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January 6, 2007

Rethinking Laptops in the Law School Classroom

The consistent complaint about laptops in law school classes is that, coupled with wireless Internet access, they provides an entertaining diversion (an attractive nuisance, perhaps) from the brilliant words of the professor and other students. But I want to offer a different concern.

Last semester, one of my students told me that her laptop had broken in the middle of the semester. So she began taking notes longhand. And she found that she was learning more.

When she had a laptop she wrote down everything I said. But without the laptop she edited more carefully. This was largely by necessity. She simply could not write as fast as she typed.

The laptop screen also serves as a kind of physical barrier between the students and the rest of the class.

I’m not suggesting that students should give up laptops. For example, I believe the ability to conduct research on the fly is immensely valuable.

Rather students should continue to think carefully about whether (or how) they use a laptop for taking notes in class. Perhaps some students assume that if they take dictation during the class, they will have a transcript from which they can learn later. But this might interfere with the attempt to digest the material and engage fully in the class itself. Perhaps students might yield the keypad a bit if law schools offered transcripts of classes through electronic means (using automatic recording followed by voice recognition software). (Professors should, of course, be able to opt out.)

(Photo from the UC Davis website; our classes are typically far smaller than the large lecture pictured here.) Anupam Chander Classroom

January 6, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Two of my colleagues have banned laptops in class, and both have been pleased with the results. Having sat in the back row of classes others are teaching, I see two predominant trends with the laptops: One is students surfing periodically, and the other is simply typing a transcript of the lecture rather than notes. Intriguingly, some students do both intermittently.

Posted by: Osler | Jan 7, 2007 9:12:50 PM

One of the participants in our panel in December, Jon Sablone of Nixon Peabody, argues that one of the main reasons why laptops in the classroom are harmful is that you learn behaviors that aren't going to help you in practice. No client, he says, would tolerate you taking notes on a laptop while meeting with them.

On a different note, one of my good friends from law school at one point stopped taking notes altogether and found the classroom experience even more engaging.

Posted by: Gene Koo | Jan 9, 2007 10:53:30 AM

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