Yesterday I promised I would post about my "Computer-Free Week" experiment in my 1L Contracts class. The week is not over, so perhaps I am a bit premature in posting on this subject--but on the other hand I am not reporting final results, only first impressions and links to other information on the subject.
Links to Other Information
The Association of American Law Schools' (AALS) Section on Teaching Methods is sponsoring a discussion panel at the AALS Annual Meeting in January 2008 entitled "Laptops in the Classroom: Attractions or Distractions?". Which, of course, ties in directly to my Contracts laptop holiday. I will be at the conference and plan on attending that session.
Other, current discussion of the issue is available online. Here are a few good sources. Thanks to Professor James B. Levy of the Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center for bringing these to my attention.
1. An interview in October 2007 on National Public Radio with Professor Daniel T. Coyne of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, in which Professor Coyne argues in favor of laptop bans.
You would think this sort of position would make him highly unpopular with students--but in 2007 he was named "Faculty Member of the Year" by the Chicago-Kent Student Bar Association.
2. An April 2007 Washington Post op ed by Professor David D. Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center, entitled "Laptops vs. Learning" (great title).
Very interestingly, Cole banned laptops in his 1L class, and then took an anonymous survey of his students to get their views on the ban. 80% said they were more engaged in a no-laptop class, and 70% said they supported the ban. That's very interesting--and it makes me wonder what the results of such a survey might be in my class if I were to implement a long-term ban. I strong recommend his piece; he lays out very well the primary criticisms of computer bans and why he largely rejects these criticisms. These criticisms are, in fact, the very types of arguments that have been made in comments to my previous blog posts on this subject, which are as follows:
Computers in Class
More on Computer Bans
Multitasking in the Classroom
Multicommenting on Multitasking
Computer Bans Hitting the Mainstream?
3. A similar interview by Professor Cole on NPR in April 2007, in which he basically takes the same line.
This interview goes into greater detail on this same subject. There are also comments from callers that are interesting. One particularly relevant point Cole makes (concedes?) in response to one caller is that not all classes are alike. Cole is largely concerned with how computers might impair classroom discussion--but in a lecture class, that's not an issue. So in some classes, computers might not be liabilities. And I suppose that computers might actually be beneficial in some classes, depending on what the class is and how it is structured (say, a seminar on "Technology and the Law").
My Impressions Regarding My Computer-Free Week
It's too early to tell, really. One class does not a trend make. But class was awfully quiet earlier this week. Perhaps exhaustion and burnout are starting to set in. Perhaps it's because the class material is getting harder (which it is). Perhaps a laptop ban would make no difference. I do not know. What does seem clear is that a longer experiment than one week would be needed to get a feel for a ban's impact. And frankly, in the first semester of law school, and with a generation of computer-wired students, I'm reluctant to ban computers for the sake of an experiment.
Of course, if people are using their computers for non-class activities and distracting other students, that is another story entirely . . . .