What is All The Hullaballoo About Banning Laptops in Law School Classrooms?

Marie S. Newman at Out Of The Jungle reports on Professor Eugene Volokh’s ban on laptops in his criminal law classroom at UCLA. Professor Volokh references the ban himself on his own blog, the Volokh Conspiracy. According to Professor Volokh, over 70% of students surveyed reported a strong positive or positive effect on concentration and over 50% reported that they enjoyed the course more after the ban. The responses regarding the positive effect on learning were less marked and many were neutral on that aspect.

Prawfsblawg’s Howard Wasserman reports increased eye contact and decreased keyboard noise following his classroom ban on laptops.

But do these benefits outweigh drawbacks? Some people type with comprehension better than they can write with comprehension. Notes become searchable (unless you are using a Pulse smartpen). Students can quickly hope on-line to flesh out a thought or visit a concept mentioned in the classroom.

I like Ms. Newman’s point that law students should have already adopted their most efficient techniques for learning, assimilating and note-taking before reaching law school. And a laptop ban may cripple many modern students who have developed a keyboard note taking style or rely on digital records for later reinforcement.

As for eye contact, I cannot imagine having better contact with writing than typing: I sit straight up when I type and can offer eye contact with a mere glance, while I famously slouch over my handwritten notes, requiring neck contortions to meet my professor’s gaze. That is, if I even really wanted to do so – eye contact might result in being called on to brief Marbury v. Madison.


7 comments on “What is All The Hullaballoo About Banning Laptops in Law School Classrooms?

  1. Laptops in the classroom is so new to me (didn’t have such a thing in law school), that the idea of trying to type and listen seems counter productive. However, I can see how a newer generation that uses computers with even more ease than I can get more out of having one.

  2. I really think it is crippling to some newer students to tell them they cannot take notes their preferred way. I am a writer and come from the old school so I can handle the paper, but I really wonder at the reasons for banning and whether it is fair to students who have grown up on computers as composing and organizing devices. Would love to know what these “old school” profs have in mind as the benefit.

  3. And what, pray tell, is so bad about being called upon to brief Marbury v. Madison?

    In the same way that I disapprove of theplacement of computer monitors in the jury box (they detract from the theater of trial), I dislike laptops in the classroom. Certainly, some students will find such a restriction problematic. But I believe that there are substantial gains by actively engaging students in lecture/dialog & employing the Socratic method. Let the structuring of the data & linking to related concepts occur later, outside the classrom. Students should listen, participate in the discussion, & process, not transcribe. In my humble opinion, anyway.

  4. The whole debate boils down to “to be, or not to be … paternalistic.” A common theme on this blog is that technology is amoral and we, the human pilots, determine how we use the tool, for good or for ill. Why should teachers outright ban laptops? Shouldn’t teachers consider the possibility that the students who are distracted or failing to participate might be doing so for character reasons and not because the presence of the laptop compels them to do so? If laptop use is distracting others, then I might be able to accept a ban for the good of the entire class. But if the issue is protecting individual students from themselves, then I believe the punishment cuts too broad a swathe and unfairly punishes attentive and participating students. Unless you happen to have the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory, then transcription of notes for later study is a necessary practice. Why limit it to pen and paper? Perhaps pen and paper should be banned, because some students might choose to doodle caricatures of their professors instead. And, while you are at it, why not ban cell phones on which errant students might text or play games and smartphones on which they might surf?

  5. WWSS (What Would Socrates Say) What is the best way of teaching the law? How does one teach critical analysis without requiring answers to difficult questions? Who can understand the inherent difficulties in a question without focusing intently on the questioner and the other responders? What happens to the intensity of focus when there are distractions to the interchange between the questioner and the responders? Are all distractions equally distracting? Is the questioner the best judge of the relativity distractability of various distractions? Does the socratic method require that Socrates be the final arbiter of how his method is employed?

  6. I, the benevolent dictator, will decide. And I say no laptops, no cell phones, no pens/pencils, no paper. In fact, no speaking. In MY class, we will explore the intracacies of abstract constitutional theory via modern, interpretive dance. Furthermore, pedagogic instruction is fairly pedantic & paternalistic by nature. Isn’t that why it’s called school? 😉

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