Paul L. Caron

Friday, June 10, 2016

Brunson:  Is It Time To Ban Clickers In The Law School Classroom?

ClickersThe Surly Subgroup:  Teaching Tax — On Clickers and Laptops, by Sam Brunson (Loyola-Chicago):

I’ve used clickers in class ever since I started teaching. In fact, thanks to Paul Caron’s tireless advocacy, I’ve known I was going to use clickers since before I entered academia.

And, like Paul, both I and my students have found clickers tremendously helpful in the classroom. In my experience, they do three main things:

  • They force all students to actively engage with the class. It’s easy enough to sit back in class and passively absorb (or not) the content. Sure, whomever I call on has to actively engage, but I can only call on a small portion of my class on any given day. But clicker questions allow students to not only listen, but actually answer, at least a handful of questions.
  • They tell me how well the students grasp what I’m teaching. If most of the students get the right answer, I know my explanation and the discussion were helpful. If a significant portion get it wrong, I know that I need to go back and address it again (and, depending on the answers they choose, I may be able to figure out where I or they went wrong).
  • They tell my students how well they grasp what I’m teaching. If most of the students get the problem right, a student who gets it wrong knows that she may need to go back and review the topic. Or ask a question. Or do something else.

But I have a problem: ...

This year, Loyola switched vendors. Now we use Top Hat. And honestly, Top Hat has great functionality. ... Rather than purchase a remote, students purchase a four-month, twelve-month, or lifetime subscription. And, while the pricing is kind of steep compared to a used remote, schools can apparently negotiate pricing with Top Hat to reduce the cost. With a subscription, students can use their laptops, phones, or tablets to answer questions. ...

Which leads to my problem: the evidence is becoming more and more compelling [more here] that students who take notes by hand learn, retain, and understand better than students who take notes on laptops.

Now, I’m not going to ban laptops in my class (though I may create a laptop-free zone in my classes so students who want to take notes by hand won’t be distracted by whatever their classmates are watching). Law students are adults, and I’m willing to let them make their own choices, though I will point them toward the studies, so that their decisions are informed.

But, while they can make their own decisions, I feel like using a response system that requires the students to use a laptop (or phone) in class puts a thumb on the scale. And that thumb is on the wrong side of pedagogy.

Legal Education, Teaching | Permalink


I really like using clickers in the classroom because they allow me to get the information I need, and the students get to take their knowledge for a test drive while maintaining anonymity. My only issue is getting students to discuss what they believe to be the correct answer BEFORE I identify it! That and the annoying tendency of some students to copy the question for later review rather than engaging the material in real time. At any rate, clickers are perfect for the law school classroom; some students simply will not confess their confusion no matter how frequently the professor asks if everyone understands. Laptop use is another animal altogether. I used to allow them. Then I decided that I would allow them but require that students temporarily disable wireless capabilities. When I did not get full compliance, I opted to ban laptops and ALL other electronic devices (they must be off and out of sight). Students know my policy before they register for the class, so they know exactly what they're getting into. My reviews? Fabulous. I fully respect my students as adults, but I also know that they need to be trained to put their electronic toys and other playthings aside when they are called on to bring searing focus to the work that they must do. I may furrow a brow here and there, but I'm sure those students are quite happy when they punch in their ID for bar exam results and their name appears on the pass list.

Posted by: Lux | Jun 11, 2016 1:18:40 AM

I'm sorry. I attended law school during the good old days at the dawn of the PC revolution when 256 K Maxell floppies were the cat's meow and not common at all.. IBM Selectric's still ruled the day. What's a clicker?

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Jun 10, 2016 2:47:09 PM

I started with einstruction, using clickers. Turning Technologies purchased einstruction, and then added the Anywhere option (laptops, iPhones, etc) (and stopped supporting einstruction). I used Anywhere for the first time this past spring. Because I don't mind students using laptops, I did not explore the possibility of allowing use of clickers AND an "anywhere device." I think that can be done with Turning's setup. I don't know about TopHat's system. It might be worth asking them. There might be a solution there.

Posted by: James Edward Maule | Jun 10, 2016 1:31:36 PM