Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Computer-Free Week

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
Computer Bans
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 . . . .


HighAndMighty2L said...

So my laptop died this week, so i had an unofficial computer-free week. I am a top student and an admitted classroom internet addict. I am "dead surfer" (clicking links just to waste time), it allows me the downtime to refresh my mind. Yet, I actively partcipate in class.

This week, however, was miserable. 1. My notes were absolutely terrible. 2. I spent more time trying to write down important points that I did actively learning. Turns out that the time saved by typing allowed me to process the material and, if not contribute to classroom discussion, internalize the material.

While some students may be fine with handwritten notes, I have grown up with a computer and am sadly dependent upon it. Not having a lop top is, now, a handicap for me. The solution: require those 3m privacy screens for laptops (or the so called "distracted by other people's laptops" could keep their eyes on their own screens).r

Anonymous said...

For me (a 2L), it depends on what kind of class it is and the volume of notes I expect to need. I use a pen and pad in seminar classes, and tend to be more engaged, spend less time writing and more time listening and talking. But in doctrinal classes, where I know I'm going to need a pretty hefty amount of notes to comprehend the material later and do okay on a final, I use a laptop and take copious notes. Would I prefer a laptop ban in those kinds of classes? Maybe as a 2L - I feel okay taking fewer notes, and it would avoid the prisoners' dilemna-type problem of giving up the real exam advantage of laptop-type notes. As a 1L I think it would have just freaked me out.

Anonymous said...

I was a participant in the 1L experiment this week and I did not like it. It was not that I did not take notes in class. I had (roughly) the same amount of notes as a normal typewritten day. The problem arose when I returned home and tried to find the time to type what I had already written. I had to do this because my notes are legible for a finite period and at some undisclosed time, they become as much hieroglyph as they are "letters that make words." I did not find more time to listen in class, I found less. I found that people around me asked, "What was that third point again?" so many times that I wished they had been buying shoes on the internet. I will concede that with every tool used in any setting, there are advantages and disadvantages. However, I for one am very disappointed by the "I must save them from themselves" attitude of most of my first year law professors. If I am made to come to class by the ABA (and subsequently the school) and choose to spend my time unproductively, my $2300 per class buys me that right. If I don't want to participate or think "fantasy" football statistics are more interesting, the only person hurt in the long run is me. And that is what most would call, an adult decision.

shell said...

Actually, this discussion reminds me of the obesity debate because it involves whether or not to take away personal choice from students in order to improve the overall performance rate of the class (albeit passing on the cost to inconvenience to students who otherwise would have used a computer efficiently & effectively without distracting other students or themselves).

Gregory W. Bowman said...

Shell, that's a very interesting observation. Another good analogy is seat belt use. Should we allow people to use or not use seat belts, and suffer the consequences of non-use? Or do the societal costs imposed (medical bills, etc.) justify reigning in such unbelted liberty?

Thanks to all for the comments so far. Based on the comments, I have added another, completely new post on 10/16/07 on the subject of laptops in the classroom.