Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 11, 2016

WSJ Op-Ed:  After 20 Years Of Teaching, I Am Banning Laptops In My Law School Classroom

No LaptopFollowing up my previous posts (links below):  Wall Street Journal op-ed, I’m Banning Laptops From My Classroom, by Stuart Green (Rutgers Law School):

For more than 20 years, I have taught college graduates, most in their mid-20s, the basics of criminal law and procedure. In all that time, at half a dozen law schools, I’ve had the daily opportunity to observe some of the miracles that modern technology has wrought in the legal academy: Computerized research. PowerPoint. No more handwritten blue books!

But now and then, carrying out my institutional duty to observe classes taught by younger colleagues, I move from the front of the classroom to the rear. What a revelation to see what the students are up to. While virtually all of them have open laptops and most are taking notes, many seem more intent on emailing and texting, posting on social media, reading news sites, shopping online, or looking at YouTube videos. I recently saw one student systematically checking out law-firm websites for summer-associate salaries. Another spent an entire class streaming an NHL hockey game.

If this is what the students are doing while I’m sitting behind them, observing the class, I can only imagine what they’re doing when I’m up front, lecturing.

Has the time come to ban laptops from my classes? The arguments for doing so seem pretty straightforward. As common sense suggests, and a March 2013 study by Faria Sana, Tina Weston and Nicholas J. Cepeda confirmed, students who are multitasking during class have less understanding and recall of what’s being discussed. ... [S]tudents who take notes on a computer tend to perform worse than students who take notes by hand, according to a 2014 study by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. ...

My best guess is that many of my students, millennials almost all, have never been in a university classroom where they weren’t connected to the internet. As bright and hard-working as they are, they don’t know what it feels like to be completely focused on a text, or fully absorbed in a classroom discussion. Like so many others in today’s overly wired society, they are perpetually distracted, never fully present. 

In August, when the new semester begins, I’ll have a new rule for my classroom: no laptops. No doubt the students will roll their eyes, mutter that I’m a Luddite, and present arguments showing why I’m wrong. They are law students, after all. But I hope that some eventually will realize that there is much to be said for being liberated from their devices. Maybe one or two will even send me an email to say how revelatory it is to really listen. I hope they won’t do it while sitting in class.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

As regular readers of this blog know, I have long advocated the use of clickers to combat the adverse effects of student use of laptops in the law school classroom.

Legal Education | Permalink


Lol fuck this guy. Earn their attention and stop whining. They pay to be there not you. This model of education is outdated and borderline insulting.

Posted by: Whiterussiansp | Jul 13, 2016 8:56:53 PM

Maybe the students who are paying $200,000 for an education not worth $200 should get to decide, on their own, whether to pay attention...And maybe if you taught them how to actually practice law, instead of teaching them "The Law" as if it were some higher calling, so that they might actually be able to pay back that $200,000 they borrowed to sit in your classroom, they might pay attention. Yes, 20 years later, gainfully employed for all of them, and still paying off law school debt, I remain bitter over the three most unhappy, least enjoyable, and non-educational (yes, I made up that word) years of my life.

Posted by: Bernie | Jul 12, 2016 6:02:45 PM

This is not the teacher's responsibility or prerogative. It is each student's responsibility to learn. If a student chooses to ignore the lecturer, sleep through class, or skip class altogether, so be it.

On the other hand, behavior that is disruptive to other students should not be tolerated.

Posted by: Nathan | Jul 12, 2016 1:59:49 PM

Listen to the gadget people whine. Ban electronic and lecture! Like it or leave it Snow Flakes.

Posted by: Diane D | Jul 12, 2016 10:11:04 AM

I could be wrong, but I believe a lot of lawyers use laptops in their practice.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jul 12, 2016 6:01:07 AM

A wise choice. Computers during lectures were just a way for students to consistently hide behind a screen when they weren't paying attention. Not all did, but a significant enough number. Combine this with the studies that show better learning with handwritten notes, and it's clear what the choice should be. Take away their little electronic toys, at least during lecture. They'll have plenty of time to be online outside of class.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jul 12, 2016 5:02:50 AM

And by warn ahead, I mean warn on the first day of the semester, not at the start of each class.

Posted by: JM | Jul 11, 2016 10:28:50 AM

There are more effective ways of accomplishing the same goal. For every core concept, teach an element that is not fully explained in the casebook and would never appear in a hornbook. Make it something that would be almost impossible to come up with if the student was paying attention that class, but is nonetheless true and important to the field. This could just be nothing more than going into greater detail. Anyway, make sure to test on these concepts and reward them accordingly.

Oh, and of course warn your class ahead of time so that they know to pay attention.

Posted by: JM | Jul 11, 2016 10:27:13 AM

How about thinking of a way to alter a teaching approach to get students engaged vs. just removing the laptops?

No that can't be it, the same approach used for the last 20 years can't possibly outdated or ineffective, its definitely the laptops' fault.

Posted by: taxtaxtax | Jul 11, 2016 9:22:55 AM

" I recently saw one student systematically checking out law-firm websites for summer-associate salaries."

That poor, poor fellow. Did you tell him not to bother, seeing as only 9 of 399 grads from the Rutgers class of 2015 secured LT, FT, license-required employment at large law firms? (not to mention that some or all of those might be much less lucrative staff attorney positions).

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 11, 2016 8:15:27 AM

Good rule. Remind these shocked students that they're paying a heck of a lot of money to listen to you and that you intend to make sure they get their money's worth.

Oh, and now that you've eliminated their #1 distraction, call on students out of the blue with questions. Keep them on their toes and listening.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jul 11, 2016 6:55:48 AM

Rather than blaming students, maybe we, as teachers, need to take some responsibility for not engaging our students more fully. Before the Internet, law students found many ways to ignore the teacher: some read newspapers, other created group games, and some did crossword puzzles. The Internet is not the problem, it is merely the instrumentality that students use today to avoid average to poor teaching methodology.

Posted by: Beau Baez | Jul 11, 2016 6:50:36 AM

I'm all for professors banning laptops if they see fit, but why the need for the self-righteous national announcement of their intention. Give me a break!

Posted by: LawProf | Jul 11, 2016 6:12:18 AM

How about a compromise -- laptops okay, but only for note-taking. No internet or email access in the classroom.

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Jul 11, 2016 5:26:34 AM