Back to Yellow Pads for 1L in September

I was quite amazed when I equipped my daughter with an IBM notebook before she went to Dal only to find that none of the students at Dal actually took notes electronically in class. These were in humanities and international studies classes, yet even in her Kings Journalism classes, the students took notes just as traditionally as they ever did.

Now one of those yes-you-did, no-we-didn’t stories out of the Harvard Law School where a group of law professors got close to saying that notebook computers weren’t welcome in their classrooms and the students had better stock up on yellow legal pads.

Which leads to the question whether the students are paying more attention with a yellow pad, or whether the distractions of instant-messaging, web-surfing and email make the instructor’s voice simply another channel on the dial of student attention.

Yes I know that some of the law schools are very proud of what they’ve done installing wireless networks within the faculties. But are Canadian law students actually using notebooks in class? Is there a Harvard backlash here?


  1. Also at Dal, but in the law school, I’ve noticed that slightly more than half of the students are using laptops or PDAs with external keyboards. Interestingly, about half of the laptops are Macs. The courses I teach relate to Internet law and electronic commerce, so there may be a bias toward the technologically advanced side of the student body.

    When I was a student at Dal Law (at the end of the last century!), I was one of four students that I can recall who took notes on a laptop.

    This year for my privacy law course, I’m going to try an all electronic case book. Those wedded to the yellow pads can print it out if they want to. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. Mining Slaw on the laptop vs. pad question, I come up with:
    Technology and 1st Year Law Students (by Rich McCue at U Vic
    Legal Researchers, The Next Generation (by Mark Lewis at Dal)
    and my Only Think!
    all of which have interesting comments too.

  3. I posted about this very topic on my blog not too long ago. I suggested that laptop notes are less about comprehension and more in line with stenography. I say this with some reticence because in my previous undergraduate life I was a Communications major with a concentration in technology. In my own experience, there is something different about actually writing your thoughts down carefully in response to the lecture. With the keyboard, I found myself trying to “keep up” and getting as near a transcript to the class as I could.

    That said, there are others who did quite well and were really happy with their laptop. Oh and further to David’s comment, I’m an iBook user. You should have seen how perplexed the guy from Microsoft was when he visited this year.

    Here’s a link to my post: Laptops in Law School

  4. I’ve just back from holidays, where I didn’t see a laptop in sight for a month! Thanks to Simon F. for referencing previous SLAW comments on this – I thought Mike Paris’ link to Laptops in Law School was excellent.

    I don’t have much to add, except to reply to Simon C., that the use of laptops in lawschools is perplexing – despite the use of course webpages, the availability of class notes, and electronic readings – it appears that the most students use a laptop for taking verbatim classroom notes.

    We have had a number of discussions about this at UVic around the faculty lunch table, and are bewildered why some students feel compelled to do this. Most instructors are willing to provide the notes in the hope that students will particpate in class discussions – this doesn’t appear to be happening, except for a small percentage of students.

    Even at egalitarian UVic faculty are beginning to ask for laptop bans for some classes, mostly seminars.

    Does it say something about law school pegagogy?

  5. Let’s put a twist on this then, how do Slaw-ers feel about the use of laptops for the purposes of writing Law exams?

  6. While I see where you’re coming from, you only see the full horror of the exam system, when you confront that foot high pile of scarcely legible gush. Spend a weekend marking and exam terror takes on a whole new meaning.

  7. Wouldn’t dedicated computer exam stations make more sense? Controlled security, locked out wireless, etc.

  8. Plus no floppies, disabled USB hubs, Steve

  9. As long as security and integrity can be assured, I think I’d be in favour of exams on laptops, computers, terminals, etc. Probably as a side-effect of laptop use, handwriting these days is going down the tubes and exam booklets are incredibly hard to read.