available.

I think there is a role for law schools (perhaps legal writing teachers) to start to focus on, and to teach the ways having a laptop at your fingertips can add value--whether by teaching how to tap into the enormous body of information readily available, or how to effectively take notes and to work with them. (for example, I know people who created a wiki for Torts--an outline that everyone could, and many did contribute to (and I think gained greatly from so doing)
3.4.2009 6:07pm
Kent Scheidegger (mail) (www):
Slightly off-topic, but on the theme of computers are not always better, I suggest that the folks teaching legal research not allow the students to use on-line resources, or even have a password for Westlaw/Lexis, until after they have learned how to use the books.

Computer research is a wonderful tool, but no one tool is best for all purposes, no matter what the salesmen tell you. Too many students get so infatuated with computers, they never learn how to use books.

When you have an assignment in an area of law that is completely new to you, diving right in to computer word searches is one of the worst ways to go about it. Yet that is what 3 out of 4 student interns and recent graduates do.
3.4.2009 6:13pm
anomdebus (mail):
Professor Volokh,
What do you think about audio recordings during class?

A difference between students now and in the past is that students now are more likely to be used to typing notes rather than using long hand. If you are not used to writing stuff out, you can get tired out fairly easily.
I did not do much typing through college, yet since my job involves typing so much now, my long hand has gotten worse. My hand now starts to ache after 5 minutes of writing.
3.4.2009 6:16pm
Raffi (mail) (www):
It doesn't matter, but I think you mean colleagues rather than classmates in the linked text. [D'oh, fixed, thanks! -EV]

Had a professor required writing, I think I would have had trouble because my handwriting is bad, but would have appreciated the change
3.4.2009 6:19pm
whit:
banning laptops seems to me a classic example of punishing everybody, for the transgressions of some.

iow, some people will clearly NOT use the laptops effectively, get distracted, or take TOO many notes (vs. actually listening).

imo, that's their frigging problem. some people are greatly aided by laptops, and it should come down to choice and responsibility.

i never took notes in college, fwiw, although if i had a laptop i might have (and maybe gotten better grades. who knows)?

but the simple fact is that laptops are a benefit to some students, and why punish THEM because others either abuse the laptops or use them ineffectively. their poor grades should be their punishment.

personally, my handwriting has always sucked, and i am also slow and inefficient and sloppy. long before other cops used computers, i was an 'early adopter' and it made my job SO much easier, AND improved the quality of work, since it was actually legible :)
3.4.2009 6:31pm
ChrisTS (mail):
As an undergrad professor, I'm curious about the law school zeitgeist: do most students expect to use laptops in classes? Our students always ask if they may use a laptop - I think they are told that the presumption is against having them in class.

Of course, undergraduate ed being what it is these days, we do do a lot of 'hand-holding.'
3.4.2009 6:37pm
JohnW (mail):
whit -

btw, OT but lol!

nt
3.4.2009 6:38pm
bski:

I'd have been helpless with a laptop ban in law school. My handwriting is atrocious and I can type many times faster than I can write.

What about a transcript of the material given to every person who attended the class the next week? Isn't the point learning and interaction rather than just writing everything down?

All a laptop ban would have done for me is to handicap my ability to obtain the course information.
3.4.2009 6:39pm
Mudley (mail) (www):
It might benefit future surveys to distinguish between the answers of people who would have used laptops and those who would not. Beyond providing interesting information on the grades of laptop-in-class users and non-laptop people, it would also help breakdown how much of an impact having the laptop-users more engaged in class was affecting the people who would have been engaged anyway. As written, the survey conflates the two.
3.4.2009 6:41pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
My notes were generally useless in college. Perhaps having a laptop (and the ability to move things around and easily add stuff in any given spot) would have helped.

I must admit that I can't think of anything a laptop ban would accomplish that small (less than 15 students) classes wouldn't do a better job of. This is a bit like giving aspirin to someone with a broken leg.
3.4.2009 6:42pm
Josh B:
Being able to type notes has substantial benefits. Most people can type faster than they write, so even if you're a good summary note-taker, which you should be, typing allows you to engage more in class discussion. Plus, as others have said, neat, searchable notes help with studying and exams. The ability to revise in class without a lot of erasing ("wait, she said the rule against perpetuities wouldn't apply in that case?") is also helpful.

If it's possible, a good intermediate course might be banning the Internet. As much flak as the University of Chicago has drawn for that policy, I've found it helpful. It gets rid of most of the distractions.
3.4.2009 6:46pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
My handwriting is about as bad as it could possibly be. I type my own grocery lists on Notepad. I guess it must not have been so bad when I was in college, because I managed somehow ... maybe it's linked to essential tremor, which has worsened as I've aged, although the meds seem to control the actual tremor pretty well. (Thank God, b/c it got to be a pain in the butt in the laboratory.) If I'd had a laptop in college (not that they ever co-existed with pterodactyls and all) I'm sure I would have wanted to use it for notes.
3.4.2009 6:52pm
josh bornstein (mail) (www):
Interesting discussion; I went to law school 88-91, so my recollection was just one person using a laptop (we looked at him with a bit of awe and envy) in any of my classes. I gather that the situation has really changed, based on these responses.

Laura, it sounds like your condition would have fallen directly into one of Eugene's exceptions . . . there'd obviously be no point in being punitive and refusing to allow use of a laptop to someone with a medical or health-related need.
3.4.2009 7:04pm
CDR D (mail):
...test...
3.4.2009 7:08pm
Realist Liberal:
Continuing the off topic comment by Kent, I agree completely. My law school required one semester where we did not have access to Westlaw/ Lexis except to look up a particular citation. We could not run any searches at all. Our final paper was forcibly researched exclusively in books. The next semester we were allowed to switch to WL. I actually still use books when I can and ironically feel that I'm faster with those than computer (except of course shepardizing which is MUCH faster on computer).
3.4.2009 7:15pm
Sitnah:
Like Josh B. said, banning the Internet makes more sense than banning computers. But the technology to do this might not be forthcoming, and so you could try what a professor of mine has done this semester: require every in-class computer user to send an email to the prof promising not to use the Internet. The theory is that a positive affirmation will do more than a paragraph in the student handbook.

Beyond that, I want to draw attention to the second-to-last question on the survey: fully 52% of people said that not having a computer hindered the effect of their notes. This is not just because the younger generations don't know how to take notes by hand, or because are wrists are weak from lack of practice (both suggested above). 52% of people said their notes got worse because, properly used, a computer is a vastly superior way to take notes.

Some people above point out the obvious advantages: you can type faster than you can write, you can use the search command when studying the notes later, and you can more easily change/delete incorrect notes. To that list I would add that you can more easily re-arrange your notes to fit a logical order— very useful for professors who go off on tangents, or frequently loop back to earlier points, etc. There is also the advantage of being able to consult outlines and notes from past courses during class, something I've found handy in courses that reference multiple areas of law (e.g. law &economics).

Finally, a lot of people pooh-pooh typing up everything a professor says. And it's true that you don't want to copy everything. But, in the event that-- god forbid-- you don't understand everything going on during a given class, there is upside to copying down more of what the professor says: you can go back through the deluge later and figure out what you missed. Shorthand is only effective when you know what's going on well enough to condense the material accurately— hopefully, that's most class, most of the time; but for most students it is the rare course where that will be all the time. (This same principle applies, though less strongly, even in the ordinary case where you know what is going on: on the off-chance that you are mis-understand a point, it is helpful to have a fuller summation of what the prof said [made possible by typing your notes] so that when you go back through the notes while outlining and you spot the mistake, you can more easily figure out what was really going on.)
3.4.2009 7:16pm
sobi:
I don't thing it is proper for professors to ban laptops because it is a unilateral decision.

If they want to do so, how about offering students an equal voice, since the students are buying, and permitting them to ban speed talking.

I see no reason why students should be expected to learn to multi-task, listening to a speed talker whilst converting the lecture into something succinct and focused all the while they are recording this mental product long-hand, when those teaching cannot do the same with their lectures, so cannot pause to take in air let alone give students an opportunity to do the same.

The only professor I have this semester who is not practicing speed talking, is the one who cannot speak and think simultaneously.

I'm a little aggravated with all the speed talking. I have one professor who stands out because she explains everything so orderly and clearly, but does it non-stop, beginning to end of class and thus eliminates much of the value of what would be the best class for the hardest subject.
3.4.2009 7:18pm
Plugged:
I agree with those who have said that it is the students' own responsibility to remain engaged. Unless they are distracting others around them, I don't understand why they should not be treated as adults. It seems that law school is often about learning the "hard way" and not being held by the hand.

Additionally, the few times that I have not had my laptop to take notes, my class participation has suffered. I can type far faster than I can hand write (legible) notes. I feel that my typed notes are succinct and, most importantly, beneficial to my study habits. I would be somewhat bitter if that was taken away from me because others cannot concentrate with a glowing screen in front of them.

Maybe a no-internet policy would be the best of both worlds (if you are determined to ban things). I suspect most of the distraction of laptops comes from the ready access of the web, but removing that would leave us typists still able to take notes in our preferred manner.

Overall, I'd prefer to leave internet and laptops available to students who wish to use them.
3.4.2009 7:20pm
albert:
1) banning the campus wifi in a prof's classroom, as someone suggested above, wouldn't stop a student who has their own internet connection.

2) let's get real, laptops are 40% helpful (you can take notes faster, or use Google and other resources to look stuff up on the fly during class), and 60% luxury/time waster. I would not have liked this classroom rule in my student days, but it has its benefits.

And a confession: during the boring/rote parts of routine depositions, I am usually checking my email or surfing the internet. Although forbidding me to use a laptop in those situations would be cruel and unusual punishment.
3.4.2009 7:32pm
MCM (mail):
My first year in law school, I watched a guy sitting 1 row down from me lose over $2000 at online poker.

I thought it was pretty hilarious. It was pocket change, though, compared the girl sitting a few sits to his left - she spent well over that on shoes and handbags. At least she had something to show for it.
3.4.2009 7:35pm
jsl (mail):
One of my current classes bans laptops - except for one student, who signs up for that day. That student is responsible for taking computer notes for the class, which are then shared with everyone in the class, so there's still a searchable set of notes (even if not your own notes, it's better than having nothing). It's an option, if you want to try to mitigate the note issue.
3.4.2009 7:51pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
As a 3L who is sitting in a class right now, I can assure you that laptops can be quite a distraction. But honestly, if a professor and the material is interesting and challenging, then it becomes less so.

I've only had one professor ban laptops, first year criminal law, and it didn't stop anyone from not paying attention.

The benefit of being able to copy and paste notes, edit them easily, make better structured outlines, etc. outweighs hurt feelings of professors when someone is occasionally surfing.
3.4.2009 7:53pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
pie chart=an excuse to make pie charts
3.4.2009 7:56pm
Allan L. (mail):
Having finished law school in 1967, I have no direct experience of the hardships of a laptop ban. Typing was an essential skill for me in taking essay exams. Notwithstanding that, I think that controlling this aspect of the class environment is entirely the professor's prerogative. I would exercise it: If one student is distracted in class and her contribution is diminished as a result, everyone in the class is the worse for it. I don't buy the notion that students, as purchasers or consumers of education services, can dictate the terms under which these are delivered, or that allowing them to do so represents treating them as "adults".
3.4.2009 8:02pm
Clerk:
Banning laptops in class doesn't automatically mean that the professor is depriving his students of the ability to have searchable notes. I had a 1L prof who didn't allow us to use computers in class. I took notes by hand and typed them up each weekend. I found that my notes in that class were much clearer than those I took in other courses that semester, and it was an invaluable study tool to be "forced" to review my notes each week in order to type them up. I don't think it was a coincidence that I received one of my highest law school grades in that class.
3.4.2009 8:10pm
traveler496:
I like the 'threats to validity' part of your memo.

The fact that non-adults might unduly affect the adults' learning is IMO the only consideration that keeps an outright ban in the running.

But it does keep an outright ban in the running. I would
a) standardize the survey (after considering Mudley's suggested tweak)
b) encourage colleagues to consider trying the no-internet option, too
c) reply to any survey results w/ thanks plus a std set of followup Qs to the prof (e.g. whether a volunteer notetaker was used, what the no-internet enforcement method was, ...)
3.4.2009 8:17pm
sobi:
I don't buy the notion that considering a student's learning experience equates to elevating students to dictatorial levels. The word is a bit of a spin and an unkindly meant one at that.

It can be the professor's prerogative until that professor has no more students.

Students with laptops, who are accustomed to using them for note taking are not likely to abandon that advantage unless there is no other option, or when the professor is considered a star--a must take professor. Those professors usually teach on television shows.

Since few professors arrive at the star level, and there are always younger professors coming in, (who, likely as not, used laptops themselves), I think it is a loosing battle; some kind of clinging to an idea of professors as inspiration that was more fantasy than fact in the first place.

I don't understand the contempt for the advantages of technology unless you are being drummed out of your chosen profession, then you have my sympathies, but not my concurrence. Join us in the now.

I admit not taking kindly to paternalistic bans. I think they are outrageous, pedantic, arrogant, petulant, and best avoided.

I wanted to acknowledge my spin openly. I don't even use a laptop. All the banning is driving me nuts. Why is half of the USA clinging to the not so morally-enlightened nor superior-disciplined past?

Only Bill Cosby walked uphill to school and back.
3.4.2009 8:26pm
Aultimer:
I (for once) agree with whit that bad handwriting is a big a detriment to note-taking, in addition to the apparently targeted poor summarization skills (especially first year, when it's not clear for many weeks what the hell is going on). Too bad the survey didn't distinguish negative responses that arise from a typing preference to those that arise from a verbatim note style preference.

Also, it seems very authoritarian to ban laptops for the potential good of current and future classes. Kind of scary in a Machiavelli-trumps-Rand way to see the esteemed libertarian law-professor acting like a typical statist when faced with an objectionable situation.
3.4.2009 8:26pm
Undergrad Student:
What about how laptops distract students other than the users? While it might be hand-holding to enact a policy for the sake of forcing the user to pay attention, I think it's useful for the non-laptop using students. Too often I find myself sitting in class next to people who are IMing, and it's often hard to tune out the constant typing sound, and depending on their angle next to me, it can be visually distracting too.
3.4.2009 8:32pm
Steve Donohue (mail) (www):
This is going to sound completely contrarian, but I think a lot of students (myself included) are hindered by taking any notes at all.
3.4.2009 9:05pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
It's a red herring to cry hypocrisy when a libertarian prof bans classroom behavior that in his judgement is detrimental to learning. We're not talking about selling chocolate. Physicians prescribe medicine when they think it's necessary, that doesn't make them "statists." And Eugene knows more about legal education that 1ls.
3.4.2009 9:08pm
Terrivus:
I hate to kick a student when he's down, but here's what one of the C students wrote: "[T]here seem[s] to be an underlying feeling that we're paying to attend UCLA Law and we're not telling instructors how to teach, so why are instructors telling us how to learn?"

Just because students are not telling instructors how to teach, why would this preclude instructors from telling them how to learn? Um, isn't that the whole point of paying all that money in the first place -- so that experts in the field can tell you "how to learn"?

Sheesh.
3.4.2009 9:19pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Last line got garbled:
knows more about legal education than 1Ls.

note to self: always use preview!
3.4.2009 9:23pm
Splunge:
Volokh, your survey data is nearly worthless without correlating the answers with your demographics. At the very least, you need to know how those answers correlate with the student grade.

All the students who got As from you can normally be counted on to validate your every decision, assert you're brilliant, and rate your classrrom jokes as funnier than Mel Brooks, while students who got Fs from you can usually be counted on to think everything from your laptop ban to your choice of tie sucked like a Hoover.

It's possible to extract valid conclusions from data where the data sources are motivated for many different social psychological reasons to lie, but it takes a wee bit more sophistication, and even a bit of deceptivity.

I would draw no serious conclusions from this data table.
3.4.2009 9:39pm
PlugInMonster:
I can't believe you people are even discussing this. If these students are adults, then treat them as such and don't nanny them about using laptops. No wonder the rest of the world laughs at cloistered academics.
3.4.2009 11:40pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

This is going to sound completely contrarian, but I think a lot of students (myself included) are hindered by taking any notes at all.

Not a lawyer, but I have two graduate degrees.

Waaaay back in the olden days, when I was in my second year of college, I was barely above a 2.0 cum GPA. So I decided what I was doing wasn't working. I quit taking notes in class except for writing down the assignments and I quit studying for tests.

I would do the reading and work through the math in the text. (I found a couple errors which I reported to my professors. This earned me a reputation.) Do the problem sets. Attend class and listen, no notes. If I thought I did not understand the assigned text or thought more study was needed, I would look up the at the references in the text and read those instead instead of the assigned text. If the text didn't work the first time, why should I believe it would work on a re-read? I frequently found subtle differences with the assigned text that made things more clear, or at least improved my understanding of the material. It also made me more familiar with the jargon. Once I happened on a correction to a paper that was a completely different formula than the formula the text reported. This added to my reputation.

My undergraduate GPA after I changed from conventional was well above 3, and did well through both Masters degrees. For which I have no notes.

Am wondering, do they allow computers in court?
3.4.2009 11:43pm
R. M. Swan:
This semester, all three of my professors banned laptops in class. One of the professors did this via a two week trial period, and then administered a survey. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the ban in effect. Is it "paternalistic"? That definitely may be a fair charge to levy. However, as my one professor explained it (and I think that, 2 months into the semester, this is a very accurate explanation), the point isn't to be protecting you and making sure you pay attention. Rather, it is to keep the class as a whole engaged, which is to everyone's benefit.

Even if you're on your laptop "properly", you may still get distracted by other people's screens, whether they are typing, checking e-mail, etc. People's faces are also obscured by their laptop screens, and they create an artificial barrier in the classroom. Absent laptops, the class seems much more engaged in the discussion, making the classes much more interesting. Even if you turn off the internet, you will still have the second problem above. People staring into their computer screens blankly, pecking away at the keyboard for two hours, is hardly conducive to a good learning environment.
3.4.2009 11:43pm
WJR:
Let's look at who benefits and who doesn't benefit under each default:

(1) No laptops. Winners: The professor (who sees participation as improving and has students looking more attentive), 50% of the students. Losers: 50% of the students.

(2) Laptops w/ internet--students can take notes by their preferred means, but a few might be distracted by watching their neighbor shop online. Winners: 75% of the students (this is probably low, but I'm factoring in that some students might do better without laptops and simply don't realize it). Losers: 25% (those who are distracted, those who would actually do better without laptops if they took the chance), and the professor.

(3) Laptops w/o internet. Winners: >75% of students, because under (2), the students still can choose their preferred means of taking notes, and there will be fewer distractions; the professor (more attention, etc). Losers: Students who prefer internet access to avoid professor or student rants that add little or no value to the learning experience.

I'd argue that the preference ordering should be 3>2>1 unless you factor in the preferences of the professor, but given the nature of the experience, this should be granted little weight in the comparison. I think that a prof with few ego issues, or one who relies less on student input, would probably choose #3, assuming they had control over internet use.

Choosing 1 over 2 as a default is not very justifiable. It's clear, especially from this survey, that the lack of laptops serves to hinder the learning experience for a sizable number of students, and if it's their first laptop-free law school class they've taken, they probably did not know this from the outset. Providing the choice between means of note-taking (and searching prior notes) allows each student to maximize their learning experience based on their individual preferences, with limited externalities.

Even less defensible are the "we didn't need laptops back in our day" arguments. This doesn't refute the fact that laptop notetaking and organizing is much, much more efficient than the pre-laptop/pre-internet world. This efficiency gain can translate into better knowledge of the law or better-adjusted future lawyers.

Eugene, I'd urge you to weigh the response to the fourth question very seriously. Without laptops, the structure of the classroom learning experience impacts the likely grade distribution based on whether certain students are handicapped by the lack of a pedagogical tool they've come to rely on. Even if you dispute my methodology above on the grounds that students probably don't know ex ante how they'll fare without the laptop, this raises a fairness issue: students are asked to opt in or out of a system without information as to whether their learning experience will be improved or diminished. Would you ask each student at the beginning of the semester to flip a coin, and tell the "heads" group that their odds of an above-average grade just increased 20%, and the "tails" group that their odds of an above-average grade just decreased 20%? Better to level the playing field, provide choice and accept the limited externalities it poses, and allow students to learn based on what works best for them instead of subjecting them to this random variable.
3.5.2009 12:00am
Cornellian (mail):
All I can say is, let them know of the policy well in advance while there is still time to switch courses or sections (as the case may be). I would never knowingly sign up for a course that didn't let me use a laptop to take notes.
3.5.2009 12:02am
TRE:
Maybe 95% of students would learn better if there were a certain rule, but 5% will have worse outcomes. Should you make the rule? I say no. Let the individual decide what is in their own best interest. If they want your advice, you can make your advice available. Why not simply announce in the syllabus that you suggest laptops not be used?

If the argument is that laptops are a disruption to non-laptop using students, why not segregate?

Were I a law professor, I would create a detailed syllabus of the material the exam would test, give lectures at scheduled times, hold office hours, and leave the rest up to the students. I would not force attendance and the only requirement for attendance would be that students were not disruptive.
3.5.2009 12:05am
TRE:
I'd add that the professor at my school who consistently gets the most awards, lectures on a script that hasn't changed since at least 2002 or so, frequently yells at the students to "take extensive notes" and doesn't take questions. (It would interfere with the script.) Some of the professors have forbidden students on pain of honor code violations from discussing the class with ANYONE. Some are upset that their verbatim class scripts are available. More distressing to me is that most 1Ls don't even get their hands on the scripts.
3.5.2009 12:12am
SaraB:
If the laptop addicted feel that thier individuality is threatned, than they are obviously in the wrong learning environment and should not be in a class with other people at all.
3.5.2009 5:28am
Gordon (mail):
Speaking as someone who is not a student but attends lots of conferences, briefings, and so forth the general survey results sound about right--or at least not too far off.

I do use the laptop to otherwise entertain myself (or do work) when some presentation isn't interesting or informing me. The situation is a bit different of course. I'm not under any obligation to raptly pay attention to or otherwise extract content from a presentation that's not interesting or relevant to me. The situation in a class should at least be theoretically at least different.

At the same time, I do use a laptop to take notes and that's very important to me. Not so much because I can take notes better on a laptop than by hand. (It's a bit of a tradeoff; some aspects of notetaking are easier in one medium and other aspects in the other.) But because I then have a filed, searchable set of notes that I can easily refer to even a year or more later.
3.5.2009 5:59am
Angus:
(1) No laptops. Winners: The professor (who sees participation as improving and has students looking more attentive), 50% of the students. Losers: 50% of the students.

I'd rephrase it as...Losers: 50% of the students who are too stupid to write notes by hand. Because they truly are losers if they can't. It's not hard to do. Almost all of the complaints are largely motivated by sheer laziness. "I don't want to write my notes. That's too hard!"

Question: Is is normal for judges to allow lawyers to type away on laptops during trials? Can lawyers usually have their laptops open and running during questioning?

The reason I ask is that during the court sessions I have been to in two different cities, there were a grand total of zero laptops among lawyers, and one lawyer who attempted to check something on a PDA was told by the judge to put it away.
3.5.2009 7:20am
CVMe:
Does it even occur to the anti-laptop-ban posters here that the "efficiencies" you tout come at the expense of spending mental effort on the subject matter of the course? Yes, it's harder to listen and take notes at the same time. It's harder to synthesize and write your outline from a jumble of handwritten notes than to cut and paste. It's harder to flip through notebook pages than it is to hit ctrl-f.

But during all of those "harder" activities you are using your mind and engaging the course material. And you're doing so in a relatively easy way. It's much easier to absorb the material while you're turning your notes into an outline than it is by cutting and pasting. When you flip through your notes looking for something, you automatically refresh what you're going over, something that doesn't happen when you hit ctrl-f. Yes, it's less efficient, but anyone who has sat in a law school classroom can tell you that the time saved on note taking is immediately squandered in a web browser.

If the arguments for laptops were true, the most efficient way to run a course would be to distribute full outlines at the beginning of the class, along with the course material and class transcripts, all in electronic form so the student could go through it all efficiently, and wouldn't have to sit through classes over several weeks, taking notes and making outlines. But we don't do that because students are not computers that you can just fill with information. To get things into your brain, you must engage with them. Brief the cases while you read them (info goes into eyes, through brain, out hands). Take notes by hand (into ears, through brain, out hands). Participate in class (in ears, through brain, out mouth). Make your outline from notes (into eyes, through brain, out fingers). The more your brain is involved when doing law school tasks, the better you will learn the material.

Ctrl-f, ctrl-c, ctrl-v doesn't engage the brain.
3.5.2009 7:45am
Happyshooter:
Some comments:

I was prepared to offer an exception to people who had some disability that required the use of a laptop, but no-one approached me about this.

So you required a student to admit to being crippled up or stupid, to an authority figure who also has the power to demean them in class and to skunk their grades and cost them a chance at the American dream. And no one did? Hmmmm

A few students (I think no more than two) expressed some mild and polite concern about the policy; I don't recall the details, but the objections didn't strike me as strident or outraged.

Really. The male authority figure with the power to destroy them in front of their peers and ruin the rest of their lives announced he was going to do something, and hardly anyone argued with him? Wow. What a shocker.

My response was that these were reasonable concerns, but that the policy was an experiment, and we'd see at the end of the semester how it worked out.

'Good reasons, but no. I'm the boss, you are the b. Quiet and do it.'

On February 5, I set up an online survey that let students give their feedback on the policy, and e-mailed the students asking them to fill out the survey.

You gave them an online survey asking them to support a position they knew you wanted them to take. A survey where you could connect the response to the giver. Just because you were done grading for that class did mean you couldn't harm them in the next, or turn your fellow profs loose. (Extra evidence, responses soared when you 'requested' more responses)

I'm the professor, and I decided to run this experiment; they are students. Perhaps they are therefore subconsciously moved to say good things about it, despite my stress that this is just an experiment, and that I want their candid reactions.

It speaks well of you that you admitted this. However, you grossly under-estimated the effect of your position and the way you requested feedback.
3.5.2009 7:46am
Anonymous Hoosier:
I'm somewhat surprised by how many people on this thread have offered "banning Internet" on laptops as an equivalent protection from the distraction. Internet-available services are much more robust and distracting today than they were a half-decade ago or so when I was in law school (Facebook, Hulu, etc. being recent innovations), which may be concealing the extent to which people can engage in incredibly-distracting activities with a laptop and no Internet.

In the early 00s, during the pre-Hulu/Facebook era, many of the worst offenders in my classrooms were using their laptops to watch movies (from DVD, or previously downloaded to their hard drive); play games (single player, as opposed to Internet enabled); and do mundane tasks like manage their photo and music collections. Although these have been supplanted by their cloud-resident equivalents in the interim, a quick traversal of the aisles of a non-Wifi enabled aircraft in flight reveals that people still use their laptops to do all of these things when deprived of the Internet. So I'm doubtful that represents a true middle ground, even if it does limit some activities.

That said, I found taking near-verbatim notes on a laptop to be tremendously helpful -- but it all depended on how I made use of them. They were often particularly useful for supporting discussions that built on the professor's in-class comments, as opposed to those that were simply about figuring out what he had said. Of course, I don't doubt that the price of better after-class conversations was worse in-class conversations.

I like the idea of creating a master audio or video recording of the class that would-be verbatim note takers can access later. I could see replaying much of the class at 2x speed and slowing to take more detailed notes at critical points.
3.5.2009 8:08am
A.C.:
I went through law school with a laptop, and I would have screamed blue murder if anyone tried to take it away. I'm not a technophile ordinarily -- I hate cell phones, and I have yet to get addicted to a Crackberry. In the areas of law I'm most familiar with, I prefer to do my legal research with books. And I was a pretty good note taker back when I did it all by hand. It IS important to develop that skill.

What the laptop lets you do is take notes without having your face buried in your paper. When I take notes by hand, I spend most of the class looking down. When I take notes on a laptop, I'm looking up and can see both the screen and the professor by just moving my eyeballs. My engagement level goes up significantly. It's also easier to hear. I'll confess that my hearing isn't 100%, and it's a lot easier to follow what people are saying when I'm looking right at them.

That said, I stayed off the internet in class unless I had a specific reason to log on. I didn't look up too many cases, but I did look up statutes and regulations and assorted factual information related to the course content. Sometimes I told the professor I was about to do so and then reported what I found to the class. And yes, I did book the odd flight or check my bank balance from time to time, but I doubt I spent more than a few minutes in any class doing those things.

Students who spent their class time surfing the net didn't disturb me. Someone has to be in the bottom half of the grade distribution, and people who haven't learned basic self-discipline belong there.

As for court, I practice before administrative bodies. The lawyers all use laptops. So do most of the judges under 60. It's a great way to manipulate large documents with a lot of technical content and illustrations. (It's also a great way to lug them all through the airport. The paper files would be enormous.) We're also moving increasingly towards electronic filing and the elimination of paper documents.

This sort of thing is on the way, and everyone is going to have to come to terms with it eventually. May as well start now.
3.5.2009 8:30am
WJR:
"I'd rephrase it as...Losers: 50% of the students who are too stupid to write notes by hand. Because they truly are losers if they can't. It's not hard to do. Almost all of the complaints are largely motivated by sheer laziness. "I don't want to write my notes. That's too hard!" "

You can accept the premise that half of the students are less adept at note-taking by hand rather than by laptop, but again, that goes to my question: why should this class rule be implemented if it truly impairs the learning experience of a substantial portion of students? The crotchety "they're too stupid to write, that's their fault" response isn't satisfactory. The students in each classroom are probably close to equal in intelligence, and the only grading rubric is a one-shot exam. Unless a prof introduces an oral participation component, placing barriers to effective exam preparation, which will handicap some students relative to others, is not justifiable.

The presumption that laptops hinder the learning experience more than they help is tenuous at best. There are better ways to engage students than to take away a source of possible distraction--a source which serves them well when (1) professors become repetitive or go off on unnecessary or unrelated tangents, or (2) other students speak up in class, because by and large student comments are inferior, misleading, or simply so annoying that checking one's email is the only way to maintain sanity. If a professor wants students more engaged in class, he or she should consider making the lecture more interesting, or introducing a participation component (though I'd consider that a bad idea for the reason described above). Laptops, I assure you, are not the source of the problem. The problem, if any, comes when the classroom experience as structured by the professor compels students to find other ways of entertaining themselves.
3.5.2009 8:37am
SamW:
"The presumption that laptops hinder the learning experience more than they help is tenuous at best."

Even accepting this as true, than 'the presumption that laptops help the learning experience more than they hinder is tenuous at best.'

And well within the skill of the professor to decide.
3.5.2009 8:47am
Cactus Jack:

Question: Is is normal for judges to allow lawyers to type away on laptops during trials? Can lawyers usually have their laptops open and running during questioning?

This and similar ideas appear throughout the comments. Is the idea that law students should be held to the same standard that practicing lawyers face? If so, the reference to court is inapplicable. A large majority of lawyers never or rarely set foot in court. We sit in tiny offices and type on laptops all day.
3.5.2009 8:55am
Frog Leg (mail):
In my teaching of undergrad classes I think I have found a good compromise: a reporter system. Each class 3 people are designated to take notes. Only those people are allowed to have laptops. Everyone else can take notes in longhand if they wish. The typed notes are then made available to everyone in the class. The people taking the notes are incentivized to make their notes good, and the result is a very solid group of course notes, while most people have to pay attention.

One other question: when I was in law school, a large portion of my notes(especially for 1st year) consisted of flowcharts and diagrams. With laptops, isn't this mode notetaking much more difficult, or do people use PP or similar to do their own flowcharts on the fly.
3.5.2009 9:04am
Don Miller (mail) (www):
A couple years ago, I happened to get a couple tablet PCs.

I use for work. I find that taking minutes in meetings to be as close to using a legal pad as anything else I have ever tried. Most people don't even notice I am not using a real pen and paper. Advantage, my handwritten notes are computer searchable when I am done. I can also change them from handwritten notes to typewritten notes fairly easily.

My sister borrowed one when she was doing the last two years of her degree. Professors who normally banned laptops in class, didn't mind letting her use it once she showed them how it worked.

Tablet PC - advantages of being a computer, and a never ending legal pad
3.5.2009 9:19am
AKS:
I can see some of the pros and cons to banning laptops in class, but I think one thing should be noted: just because someone is doing something on the laptop other than taking notes doesn't mean they're not paying attention. I played mindless games during my law school classes because it actually cut out the daydreaming and other distractions and helped me pay attention. I was gratified yesterday to see that there's actually some science to it: check out this article in yesterday's Washington Post:



If I didn't have a laptop, I'd have been doing something else that might have made it look like I wasn't paying attention. I was.
3.5.2009 9:32am
Laptop Lover:
When I was in the military I had a First Sergeant who said that if less than 10% of the unit screwed up a drill, it was their fault. If more than 10% of the unit screwed up, it was his fault.

If a handful of students are distracted because of their laptop, then it means they are poor students. If everyone is distracted because of their laptop, it means the professor is rambling.
3.5.2009 9:32am
AKS:
Link didn't work.
3.5.2009 9:34am
Happyshooter:
One other question: when I was in law school, a large portion of my notes(especially for 1st year) consisted of flowcharts and diagrams. With laptops, isn't this mode notetaking much more difficult, or do people use PP or similar to do their own flowcharts on the fly.

I was laptop all the way in law school, back in those dark days when only the library had wireless.

The only first year classes where I needed to see flow to visualize was in civ pro I and contracts (Michigan did something smart--which I almost never say here--and switched civ pro so that part one is the Federal Rules).

In place of flow charts I used one of Word's outline forms and that worked great for me. I assume that there is a flowchart software now.

My use of the laptop had a lot to do with my success in law school. My handwritten notes are hard for me to read, I lose eye contact, and my neck starts hurting.

With a good laptop outline I could format on the fly, pull out text (a great tool when I downloaded cases in the library prepping for class--being able to do it during the lecture must be even nicer), and go back up the notes and correct or reorder on the fly as I understood more. Just a great learning tool.
3.5.2009 9:40am
Curt Fischer:
Some arguing against the ban suggest that the ban is detremental to overall learning. I don't know if that is the case, and it may well be.

But others seem to be arguing against the ban out of a stand-offish "let me be" attitude. They find the ban "paternalistic". I suspect these same types would be likely to argue that if they've "mastered the material" and can do reasonably well on an exam, the professor should expect nothing further from them.

This disagreement, it seems to me, stems from a fundamental values difference on the role of the professor, and perhaps on the role of school in general. I think most professors want to maximize the knowledge (and interest) in their subject matter transmitted to their students during a class. They see an active, engaged classroom as a better mechanism to transmit knowledge and interest about their field.

In contrast, many students seek only the accreditation of passing the course or graduating from the school. In that sense they want to achieve the minimum standards needed to excel.

Professors would love it if everyone became so knowledgeable and interested that they could raise the minimum standard, and conversely I wonder if the bans-are-paternalistic crowd would love it
if the standards were lowered (to a degree) so that they could have an easier time of it.
3.5.2009 9:42am
Let's Make a Deal:
You (professors) give me back my laptop. In exchange, I won't withhold a generous alumni donation.

My undergraduate institution will have buildings with my name on them before my law school gets a dime. All because of laptop bans. See how that works? Good.
3.5.2009 9:43am
Happyshooter:
Can lawyers usually have their laptops open and running during questioning?

Yes, and our circuit (senior trial court) courtrooms just went wireless with the super cool projectors as well. It is jaring to see the projectors and screens bolted into the nice old oak and pine paneling, but we are in the 21st century now.

We also are going from court transcribing real time to audio and visual recording with the court reporter taking notes of action and transcribing later off the recordings. The mikes and cameras are all black and smooth, though, so they stand out less.

All of the younger judges have ditched the benchbooks in favor of laptops on the bench.
3.5.2009 9:45am
Dumb laptops:
Has anyone considered a "dumb" laptop policy? Not only disallowing browsing the internet during class, but also restricting the use of the laptop to simple notetaking. (Similar to the restrictions put on laptops during exams).
3.5.2009 10:11am
Mike Brown (mail):
When I was an undergrad in engineering school the burning issue on technology was, "should students be forbidden to use electronic calculators?" - after all, you grasped the math much better using a slide rule or calculating mentally on paper, and most students couldn't afford calculators anyway.

Somehow, we got through it. Anyone want a slightly used, very dusty, slide rule?
3.5.2009 10:25am
Creative Name no. 84730:

"When I was an undergrad in engineering school the burning issue on technology was, "should students be forbidden to use electronic calculators?" - after all, you grasped the math much better using a slide rule or calculating mentally on paper, and most students couldn't afford calculators anyway."


The difference here is that taking notes on laptops doesn't allow the student any short-cuts for legal reasoning. It just allows us to take and compile notes in a different manner. I'm not an engineer, but I think the better comparison would be banning slide rules and requiring paper calculations. It's just doing thing the hard way for the sake of doing things the hard way, not doing things the hard way to facilitate learning.
3.5.2009 10:34am
Interested observer:
One argument for banning laptops is the research indicating that students in "topless" classes perform better than students in classes with topless. E.g., a Cornell study put students in the same course into two sections, one topless, one with laptops. The students in the topless section performed significantly better on multiple-choice questions on the assigned material.
3.5.2009 10:38am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Damn, I knew I should have gone to Cornell, neither my undergraduate nor law school offered topless classes.
3.5.2009 10:53am
Curtg (mail):
Unfortunately, the students' subjective reaction to the laptop ban may have little to do with whether they are actually being hurt or helped by it. Perhaps the better test is to compare the quaLity of final exam answers in laptop and no-laptop classes, to see who really gleaned more of the essential material.
3.5.2009 10:55am
Happyshooter:
Damn, I knew I should have gone to Cornell,

Did you read Ann Coulter's piece today on Cornell?
3.5.2009 10:56am
Bob White (mail):
In my experience, laptops may be sufficient to distract a student, but are no means necessary, as my undergraduate notes sprinkled with doodles, silliness, and time-wasting math calculations (1x1, 11x11, 111x111, etc.) will attest. Plus, I would've skipped Crim Law as much as the rest of the class without the ability to play games. I did do fewer crossword puzzles in law school, though.
3.5.2009 11:04am
Legal-Right (mail) (www):
As a law student I feel that I should be allowed to choose whether or not I use a laptop, after all, I am paying to take the class. There are some classes the laptop is meaningful and others where they are useless.

If I choose to scan e-mail, rather than type notes, it should be my prerogative.

I'm sorry, but some classes are simply boring and uninformative, especially when professors have been teaching for so long they have forgotten how to make the material interesting. It should not be held against me that I am not learning anything in the class that I didn't already learn from simply doing the reading.

But that is my own humble opinion.
3.5.2009 11:13am
TomHynes (mail):
Assume it is the internet, not typing per se that is the problem.

Assume the campus wifi can lock out certain users at certain times.

Run an experiment along the lines of Susstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

At the beginning of the semester, suggest that students lock themselves out of the internet when your class is in session, for the duration of the semester. Try it with both an opt in and an opt out approach.
3.5.2009 11:16am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Damn, I knew I should have gone to Cornell,


Did you read Ann Coulter's piece today on Cornell?


I hadn't until you suggested it (I quit reading Ann Coulter about six years ago). Maybe I'm a bit biased as I also went to an ag school for one of my two undergraduate degrees but I've always had a high opinion of Cornell which conducts some of the best research in the nation. I didn't honestly know they were considered Ivy League (or part of it was considered Ivy League) but I promise not to hold that against them ;)
3.5.2009 11:22am
D.A.:
Prof. Volokh,
Did you notice a difference in the grades for this class vs. others you taught, or the same class you taught last year? Or is that not possible to determine, even roughly (for example, if you're forced to a curve)?
3.5.2009 11:36am
mew:
When I was in law school, about 50% of the students used laptops, although the numbers increased every year. But I took notes by hand. At the end of the semester, my "outlining" would consist of basically nothing more than typing my handwritten notes into my laptop. While doing so, I would organize the material logically and relearn everything. This worked quite well for me (I graduated first in my class) and I would recommend this method to any law student. The few times I tried to use a laptop to take the notes directly, I found it much harder to concentrate.
3.5.2009 11:42am
CVMe:
Mew and I are apparently the same person in terms of process and result.
3.5.2009 11:59am
Wayne Jarvis:
If attentiveness is the issue: make it a policy that laptops are allowed, but that the professor will only call on students that use laptops.
3.5.2009 12:08pm
Angus:
I would submit that an inherently good lawyer will be a good lawyer whether he has a laptop or not. (The good scientists and engineers I know can all still do calculations accurately by hand if they have to.)

However, in my opinion a lawyer who is only good when he has access to laptop is inherently a bad lawyer.

I would view a laptop ban as in part a weeding out of the people who shouldn't be going to law school.
3.5.2009 12:08pm
A.C.:
Topless classes in Ithaca in the winter... brrrrr!
3.5.2009 12:19pm
Ralph R. Ralphson (mail):
Angus--

That's not the question. The question is "will this rule make a lawyer of inherent skill X be a better or worse lawyer in practice"

Sure, people can get along without laptops. Many did. Sure, they can be very talented lawyers (see Holmes, Frankfurter, Marshall, etc, etc.)

That's not a justification to forbid something that might add value, and make law students better lawyers--especially if it is used in practice everywhere.

Wayne Jarvis is right--professors can fix any lack of attention by calling on people (whether or not the lack is due to laptops). That improves classes. Removing laptops does not.

Also, I knew I should have gone to cornell instead.
3.5.2009 12:28pm
Kenvee:
For those asking about lawyers having access to laptops in court, I share Happyshooter's experience that laptops are extremely common. I'm a prosecutor, and every single trial attorney has been issued a laptop instead of a desktop computer for over five years now. The judges all have computers (laptop or desktop I'm not sure) at the bench, and our courtrooms are wired so the lawyers' laptops can connect to the in-court displays (on counsel tables, the judge's bench, and the witness stand, plus the big screen for the jury to see). This lets them display PowerPoint presentations during voir dire or opening/closing statements, play audio and video evidence, and display pictures, graphs, or other visuals. Almost all of our police departments have switched to digital recordings in the police cars and digital cameras, so we get emails or CDs of evidence. It's invaluable having a laptop to take notes, quickly revise your script for witness questions, or being able to pull up Lexis or Westlaw when the defense springs some new issue out of the blue. You can email or IM your court partners, secretary, or investigator when you need to know what happened to X document or if Y witness has reported in yet.

Does everyone use a laptop in trial? Definitely not. I don't know anyone who uses one ALL the time, but I don't know anyone who NEVER uses one either. Properly used, they're a very powerful tool.
3.5.2009 1:42pm
Flagar:
Eugene, I am a 3L, and there is a growing trend in my law school toward banning laptops, so I have a lot of experience with laptop bans. The most striking feature of your poll is the 52% who think the laptop ban negatively impacts the usefulness of their notes -- which is my biggest complaint as well.

My problem with laptop bans is that I tend to learn more by reviewing my notes and coming up with a useful outline than I do by engaging in interesting class discussion. If the notes are not useful, then my outline will not be as useful, and I will not learn as much in the course; by extension, no matter how engaged I am in a given course, my grade will not reflect how well I actually prepared.

If law professors really want students to be engaged, draconian laptop bans are not the answer, especially where there is very little correlation between how engaged a student is in-class and how his grade turns out. If you want students to be engaged, then reward engagement.

Failing that, law professors should do what one professor does at my school: at the outset of the course, he tells us his goal is to be as interesting and engaging as possible. If he fails in that, then he deserves our lack of engagement and our playing Solitaire in class or what have you. I found that class to be one of the most enjoyable, informative, and enlightening courses I have taken during these 3 years.

Bottom line, if professors want law students to be engaged, then either be engaging or reward our engagement, but don't force us to let advanced technology go unused, especially if it's to our detriment.
3.5.2009 2:04pm
Jer:
I see value in a more punitive policy. If you "pass" on a question, you loose your laptop privileges.
3.5.2009 2:25pm
Legal-Right (mail) (www):
Flagar: Well said.
3.5.2009 2:30pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
1. If Eugene suspects that laptops are detrimental to the learning environment in his classroom, he should ban them. His primary responsibility in the classroom is to provide the best learning environment he can.

2. Blocking internet access might be a more narrowly tailored solution but: (A) this is more difficult to do; and (B) the mere fact that students are typing on a machine may have some effect on the learning environment.

3. Even if students think that laptops help them, they don't get a veto, any more than they might get to select which cases Eugene teaches or what type of test he gives. He may wish to consider their input, of course, but he is the Decider. :)

4. Yes, laptops are commonly used in courtroom. But a courtroom is not a learning environment, and neither parties nor attorneys use their laptops to take down every word said in the courtroom. Also, if a judge felt that laptops were detracting from the proceeding, he would ban them. And wouldn't follow up with a survey, either.

5. I would love to have been in a class where there were designated notetakers so that I could have completely engaged with the lecture/discussion rather than having to devote some of my attention to taking notes.
3.5.2009 2:41pm
Aultimer:

Interested observer:
One argument for banning laptops is the research indicating that students in "topless" classes perform better than students in classes with topless. E.g., a Cornell study put students in the same course into two sections, one topless, one with laptops. The students in the topless section performed significantly better on multiple-choice questions on the assigned material.

That's nice, but not the issue. How many students have to perform better before it's right to force the ones who perform worse without laptops to give them up? All? A majority? One? Does your answer change if you change your assumption about which group you're in?
3.5.2009 2:54pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Mike Brown and Flagar have it exactly right.

I'll only add that it's quite a conceit that professors feel that everyone has to listen to them, no matter how boring they might be. I don't care what the subject is, there are ways to speak without being boring. If a professor is having problems getting student's attention, then he should look in the mirror.

I have one professor that can't complete a sentence or an idea without getting sidetracked (I'm not exaggerating) and speaks in a very halting and idiosyncratic manner. (If the . . . . fox runs into . . . . the . . . . farmer's field then the . . . . . farmer can . . . and then if the hunter has was pursuing the . . . . well, hunting animals this way is somewhat archaic . . .) I find her nearly impossible to listen to. SInce I'm required to be present in class or face a grade reduction, I feel no need to sit there wasting time. I generally spend her class doing Cali on line lessons in the subject. I learn more that way and don't waste time.
3.5.2009 3:04pm
Bob White (mail):

But a courtroom is not a learning environment, and neither parties nor attorneys use their laptops to take down every word said in the courtroom.


Correct. This is the job of the court reporter. One alternative to a total laptop ban is audio recording of classes and three students work together to transcribe everything that was said during the class. During class, students may also take their own notes, participate in class discussion, daydream, etc.
3.5.2009 3:05pm
sobi:
Through the use of a laptop and the internet, the flaw in the logic that assigns character attributes based on whether the student uses a laptop in class or not can be understood.

From there, you can go back to whether or not laptop banning is a good and right thing.

I am entirely opposed to banning laptops. You cannot properly draw inferences about my character from that because I don't use a laptop. But don't let propriety or logic stop you from condemning a group of people if you get off on it.

I wish I could but until they fix the undersized keyboard and mouse pad thing, I would spend too much time trying to move a stupid little arrow around a gui interface.

This issue is one that will astonish people someday. Technology cannot be barred from any arena. It will get in, and most will be pleased to see it there.

If you want engaged students, engage them. If you cannot compete with their laptop, then maybe you shouldn't be trying. You just might be superfluous.
3.5.2009 3:07pm
People for the Ethical Treatment of In-Class Laptop Users:
From the teachers perspective, lecturing to the back of a sea of laptops, with no eye contact from students is discouraging. Even the most confident of professors wonders if anyone is paying attention.

The laptop ban satisfies the ego of the professor because all eyes are back on him, but hurts the students ability to organize their notes in a way that will be helpful 400 casebook pages, and 3 months from now.

The challenge is on the professor to engage the students, and to adjust the testing to reflect student access to a laptop throughout the semester.

The tools students use to learn have developed dramatically over the last 20 years, and teaching styles havent kept pace. Powerpoint is just a fancy overhead projector, and overhead projection is essentially just a chalkboard.

The older generation is always the last to catch on. The ability of a student to pull up westlaw and have infront of him a current version of Cal. Ins. Code 11580.2. with all of the amendments over the last ten years, in under two minutes is here.

It is perfectly acceptable to ask students questions in class, and perhaps even during tests which require them to use their laptops.

A professor who doesnt see the usefulness of that probably cant thinks his palm pilot is still neat, and fails to realize the potential it has in the classroom.
3.5.2009 4:40pm
Rik (mail):
I graduated law school last year. I never used laptops in class, on the theory that it's better to cut off temptation at the source. Took notes by hand, then incorporated them into typed outlines on the weekend. It worked fine--- and I'm not a particularly fast writer or a particularly neat one. Sure, professors should try to be engaging, but it's the student's job to listen to and learn from his professors, whether they're interesting or not. I'm somewhat in favor of banning laptops or at least internet in the classroom because it improves class discussions if more people are paying attention, though if students want to read email and shop for shoes in class it's their funeral.
3.5.2009 4:58pm
Pragmaticist:
I was in federal court a few years ago, and I could clearly see from the reflection on the judge's eyeglasses, that he was playing solitaire on his computer while the court proceedings were ongoing.
3.6.2009 7:13am
Smilin' Dave (mail):
Laptops in the classroom cause environmental problems: The noise of laptop tttttyping is distracting. The brightness and content (text, images and animation) of screens, too.

It's a little easier to tune out the distractions if you're using your own and adding din & flicker.
And you can hide a lot of your body language from the professor using the screen.

But unless everybody's using them and agrees to their use, it's a good idea to ban them.
(The same goes for smoking cigarettes, even though nicotine enhances learning and memory.)

:-) d
3.8.2009 6:06am
Sarah (mail) (www):
If you're terribly distracted by other people's glowing screens and the clacking of keyboards, there are solutions for you (earplugs [which generally allow you to hear voices] and sections of the room set aside for non-users come to mind.) Penalizing a large, heterogenous group of people because their generally non-disruptive behavior fails to make you as comfortable as you dream of being is, well, about as unrealistic as thinking that lawyers in the real world do without computers. And let's not start on the nonsense about people preferring laptops to paper and pen only because they're lazy.

One of my teachers in college "banned" newspapers in the lecture hall. The people who were using them switched to magazines, put the newspapers on the floor, or stopped coming to class. I'm hard pressed to define a winner in that situation (and newspaper shuffling is a lot louder, and inherently rude, than keyboards clacking.)
3.8.2009 11:34am

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