Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Law Prof Under Fire for Banning Laptops in Class

Laptop_2Entman_1Interesting Associated Press article about Law Prof June Entman (Memphis): Law Professor Bans Laptops in Class, Over Student Protest:

A group of University of Memphis law students are passing a petition against a professor who banned laptop computers from her classroom because she considers them a distraction in lectures.

On March 6, Professor June Entman warned her first-year law students by e-mail to bring pens and paper to take notes in class. "My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing," Entman said Monday. "The computers interfere with making eye contact. You've got this picket fence between you and the students."

The move didn't sit well with the students, who have begun collecting signatures against the move and tried to file a complaint with the American Bar Association. The complaint, based on an ABA rule for technology at law schools, was dismissed.

Shameless plug:  I wrote about how faculty can use technology to counter the deleterious effect of student laptop use in Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning, 54 J. Legal Educ. 551 (2004) (with Rafael Gely).  (Hat Tip:  Inside Higher Ed.)

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Leave it to a bunch of aspiring lawyers to take formal action against a professor's classroom preferences:A group of University of Memphis law students are passing a petition against a professor who banned laptop computers from her classroom because sh... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 22, 2006 8:34:16 PM


It is a student's responsibility to know how he learns best, not the professor's. If a student knows that he can not type quickly enough to take notes well, then he should continue with taking hand-written notes.

On the other hand, there are people like me, who do not know how to short hand, and can only try to keep up with a professor while taking hand-written notes. I am a student who has had the opportunity to experience both, I didn't have a computer when I began college, and recently was able to buy one. I keep a pencil and paper nearby for drawing figures, but the majority of my notes are taken on my laptop.

I will completely agree with those of you who say that not everyone can type effectively, but there are many more who can not write quickly enough to keep up.

As graduates from the 21st century, we were taught how to type, not how to short hand, so it only makes sence to change rules and expectations with changing times.

There are some classes like any math classes, where a laptop is absolutely not necessary, numbers do not take long to write. But in lecture classes, to someone like me and many many others, a way to take notes, more quickly than writing is a necessity. If one can read his notes, then he is more likely to study them, and if they are complete, he is more likely to know all of the material that the professor covered.

I appologize, I didn't mean to write a book, but you know what, this would have taken me probably 15 minutes to write out!

Posted by: Beth College Student | Apr 8, 2008 7:22:18 AM

I attend school at Memphis, and I am one of the 1L's that was in the class. Having the laptop, either way, no one really cares about. What we care about is the fact that Entman is lying out of her teeth about the reason why. While her stated reason of "not having students take down every word" might be part of her reason, the bottom line is she just did not want anyone to have a chance to get on the internet or take their eye off of her for one minute. Hey least admit the real reason, and don't throw out some Bullshit answer

Posted by: Dave | Dec 6, 2007 4:40:07 PM

As an avid classroom laptop user at my humble university I am intrigued by the latest news of professors banning laptops in the classroom. Some professors supporting the ban .What’s to blame? Poker, of course. Well, poker along with other sorts of attention-distracting activities such as surfing, IM’ing or even—ahem—blogging. I would say that laptops in the classroom were turning students into stenographers and inhibiting classroom discussion.
I kind of agree with with that. With universities across the nation getting wireless access everywhere, these distractions could definitely be a problem in some of the more boring.Anyway ,thanks for this article, will use as a guide to my next dissertation .Best luck.

Posted by: Michle | May 24, 2006 8:43:43 AM

If you go to the courthouse and they want your pleadings stapled instead of paperclipped... you do it. If they want 1/2 inch margins you do it. If they require a Declaration for each Deed filed - you comply.

If your teacher wants you to write a paper on the history of law you do it. If the teacher bans laptops... you leave it in your backpack.

I know if I was speaking I would not want the audience to be looking at their laptop the entire time - regardless of what they are doing with it.

Hate to say it, but you protestors sound like a bunch of cry babies who simply do not like being told what to do.

It is not like she is asking you to lick her toes before taking a seat.

Not sure how civililization before the 1970's progressed without laptops at colleges...

Posted by: Dee Anna | Mar 29, 2006 9:56:48 AM

I currently attend U of M, and have had Prof. Entman for Civil Procedure. June Entman is perhaps the best professor I've ever had. And while, normally, academic inbreeding is a bad move (in reference to the previous poster's allusions concerning Professor Entman's career), when the U of M hired Prof. Entman, they added one of the top brilliant legal minds in the country. If you're skeptical, do a Lexis search for her published works. With that said, I do not support Prof. Entman's actions with respect to the lap top ban. Nonetheless, if given the chance, I would take her again, with or without my laptop.

Posted by: Memphis Student | Mar 28, 2006 12:51:27 PM

I went to law school with this chick.

If I recall correctly, she made the fast track from law school graduation to associate professor at the same school, which I don't think is a good idea.

I really enjoyed going to law school at the University of Memphis, but that was because I studied so hard and paid my way through school.

Unfortunately, it has a rich and storied history of poor leadership.

As I recall, one of its deans went down in scandal shortly after assuming the deanship about 16 or 18 years ago.

I also believe that one of my profs wound up doing time for tax fraud or evasion (he didn't teach tax courses, mercifully) after I left.

When I was in school, a classmate, who was always perilously on the verge of flunking out of school (and who is now probably a wealthy attorney), got a call from the Registrar in the summer in which she indicated that the dean, who was a prof, wanted to add points to his final exam, which I believe caused him to leap from an F to a D. He graciously accepted the dean's magnanimity, but asked the Registrar why the dean was adding points to his grade. He told me that the Registrar indicated that several black students confronted the dean with charges or implications of racism because of their low anonomously graded exam scores, and he responded by adding points to their grades. He must have felt compelled to also add points to the scores of the white student(s) who flunked the exam.

When I went to tax school, the quality of the administration and faculty was vastly superior to that of the University of Memphis. The difference was truly palpable.

I wish the University of Memphis School of Law well, but its professors and leadership need to distinguish themselves favorably instead of garnering their 15 minutes of fame in instances like this.

Is this prof trying to teach students the law or who is boss?

Posted by: molonlabe28 | Mar 23, 2006 5:51:22 PM

Nothing says modernity quite like chalky hands.

Posted by: chalky hands | Mar 23, 2006 11:03:01 AM

Does anyone else note the irony of the picture? No wonder she's against Tech in the classroom - she's using Word ver0.1...

Posted by: Steve | Mar 23, 2006 5:12:49 AM

Writing and/or typing are not the "equalizers," exams are. As for "paternalism," I think that's the grade school model.

The prof is complaining about students taking too detailed of notes and not making enough eye contact. Does she call roll as well?

Posted by: huh? | Mar 22, 2006 11:31:13 PM

Ridiculous. While she's at it she should ban chewing gum and passing notes.

If it's "eye contact" she's looking for, she should go to dinner with a friend.

Is she a law prof or a schoolmarm?

Posted by: amazing | Mar 22, 2006 11:24:56 PM

It's not the laptops it's the internet access. Speaking for myself, I would pay attention more in class if I wasn't preoccupied reading blogs.

Posted by: cbi | Mar 22, 2006 10:11:06 PM

I don't believe Professor Entman would prohibit people with disabilities from using necessary aids (including laptops) for taking notes in class.

I had Professor Entman last year for the same class. I took handwritten notes. I got an A-.

It's her decision. It's her classroom.

I'm absolutely embarrassed by the 1Ls at my school.

Posted by: student | Mar 22, 2006 9:12:23 PM

2L here. I'd go nuts if I couldn't read about every minute detail of the upcoming draft while sitting through another lecture about res judicata.

Posted by: Brian | Mar 22, 2006 8:42:23 PM

I am amazed at the arrogance of this teacher. In the real world, her vanity would be punished swiftly and severely. Too bad she lives in the world of government subsidized academia.

Posted by: No One | Mar 22, 2006 7:41:28 PM

What about those who are fast writers, Brendan? Put everyone in arm casts to equalize?

1L here. Yes, plenty of fooling around in class. But I'm able to rifle off quick legal principles in prob 1/3rd of the time it would take me to write the same thought. Who transcribes a professor's statements? No one I know. Instead, those who are diligent are able to produce an outline on the fly.

I'm probably typing no more than 25% of the time in class. The rest is thought and oogling.

Posted by: Joe G | Mar 22, 2006 7:09:36 PM

Last time I checked, people are let into law school on the premise that they'll do well there -- and there's no 4 hour test on following the directions (though admittedly, everyone in the room I took the LSAT in had memorized the instructions -- and knew them better than the proctors themselves, who had to look up the answers to questions that half of us were answering under our breaths.) Citing school paternalism is silly, especially since the only real constraints on what students will learn outside of the few hours they're in class is a) the amount of time they have left over and b) what they have been told to look for. And b) will have a weak effect on most of the independent minded students law schools are supposed to look for.

Having said that, I can see why selected classes might work better without laptops present. Of course, if the teacher then tests for things that she said, but weren't in the textbook, she's going to reward those with photographic memories and those who get to circumvent her rule, e.g. due to a disability. Not exactly a great teaching strategy, in my opinion.

Then again, the law school classes that I sat in on last year were full of people either playing Solitaire or using their technology very inefficiently; most weren't even using Google or Word's search feature to look up side points from previous lessons/related readings/the world at large when the teacher invited them to do so. I'm not all that certain that banning laptops from that class would have any negative effect on more than a handful of students.

Posted by: Sarah | Mar 22, 2006 6:58:12 PM

If I had a nickel for every time I've Im'd with friends in law scholl while they sat through a class on the internet . . .

Posted by: Aaron | Mar 22, 2006 6:09:01 PM

Fingers and fingernails tapping furiously on plastic keys = distracting noise. Likewise, not every student knows how to type. Lord knows I can't. Skilled typists could wield an unfair advantage over their non-typing peers. Conversely, writing is the great equalizer.

Posted by: brendan | Mar 22, 2006 4:34:06 PM

Except for the 1L with hand disabilities, I have no sympathy for the students complaining here. This is a school. Whether you like it or not, implicit in the entire idea of a school is a kind of paternalism. Law school does not consist of the school simply saying "go to the library. Read whatever you think will best help you." Instead, the school and each professor tightly structures how you will learn. This is based on a simple truth: You do not know what you don't know. This includes how best to learn the material in law school.

This professor believes the students learn better without laptops. The students disagree. So what? You might also not like her reading list. Tough. The students are "paying her salary"? Wrong. The school is. Your financial exchange is with the school, not the professor. Go to a different school if you want. Good luck finding a good one that tells the professors how to teach.

Posted by: econ prof | Mar 22, 2006 3:15:18 PM

I had one prof who maintained a strict "no laptops in class" policy. I hated her. I also got my best grade of the term in her class. Imagine that.

PS, I am posting this while in class instead of paying attention to the professor.

Posted by: Gullyborg | Mar 22, 2006 3:11:05 PM

That prof is totally, utterly clueless. It's just unfortunate that she's teaching a first year course so the students have no way to avoid her. If she teaches an upperclass course she shouldn't expect to have many students (if any) sign up for it.

At my law school it is virtually impossible to find a student who does not use a laptop in class to take notes. Many of them (including me) have gone literally years without doing any significant handwriting beyond one's signature, filling out the occasional form etc. We type everything, our handwriting isn't that great and we can go a lot longer typing than writing before hand cramps set in. There are a lot of good reasons for typing one's notes and she doesn't allow it because she thinks the students are concentrating too much on taking notes?

That prof needs to take a moment and appreciate the fact that law students are adults, they're paying her salary and they don't like being treated like children. They can make their own decisions about how to absorb what she says in class and, optimal or not, that's their decision to make.

Posted by: Cornellian | Mar 22, 2006 2:43:09 PM

As a 1L with hand disabilities, I rely on using a laptop for notes. I simply cannot take notes by pen and paper--all of my writing, be it class notes, tests, quizes, etc., have been on computer since I was in 7th or 8th grade. (And before 7th/8th grade, I simply struggled).

I hope that people similarly situated to me would be accomodated by Professor Entman and the University of Memphis, but it would certainly make such students targets of student ire who might not be so understanding about the nature of their disabilities....

Posted by: Jedidiah Sorokin-Altmann | Mar 22, 2006 8:22:12 AM

A good teacher can get students to think whether or not they are using laptops, pens, paper, pencils, nothing, or ouija boards. Good teachers get their students actively involved in the classroom, and don't speak at slow dictation rates. Things move. Incidentally, speaking from experience, restricting students to paper doesn't stop transcriptions. I've got to blog this one. Wow. I'm so blessed having teachers in my family from whom I can borrow their education degree knowledge.

Posted by: Jim Maule | Mar 22, 2006 6:49:00 AM