Banning Laptops in Law School Classes?

Should laptops be banned in law school classrooms? Probably

In “Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting“, Susan Dynarski writes that research shows that: “college students learn less when they use computers during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Dynarski explains that when using a laptop students are focused on transcribing the lesson. They are not focussed on processing information. However, when they are using paper and pen students are focused on processing information. They have to condense the lecture into simple notes. Otherwise they cannot keep up with the lecture. “The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.”

Additionally, laptops distract the students around the laptop user. Students become distracted while watching another student’s laptop screen. The laptop essentially pollutes the classroom.

The effects of laptops in the classroom were studied by the United States Military Academy. Their research revealed that students performed substantially worse in classrooms with laptops when compared to students in classrooms without laptops.

Given the advantages of paper and pen over laptops and tablets, what role should laptops/tablets play in the courtroom? Should we allow jurors to use tablets, even if they are unconnected to the Internet? How should we reconcile this research with the move from a paper based court system to an electronic based system?

I would argue that a courtroom is similar to a classroom, and that this research should be considered by our courts.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

Comments

  1. “Dynarski explains that when using a laptop students are focused on transcribing the lesson. They are not focussed on processing information. However, when they are using paper and pen students are focused on processing information. They have to condense the lecture into simple notes. Otherwise they cannot keep up with the lecture. ‘The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.'”

    Dynarski’s view does contrast with those expressed in the Globe and Mail article, Josh O’Kane “Laptops in classrooms: help or hindrance”, online, October 18, 2016 (updated April 8, 2017) where experts argue that “… outright banning laptops – and their newer, lighter compatriots, tablets – may not be the best answer. They can make lectures more accessible, provide tools for interactive learning, and perhaps even convince professors to shift how they teach.”

    Given the differing views, could it be that the effective use of laptops depends on the context in which they are used? For instance, for online learning courses where the student is dependent on the screen to experience the lecture their attention is not divided as they are reliant totally on the onscreen experience. Whereas the situation of a classroom or courtroom where attention is divided between the screen and the off-screen activity resulting in less focus. Hence, the differing views.

  2. So tablets might be too distracting for jurors but not for judges?

    And, of course, counsel too because having juniors take notes on their laptops explains why counsel too often get the evidence wrong?

    Is it then a reason to disqualify a millennial juror because he or she isn’t comfortable taking notes using anything other than a computer or she can’t write quickly enough using any form of pen or pencil and paper?

    Just asking.

    DC

  3. When I was in law school, most students had a laptop going. Half were transcribing the lesson (perfect for distillation into CANs, some of which were generously shared with all). The other half were shopping for shoes. Every day, so much shoe shopping went on. That was the distracting part.

  4. In my view it’s important to avoid generalizations on questions about the use of laptops in the classroom. I think it’s agreed that much research supports the general proposition that verbatim notes are less effective for comprehension and retention than are synthesized notes, and that taking notes electronically can be more likely to lead to verbatim notes that handwritten notes might do.

    It’s also important to note that none of the studies cited in The New York Times article addresses any experimentation in a law school classroom, so a generalization to that setting isn’t supported by those studies. One of them, the Princeton/UCLA study, used pre-recorded TED talks as the subject lectures. The West Point and the McMaster/York studies did use live lectures, and the goals of each study were specific: Put very broadly, one studied overall performance in an actual live-lecture course in conditions with or without laptop as naturally used by the student, or tablet as a medium for class resource material; and the other looked at comprehension of material in a simulated, scripted single lecture in conditions of multi-tasking or spillover effects of laptop use during class.

    Note-taking is a skill, and law school learning is a skill. Laptops can be useful in particular kinds of courses or sessions (hands-on practice with a research tool, e.g.) or for a very particular purpose (referencing a resource under discussion, working with learning management system content and tools, annotating notes taken from pre-reading, e.g.), or for accommodation of individual student learning needs (adaptive learning software, e.g.). They can also be a distraction to students who would rather be virtually elsewhere than in the class and to students who happen to neighbour those students.

    Law classroom instructors, like other instructors, can offer their students guidance in learning theory and note-taking and can set expectations that are both consistent with their course learning outcomes and respectful of the needs of all students. I imagine many of us do these things already and reminders are great too.

  5. Let’s simplify this.

    Let’s all go back to using chisel and stone tablets. I’m sure somebody that, with modern technology, the tablets can be made light enough that one can carry a days’s worth. Of course, the sound of all the tapping of mallets might drown out the speaker.

    Kidding aside, if one is paying attention, keyboards and screens are an efficient note taking tool.

    If you’re not, you’re not.

    If all you’re saying is that screens have readier access to other material that can be looked so that the student is distracted? i often brought something else to class to read or do. It wasn’t always classwork related. Is there a real difference?

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