Paul L. Caron

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Path to Victory in the Classroom Laptop War?

In my AALS talk this week, I again made the case for using technology to create an active learning environment in the classroom.  I drew on two aspects of the just-released LSSSE data from 29,000 law students at 85 law schools on their use of laptops in class.

First, students who use laptops a lot in class:

  • Are more likely to contribute to class discussion (54% v. 45%)
  • Are less likely to come to class unprepared (5% v. 10%)
  • Work harder to meet faculty expectations (73% v. 62%)

Second, students report that they frequently use their laptop in class for the following activities:

LSSSE Chart   

In my talk, I argued that clickers give students incentive to curtail their use of laptops in class to email, surf the web, or IM.  For further coverage of LSSSE's laptop data, see

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Does it really matter what students do in class?

If profs are worrying about students not paying attention in class, cold call 5 random smirking students everyday and that problem will be gone in a week.

If students are worry about distraction, just don't look at what your neighbors are doing, focus on the prof and the lecture like you are suppose to.

Personally, I do everything during class. I take notes on onenote, check gmail, facebook, chat with other students in class, search for jobs and shop online. I usually prep well enough for class that only 20-30% of every lecture is actually relevant. Unless the prof is actively giving me new material that is not in my note, i don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to make more efficient use of my time that i paid for.

Posted by: abcb | Jan 13, 2009 5:46:23 PM

Professors seem to believe students not paying attention in class is a sudden phenomena that began with laptops and wireless internet. Just like in high school, I can distract myself just as easily from the class discussion by doodling, writing notes to my neighbor, working the crossword from newspaper, or just staring into space and daydreaming. If the class is boring, or you don't want to pay attention, the laptop has nothing to do with that.

Posted by: Pixie | Jan 13, 2009 11:08:23 AM

Half of those stats don't require the internet. Keep the laptops, cut the internet.

Posted by: NYU Student | Jan 13, 2009 11:08:23 AM

I for one, read the TaxProf blog in class.

... especially when my prof starts rambling off unnecessary hypos.

Posted by: Ediggity | Jan 13, 2009 11:08:23 AM

Law students are grown ups. It is our responsibility to be prepared and aware, if we are and also want to email a current or future employer or write an entry on a legal blog or do whatever, how on earth does this matter to a professor?

The real problem is that too many law professors are arrogant babies that moan and cry when they do not get enough attention. Just because 100 people gather to hear them speak does not make them popular - only necessary to graduate.

Posted by: Student | Jan 13, 2009 5:39:29 AM

Most of the productive uses of a laptop in the classroom do not require Internet access. It is Internet access during class, not the use of laptops, that is the issue.

And the rationalization that people Web surf because class isn't interesting is BS. I've watched people playing online crosswords during very interesting class discussions.

The fact is that a 3L with a job lined up who has no chance of graduating with honors has little incentive (other than the a love of learning itself, something often missing in students in their 18th or 19th consecutive year of school) to do any more than pass the class. But this is great for those of us who do care, since we are graded on a curve.

Posted by: T14 2L D | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

How come there's no watching KPOP section on that table?!

Posted by: Yar | Jan 13, 2009 5:07:12 AM

From my experience, I think most professors would be appalled if they could see what is occurring on the computer screens of a vast majority of laptops; reading news, IMing/emailing, online games, solitaire, shopping, etc, are all things that occur throughout the class period. I think if you take the percentages for 1Ls concerning email, surfing and IM, and have it reflect the number of people not doing those things you will have a more accurate reflection of what is taking place.

Posted by: | Jan 12, 2009 7:40:39 PM

I agree with Law Student. What incentive do students have to be honest in a poll?

Posted by: S | Jan 10, 2009 5:37:28 PM

From a law student's perspective sitting in the classroom, I think the information provided of surfing the web and IMing is inaccurate. Professors - get out from in front of the class - walk around - do something.

Posted by: Law Student | Jan 10, 2009 3:35:45 PM