Friday, March 06, 2009

Results of Laptop Bans

Reproduced below is an article commenting on the results of banning laptops in several law school classrooms. I can't say I'm surprised to learn that students felt that banning laptops had improved their concentration. Laptops can turn students into scribes more intent on taking down every word than into active learners who mentally process the information. Still, Professor Eugene Volokh reported no differences in the quality of classroom discussion after the laptop ban, which seems counterintuitive. If students are not focused on taking notes and are more actively engaged with the material, they should be more active participants in classroom discussion. Frankly, the bans strike me as paternalistic. I haven't considered banning laptops in my classroom because I want students to visit the websites that we cover during class. I understand that there might be a different dynamic in a doctrinal course. However, by the time they get to law school, shouldn't students know how they learn most efficiently?

Law Students Report Positive Reaction to No-Laptop Policy
Posted Mar 5, 2009, 07:43 am CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A law professor who banned laptops in his first-year criminal law class surveyed his students about their reaction—and found it was generally positive.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh had the results in a memo to his collegues (PDF) and on his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy.
Seventy-one percent of the students who responded reported the policy had a strongly positive or slightly positive effect on their concentration in class. Fifty-four percent said it had a positive effect on their overall enjoyment of the course.
Only 36 percent reported a positive influence on learning, though; 41 percent said the experience was neutral in regard to learning.
One student pointed out that the experiment had a negative effect on trees. The student’s e-mail to Volokh said those who brief cases on their computers have to print out their notes for class. And those who want their class notes neatly typed and available on their laptop have to transcribe classroom notes.
While students were positive, Volokh said he noted no material differences in classroom discussions. He suspects 1Ls tend to be engaged, and they often find criminal law particularly interesting. He wonders if the results would be different in classes with little voluntary class participation.
Earlier this week on Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman, an associate law professor at Florida International University, noted that his own classroom laptop ban was going better than he had hoped.
"I never realized how much I missed eye contact," Wasserman wrote. "Even the bored and checked-out students at least look up at me. And when students have to look up, you can get a sense from their eyes as to whether they are 'getting' what you were talking about and adjust accordingly. I also never realized how loud keyboards are when 75 students are typing simultaneously."
He noted that he'll have to wait for class evaluations at the end of the semester to see what his students think of the ban.

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