Thursday, January 18, 2007

Computer Bans

Recently I blogged about whether computers should be banned in law school classes. That post can be linked to here. Today I found another several articles on the subject. The articles involve Professor June Entman of the University of Memphis.

Anyone in my classes this semester will note that I currently allow laptops in class. I like computers. I like the flexibility, power, and portability that they provide students (and faculty, and lawyers). I'm not a dinosaur (yet). Yet they may have their downsides, especially in a classroom. Read the following articles describing Professor Entman's laptop ban and see what you think. They appeared in USA Today, (see also Kerr's original post on the matter, in which he did not support Entman), and Conglomerate.

I should note that this is not exactly breaking news--Entman's ban took place in the spring semester of 2006. But "not so recent" does not mean "not so relevant," so I am taking a detour from recent posts on exams to revisit the issue. Let me know if you have thoughts on the matter.


Anonymous said...

Have you noticed a difference in grades between students who bring a computer to class and those who don't?

Gregory W. Bowman said...

That's an interesting question, and I have actually started to keep track of this data in my classes. The answer is that I see a slight difference over the past year or more, but I am not sure it is statistically significant. To do that, I would have to dig out some old math textbooks.

But statistical significance aside, longhand test takers have done marginally better in the few classes I have measured this in. Interestingly, this is consistent with another informal study conducted by a friend of mine at another law school.

I do not not know why this is, and for all I know it could be chance. And again, it so far has been a very small difference (and one I expect is not statistically significant). But why has it occurred in several classes?

It might have something to do with taking more care before handwriting something down, because it is harder to undo it. Some of the best stuff I have ever written I wrote by pushing a pen. Some of it may be that people who handwrite do so because it is the most comfortable test-taking method for them, while some who type would be better off writing.

On the other hand, scores certainly do not get reduced (at least in my classes) because of legibility. That is, because typing is so much easier to read, is it easier for me to spot gaps in a typed answer? No. And for the record, scores also don't get reduced for sloppy handwriting, so long as it is legible. Anyone who has seen my handwriting knows I have reason to be forgiving about that.

Ask me this question again in a few years, when I have a larger data set.

Anonymous said...

I find that using a computer is beneficial only because it is what I am more comfortable with. Banning laptops in a classroom, to me, would be like telling a right handed student they could only write with their left hand. Though there may not be a significant difference between those who type and those who write by hand, I forsee a significant difference between those who originally wrote by hand and those who used to type, but due to a ban, but now write by hand.

I do not understand why a professor would want to handicap students. Does a game of solitaire bruise your ego that badly? It seems that a student who engages in laptop activities that are not class related would perform poorly and the problem should correct itself. If not, then what is the problem? It may be the devilish sense of schadenfreude that law school has instilled, but please support the laptop revolution.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:08, your use of the word "schadenfraude" is SEXY. And I am not being sarcastic.