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Monday, March 07, 2011

"Let Them Use Laptops"

I've weighed in here at Prawfs a few times on the "laptops in law-school classes" issue, sharing my view that, on balance, using laptops the way they (seem to be) used in class is not very good for student learning. 

Well, Kristen Murray disagrees, in this paper, "Let Them Use Laptops:  Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom."  I'm not sure the study she describes actually "debunks" my working assumptions on the matter, but the paper certainly is making me think and reflect about them.

Here's the abstract:

 Law professors have struggled with the issue of laptops in the classroom since students started bringing laptops to class almost fifteen years ago. Some believe they are a powerful educational tool while others believe that they inhibit learning. Many balance these competing thoughts when deciding how to handle the issue; some decide to ban laptops altogether.

What has troubled me about this debate is that both sides make arguments based on untested assumptions about student laptop use and without taking account of existing knowledge about today’s law student learners. Thus, I decided to survey law students about how they use their laptops to support their learning. The results, when combined with knowledge about how today’s law students learn, show that many of our assumptions are incorrect and that laptops provide a tremendous opportunity to enhance student learning in an age of changing classroom dynamics.

Thus, I conclude that law professors should allow students to use laptops in lecture courses. In the article, I analyze five assumptions that arise in the laptop debate — what I call “laptop myths.” I first set forth the arguments commonly made in the laptop debate. I then provide background on generational research, including the modern law student’s relationship with technology. I then summarize my survey and use the survey data and learning theory to challenge some of the assumptions that underlie the laptop debate. Ultimately, I conclude that students’ self-directed learning makes good use of laptops and therefore laptops should not be completely banned from law school classrooms. Finally, I offer some thoughts and examples of alternatives to all-out laptop bans.


Posted by Rick Garnett on March 7, 2011 at 03:18 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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Posted by: used laptops | Jul 29, 2011 8:16:04 AM

It's important to distinguish between local note-taking and gaming&shopping. I've been out of school for a long time, but I spend almost all my time on conference calls and taking notes is essential. After filling up a dozen hardbound paper notebooks, I switched to Microsoft OneNote and have never looked back. The ability to do full-text search on something that was discussed 8 weeks or 2 years ago is an enormous advantage. Requiring students to take handwritten notes and then try to scan them in through some OCR text-recognition system is silly. OneNote supports pen-based writing and drawing on tablet PCs with touchscreens, but I can type three times as fast as I can draw letters that are recognizable by the system.

Face it, the days of attorneys who can quote entire bodies of statutes from memory are long gone. That ability has gone from a necessity to a parlor trick. The most effective people these days are those who can leverage the internet most effectively in realtime. Or are you just afraid of hard questions from students who can google while you're talking all the law review articles on the subject that you're trying to teach?

Posted by: George McKee | Mar 9, 2011 8:23:06 PM

I ban laptops for general notetaking, but allow them for my purposes (clicker quiz, google info, etc.) My concern has never been about the individuals gaming or shopping, but rather for the individuals sitting behind those gaming or shopping. I've been on the student side of things recently enough to know how incredibly distracting this is, and I don't want to make those students responsible for challenging their peers. I get a little pushback at the beginning, but almost invariably get tons of positive feedback on evals at the end....

Posted by: Ian Bartrum | Mar 8, 2011 3:26:42 PM

I take a different approach. I incorporate the use of laptops into my classroom discussion. I keep a livechat open during the class session, and encourage the students to chat with each other, and with me, during the class. The results are surprisingly effective. Students will be distracted regardless of whether you ban laptops (stowing an iPhone under the desk is pretty easy). You might as well put your own content on the student's screen. I've blogged about this in a few posts: http://joshblackman.com/blog/?p=6257 http://joshblackman.com/blog/?p=6071 http://joshblackman.com/blog/?p=5461

Posted by: Josh Blackman | Mar 8, 2011 9:42:00 AM

Matt M writes: "Easy: disclose in the Syllabus you'll be monitoring classroom internet use and then run a packet sniffer during class. Each IP address should correspond to one laptop and you'll be able to see how many facebook and chat visits per hour students are logging."

This has practical and legal problems that keep it from being "easy." First, where do you install the sniffer to make sure you're only intercepting the traffic of the laptops in the room? Second, what if you're in an all-party consent state under the state Wiretap Act? And third, if the students know they are being monitored, won't that impact their surfing?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 8, 2011 1:06:42 AM

Easy: disclose in the Syllabus you'll be monitoring classroom internet use and then run a packet sniffer during class. Each IP address should correspond to one laptop and you'll be able to see how many facebook and chat visits per hour students are logging.

Student engagement in "no-laptop" classes at my law school is substantially better than in classes that permit laptops. Why even have class if you're going to lecture to a bunch of distracted typing drones?

Posted by: Matt M. | Mar 7, 2011 10:22:41 PM

Rick, thanks for posting this--I'm glad the article has at least given you a little food for thought.

I admit in the paper to my own skepticism about some of the self-reporting (though the students shouldn't have been under the impression that the survey results were going to be used to set a policy at either of the schools). I'm certainly interested in more research in this area, but actual usage can be hard to measure--for example, from the back of the room, I'm not sure I could wholly distinguish between class-related and non-class-related surfing and chatting.

Posted by: Kristen Murray | Mar 7, 2011 9:08:08 PM

James is right that there might be problems with self-reporting. One of the first quotes from the survey directly illustrates this problem (on p. 19): "[Y]ou can’t use me as a source for denying people use of their laptops in class. I’d revolt." I'm a 3L, and I think students have been more engaged in laptop-free classes in a way that promotes learning, so I support prawfs who decide to ban laptops. But I do agree with this paper that more careful empirical work could be done in this area; the studies in other contexts described on pp. 44-45 sound interesting, and it would be great to see something similar in a law school lecture.

Posted by: Lisa Larrimore Ouellette | Mar 7, 2011 8:22:23 PM

This is not directly relevant, but here is a send-up on laptops in class by students in this year's GWU Law Reveu: "The Day They Took The Laptops"- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-GRng4p0qg

Posted by: Don Anton | Mar 7, 2011 5:44:01 PM

A big question is whether students' survey responses are truthful or simply reflect what they think they need to say to keep their laptops. I've sat in the back of a couple of classes where students have laptops and seen tons of gaming and internet usage, but very little class-related usage. I'd like to see the results of having someone who doesn't look like an administrator sit in the back and record actual usage rather than self-reported usage.

Posted by: James | Mar 7, 2011 4:19:48 PM

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