Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 4, 2011

Murray: Debunking Myths About Laptops in the Classroom

Macbook Kristen E. Murray (Temple) has posted Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom, 36 Okla. City U. L. Rev. ___ (2011), on SSRN. Here is 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.

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Andrea: In my opinion, an article about the use of laptops in law school, however systematically analytical it may be, should not be published in a law school’s law review. Perhaps it is better suited for blog post than an institution’s prize publication for scholarly work. Regardless of this one person’s opinion, the content of the article is interesting.

Posted by: Kona | Mar 8, 2011 10:43:26 AM

This kind of systematic analysis strikes me as incredibly worthwhile reading for any professor committed to understanding how his or her students can learn in the most effective climate possible. Frankly, we could use more articles on topics such as these.

Posted by: Andrea | Mar 4, 2011 10:48:56 AM

Did a law school really publish this article in their LAW REVIEW?!? Congrats, Oklahoma City University Law, on publishing such a "scholarly" article.

Posted by: Kona | Mar 4, 2011 10:05:25 AM

An interesting comment in the abstract includes the fact that the focus appears to be on what the author calls "lecture" courses. Lectures are by definition systems of major information transfer rather than intensive or even significant interaction. As long as the student has access to the information--whether from his or her own note taking or from subsequent transfers of notes files from other students (or even past students) it almost surely does not matter: 1. whether the student sends e-mails on the laptop during the lecture, 2. plays solitaire or places bets, 3. reads on-line material for other classes that do require interaction or 4. does anything else the student desires.

The fact is that the lecturer could distribute the lecture notes electronically and save everyone class time, allowing the class to be devoted to serious interactive learning strategies rather than basic info transfer.

In information transfer classes (lectures) the issue is whether the reasonably intelligent student has access to the information prior to being tested on it and in our format this easily occurs. One suspects that it doesn't matter much whether the student is even in class and this is likely to be tested as we can expect law schools to move toward "distance" or self-directed learning in primarily informational classes. Of course one response is that these courses are "Socratic" and interactive but the truth is that to the extent that assertion is valid it is almost exclusively a mass-produced form of Socratic dialogue in which one or two students are grilled and the others may or may not pay attention but in any event do not engage or participate in the sense of a true Socratic interaction.

Posted by: David Barnhizer | Mar 4, 2011 9:08:13 AM