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My Laptop Ban

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25 Responses

  1. Mike Zimmer says:

    I don’t ban laptops but I don’t find that I can’t see students’ eyes during class. Most of my students type without having to look down very much, or not more noticeably than for students taking notes with pen and paper.

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    My wife teaches undergrads at the same university as I teach. While, typically, everyone student but one in the law school uses a laptop, it is precisely the opposite in undergrad–just one of her 70-or-so students uses a laptop.

    There is no question that law schools’ laptop requirements contribute to their overuse. First, many ban opponents (among prawfs) point out the requirement as an argument against the ban. Second, students may object to the ban, arguing that “if the school requires me to pay $ 1000 for a new MacBook, why shouldn’t I be able to use it in class”? My response always has been that laptops truly have become essential part of law school and they improve all elements of the work students do in law school–EXCEPT in-class notetaking.

  3. Howard Wasserman says:

    My wife teaches undergrads at the same university as I teach. While, typically, everyone student but one in the law school uses a laptop, it is precisely the opposite in undergrad–just one of her 70-or-so students uses a laptop.

    There is no question that law schools’ laptop requirements contribute to their overuse. First, many ban opponents (among prawfs) point out the requirement as an argument against the ban. Second, students may object to the ban, arguing that “if the school requires me to pay $ 1000 for a new MacBook, why shouldn’t I be able to use it in class”? My response always has been that laptops truly have become essential part of law school and they improve all elements of the work students do in law school–EXCEPT in-class notetaking.

  4. Jason W. says:

    I’m curious: which part of the law school experience do laptops improve outside of the in-class aspect? In particular, what improvement are they over school-based or home-based desktop computers (which are vastly cheaper for the equivalent computing power)?

  5. MVJ says:

    Regarding Jason W’s question: you can do internet research anywhere and write your papers anywhere. If your course is using a copycenter packet and they’ve scanned it into a pdf file, you can do the reading anywhere without paying $30-$100 for the hardcopy (depends on the school). I’ve always taken my notes by hand (3 yrs as a JD and now another as an LLM), but I’m finding myself bringing my laptop into class more rather than printing out any pdfs or buying the packet.

    As for undergrads, isnt’ there the issue that their classrooms aren’t generally set up for laptops? Lack of outlets or real tables deter laptop use in class.

  6. A.J. Sutter says:

    Thanks, this is a very interesting post about policies’ unintended consequences, even for someone who’s not an academic.

  7. Jason W. says:

    MVJ makes an interesting point about bringing a computer to class with the materials on the computer rather than on paper. This is, of course, the way of the future — paper is dying, and for good reason. So at some point, professors will have to reembrace technology, although it remains to be seen what form that technology will take.

    Anyway, if the value-adds of laptops are research anywhere (in a curriculum that doesn’t typically place a premium on independent research but rather on textbook reading and class attendance), paper-writing anywhere (same comment), and course-packet reading (my sense is that the vast majority of courses are taught using a textbook), I’m not sure I’ve seen the justification for forcing students to spend $800-$2000 if they can’t use them to take notes.

  8. NJ says:

    Student’s perspective: My rationale in support of allowing laptops in class is efficiency-based. I know I can type roughly 60 wpm while rarely, if ever, looking down. By comparison, I probably take notes at approximately half that speed while having to stare at the desk the whole time. Also, I found that my back pain caused by semesters of being hunched over a desk taking notes quickly went away after I began bringing my laptop to class.

  9. A.W. says:

    Btw, when a person has a disablity that requires them to have a laptop, what do you do?

    Oh, I know. you out them. Nice.

    This is all paternalistic and silly. if you harm your own education because you don’t know how to use a laptop rationally, that is your problem. But those of us who can use it rationally should not suffer because other people are stupid. Peroid.

  10. MVJ says:

    It is the student’s own loss if they don’t know how to use a laptop rationally, but it also detracts from the other students’ experience. I handwrite notes. I stay engaged in class because I can’t surf the internet (though I do read what’s on other people’s screens- watch out if you’re checking your grades, email, etc).

    I participate both because I’m engaged, because I want to stay engaged, and because it stalls the class when the prof asks something obvious and the crickets chirp because everyone’s shopping online. That said, I don’t like to hear myself talk. Class is best when a number of students are engaged and participating.

  11. MVJ says:

    As for Jason W.’s point, he’s right that if the only point of the laptop in class is as an overpriced Kindle (which is already overpriced), then no, the $800 isn’t worth it. And yes, the traditional bar courses are textbook reliant, but a lot of electives use coursepacks. It’s a mix.

    But as for the research, a lot of upper level classes are research paper classes. Yes, I need books from the library, but I also do a lot of research online, including Westlaw. With Westlaw, I can print from anywhere and just drop by school to pick up the printouts if I need them. As for class attendence, that’s 2-3 hours a week per course, but a number more hours outside of class doing the research and paperwriting. So yes, if one can’t take notes on their laptop first year, the cost may not seem worth it, but I think the value of having a laptop increases through law school.

  12. A.W. says:

    MJV

    It doesn’t justify taking the laptops from those who can use it properly. In law school in particular you are dealing with adults who paid alot for their education. We should not handicap the best students in order to help the ones who don’t care or don’t think.

    I might add that having a laptop in class has other benefits. Because i was on one of the lesser law reviews, i had free lexis and westlaw all the time. So instead of dragging huge case books to class, i would often just keep a list of the relevant cites and pull up the cases on the net.

    The wrongheaded idea here is that students can or should be expected to learn in a cookie cutter fashion, so one size fits all. At worst, why not making using a laptop a privilege you can lose if you are not paying attention. That is, you call on a guy, and he doesn’t know, them bam, there goes his laptop. its the categorical paternalism i object to.

  13. I have toyed with a laptop ban, but as someone who is 100% wired all the time (blackberry, aircard) I would be a bit hypocritical if I did.

    Also, I usually have websites and other online sources that I like to send the students to during a lecture. So “no laptops” doesn’t really fit in with my teaching style.

    However, often when I call on a student, I’ll tell them to please close their laptop while talking to me. I tell them that I want to engage *them* — not their notes or their quick jump over to Oyez or Wikipedia. I tell them “don’t be nervous, I don’t care if you get the answer wrong — but I want you to talk to me about this case as if you were really trying to teach me about it.”

    That seems to go over well.

    Also, I have a general policy that I distribute to all my students, which I will reproduce below:

    Use of laptops / technology in class: You are, of course, free to use your laptops in class to take notes and/or to refer to materials that I have provided to you. In fact, I strongly advise that you have a laptop in class.

    That being said, use of Instant Messenger services in class is strictly prohibited.

    Accessing the web during class, unless it is a site that I have directed you to, is also prohibited.

    I have found that both practices are destructive to the class environment.

    The first infraction will result in an immediate deduction of ALL class participation points for the entire semester.

    The second infraction will result in an F in the course. It will also be referred to the administration as an honor code violation.

    If you do need to get a message to someone else in class, you may do it the “old fashioned way” and pass a note to them. That is allowed.

  14. A.W. says:

    Marc

    I like that. especially the legalization of note passing. :-)

    But more importantly i like to see a professor address the behavior of a student with a laptop, as opposed to a sweeping and overly broad ban.

  15. Howard Wasserman says:

    NJ:

    Interestingly, your argument for using a laptop (I can write more stuff down faster) is precisely the argument I (and many other ban advocates) make for getting rid of them: They turn everyone into stenographers speedily typing verbatim reports (whether looking up or down) rather than engaged listeners jotting short notes on the essential points while still also actively participating in the discussion. I am not suggesting anything about your ability or your level of engagement, but simply reporting on general experience and the general inability of students to do both at the same time.

  16. A.W. says:

    Right howard, why treat your students as individuals? they are all an undifferentiated mass who can’t figure out that just because they CAN type more that they must.

    No, but because some people can’t figure that out, let’s restrict EVERYONE.

  17. Sarah Waldeck says:

    This is a great discussion. Thanks to everyone who is participating.

    Here are some additional thoughts:

    1. As to why schools require laptops, some institutions have migrated to a system in which most final exams are taken on a laptop, not in exam booklets. This might be one reason why they require students to own laptops.

    2. Like Howard, one of the reasons I like the ban is that students no longer have the ability to transcribe everything I say. Instead, they have to summarize and crystallize the material, which furthers the learning process. I am also mostly unsympathetic to another concern that has been raised by students: that the ban is inefficient, because they type up their notes after they leave class. To the extent that students revisit class notes, they likely increase their understanding of the subject matter. I do, however, feel some pangs about this when it comes to my evening students, because some of them have day jobs and are therefore extremely pressed for time.

    3. I tried an approach that was similar to Marc’s for at least three years. My syllabus specified that students could only use laptops for particular purposes and had a list of particularly problematic conduct, like surfing. I also reserved the right to reduce a student’s grade by 1/3 for violating the laptop policy. My problem was with enforcement. When I suspected that someone was surfing, I would talk to him or her after class. But I also suspected that I wasn’t catching everyone who was breaking the policy. This made me very reluctant to impose any penalty. Students have told me that there was some surfing in my classes when I had the policy in force, although less than in classes where the professor was silent on the matter. My prior laptop policy also didn’t address the concerns about how note-taking on laptops affects the learning process. On this point, I would again reference the article by Kevin Yamamoto, which I referred to in my original post.

    4. Finally, my questionnaire asked students to describe what they thought was the best policy regarding the use of laptops in the classroom. The two most common responses were (1) that the law school should disable wireless services in the classroom and (2) that the law school should permit individual professors to decide whether to ban laptops. To be clear, however, some students were angry about the ban, for some of the same reasons that A.W. has identified.

  18. MVJ says:

    AW,

    Just to clarify, I don’t have an opinion on banning laptops in class. I’m just sharing my observations as a student. If they’re banned, there tends to be better discussion. I they’re allowed and everyone’s distracted, I get points for talking and the prof gets to know me. Win/win.

    I also don’t think this topic is about treating all students like a mob or like children. I think profs are trying to figure out what works best for the people involved and the goals at hand. That requires experimentation and refinement.

  19. Howard Wasserman says:

    We (as a faculty) talked about disabling wireless in the classroom. But, at least as our building is wired, access is not classroom-by-classroom, but for the building as a whole. So there is no way to cut-off access in my classroom alone.

  20. A.W. says:

    no, it is about treating them like children and harming those who can be intelligent about it in order to protect the clueless.

    Seriously, guys, what do you say when a person has a disability? What do you say to the rest of the class when only one student is allowed because of his disability (and rest assured the ADA would 100% require that outcome given the right disability). Technically the ADA doesn’t ban discrimination against the non-disabled, but, um, it doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea to discriminate against someone who doesn’t have a disability.

    This whole thing is idiotic.

    And Sarah, seriously, when are the laws ever perfectly flawlessly enforced? The chilling effect of knocking down a student or two will induce compliance. Really, this is rudimentary criminal justice theory. But i love the logic. Because i can’t figure out who to punish, how about i punish everyone.

  21. MVJ says:

    AW,

    Out of curiousity, why are you so concerned about the disability aspect? While I think it is a factor to be considered, I don’t think that it’s as large a concern as you make it. I don’t find people all that jealous of the concessions that are made for disabilities, whether it’s extra time to take an exam or the allowance of a laptop. It is what it is. But then maybe I just went to a school where the students had a good attitude about this stuff.

    As for outing those with disabilities, while discretion should always be practiced, classmates generally find out anyway, whether it’s obvious like a wheelchair or a guide dog, or less obvious like carpal tunnel or arthritis.

  22. Sarah,

    I agree that enforcement is, indeed, a problem. I’m not prepared to patrol the laptop screens — nor am I prepared to ask students to rat one another out.

    However, the deterrent effect has (at least in my experience) been sufficient. Once and a while a student will mention something online and point to their screen, and I say “are you telling me you violated the laptop policy?”

    Then, I stop class and take a vote. “How many students would like to convict Student A of a violation, and how many would like to give him a one-time pass?”

    Thus far, this has always resulted in the students saying “oh, give him a break.” But, it puts the fear back into them.

    I’m not sure what I would do if the students actually voted the other way though. I guess I would have to stick to my guns.

  23. Sarah,

    I agree that enforcement is, indeed, a problem. I’m not prepared to patrol the laptop screens — nor am I prepared to ask students to rat one another out.

    However, the deterrent effect has (at least in my experience) been sufficient. Once and a while a student will mention something online and point to their screen, and I say “are you telling me you violated the laptop policy?”

    Then, I stop class and take a vote. “How many students would like to convict Student A of a violation, and how many would like to give him a one-time pass?”

    Thus far, this has always resulted in the students saying “oh, give him a break.” But, it puts the fear back into them.

    I’m not sure what I would do if the students actually voted the other way though. I guess I would have to stick to my guns.

  24. RH says:

    I have a very hard time with a laptop ban at an institution mandating the purchase of laptops.

    Law school is expensive enough, and now you want students to fork over an extra $600-$1000 for a piece of equipment they can’t even use in the classroom? That is outrageous. I didn’t have a laptop when I started law school way back when in 2005, and I didn’t get one ’til I was a 2L.

    And the only reason it is required is for exams? How about you supply type-writers if you want typed essays? Or have exams in a computer lab? Or rent out laptops for exam day? Or do away with the requirement? As an institution you, the school, can acquire a large number of computers/laptops/whatever at a fraction of the cost of students. If it is really necessary you should have the cost included in tuition, which would actually save the student money, and then supply it.

    Mandating that students already strapped for cash make another large outlay of funds, only to tell them “don’t bring it to class!” seems wrong and kind of cruel.

  25. Rob Vialpando says:

    As an ADA specialist I would probably suing your class and you for restricting Technology to the Learning disabled! I do not want to hear that you would make arrangements for the LD students who need accommodations!Why? Because by allowing them in the class to have their computer you wold be outing them out as disabled students. Violation of the ADA. Self-Determination is the ruling in this country they are not young kids they are aspiring adults and should be treated as such for you see, you as a professor work for them. They don’t work for you. They pay to attend so they are consumers you are an employee of these students. Think about that for a moment. Best practice today in education is (UDL) Universal Design for Learning. So my dear fellow teachers let’s get in step with the modern world.