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Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Whither laptops in the (in-person) classroom? (Updated)

Pre-COVID, the trend in higher ed, particularly legal ed, was to prohibit students from using laptops to take notes in class. Early studies showed students learned and retained information better when handwriting notes compared with typing often-verbatim notes. I had banned them from my room since spring 2009, based on a combination of those studies, a general belief that students were better prepared off handwritten notes, and a desire to create habits of engaging in a conversation while taking brief notes followed by a recording or transcript sometime later (i.e., what happens at a trial or deposition). About half the 1L faculty at FIU (7-8 people) did the same.

COVID changed a lot. Student habits of using computers became more entrenched, with students creating multi-screen, multi-device systems for online classes. Although I encouraged students to continue reading and taking notes on paper during my year+ of remote teaching, I doubt they listened.

So where do things stand on the other side (more or less) of COVID? I returned to my old system the day I returned to the classroom (Fall 2021); I heard no complaints. But an informal survey of my colleagues reveals four of us still ban; the rest allow computers, including several who previously did not. Early studies about notetaking have not been replicated in full.

What are faculty at other schools, especially those who did not allow computers pre-COVID, doing? Have student expectations changed and hardened, so they push back against bans? Do accommodations make this an impossible general policy?

Comments left open.

Update: Heard from one more colleague. He allows students to use devices for e-books and materials (which are cheaper and more available) but requires they take notes by hand, the computer reserved for reading and searching materials. I followed this approach by necessity one year in Civil Rights, when the new edition of the book was available electronically but not in print when class began in January. Students followed the no-notes rule, which was easy to enforce in a small (5 students) class; it becomes more challenging with 60+ students. Eboks made it more difficult and time-consuming for students to jump among materials (an issue in code classes). But that may be worth lowering the cost of books. Perhaps an intriguing middle ground for next year. In any event, that does mean five of us remain in the no-laptops-for-notes camp.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2023 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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