Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To laptop or not to laptop

When I was in law school, bringing laptops into class was all the rage.  This was quite a switch from my college years, 3 years before.  Back in college, only about half of my friends even had computers.  The rest of us just used the college's desk tops located in various labs throughout campus.  (In my first year of college, I actually typed a few papers out on a typewriter...)  But for law school, we were required to have computers. 

For the first year, I think I was the only student who didn't have a laptop.  They would all bring their laptops to every class so they could take their notes on them.  Many students seemed bent on typing out every word the professor said.  I stuck with my trusty narrow-ruled, 5 subject spiral notebooks and fine point Pilot pens.  But then my grandparents gave me the money to buy a laptop for my birthday during my 1L summer.  I think everyone expected me to make the switch to using my laptop in class when second year began.  But I always thought I took better notes and got more out of class when I took my notes by hand.  I had to bring my laptop to Evidence class because the textbook for that class was electronic, but even in that class,  I took my notes by hand.  I felt like I listened better because I couldn't type out every word as it was said but instead had to synthesize the points into shorter, coherent notes.  I also always have thought there was something about actually forming the letters by hand that helped the thoughts find a more permanent spot in my brain.

This was back in the days before wireless was prevalent.  Instead, the law school was wired so that every desk in the lecture rooms had data ports.  Students would just plug their computers into the law school network and have access to the internet.  Or they would play solitaire.  I know a lot of people used their laptops in a way that enhanced their class experience.  But a lot of people let their laptops distract them.  And this was all before the days of facebook, youtube, and gmail chat.

So it brought back a lot of law school thoughts to see this story about law professors banishing laptops from their classrooms to keep students from gaming and twittering during class.  I think I'm a little torn on this.  Law school is generally graded on a curve, so as a student, I might not have wanted the professor interfering with students who weren't paying attention.  If the guy behind me wants to play Farmville all class, well that's his choice and I'm perfectly ok with our grades reflecting our level of interest in the class discussion.  I would guess that Farmville guy would generally not do as well on the final as someone who paid attention.  On the other hand, most law school classes involve the professors calling on students.  (At my school, it was generally not out of the blue, though.  We usually knew which class periods we would be "up.")  As a student, I always found it pretty frustrating when the professor wasted time calling on a student who wasn't paying attention and hadn't kept up with the discussion.  And I can certainly understand the frustration a professor would feel trying to lecture to a room full of students staring at their computer screens.

I am sure there are some law students who are freaking out over being forced to leave their laptops off.  I had one friend in law school who was always so nervous and so stressed out, we used to joke she was going to give herself a stroke.  But it wasn't really much of a joke because I really did worry she was at least giving herself an ulcer.  That girl used to stay up until 2 every night studying.  She never gave herself a night off.  Even if she'd already read the material, she would re-read it or review her old notes or do something.  If she had been told she could not have her laptop in class, she would have gone round the bend.  She was definitely one of the "type every word the professor says" kind.  But then again, maybe she would have been better off in a laptop-free classroom because maybe she could have really enjoyed the classroom experience once she got over her obsession with taking down every word.  Or maybe she would have just given herself hand cramps by writing as furiously as she could.

What do you think, former and current law students?  Would you feel lost if your professor banished laptops from her classroom?  Would you secretly think it was a good thing to have the distractions taken away?  Or would you just take notes by hand but hide your iphone in your lap, with Facebook mobile open?


Anonymous said...

I've had a number of professors banish laptops. It's helpful for me, because I'm easily distracted.

DBB said...

I think it is bullshit, frankly. The students are the customers. The professors who ban laptops need to grow up and join the 21st century. I wrote a blog post about this specific topic some time ago: Here

Kylie said...

I took notes by hand my first semester b/c that's what I had done in undergrad. One day, my case notes for the reading material were on my laptop & I forgot to print them. I took my laptop to class & it was heaven. My law school's internet required a card; I never put my internet card in during class (with the exception of fed tax, but that's excusable). Only one class I typed every word the professor said to stay awake & make sure I got the real points (he wasn't very organized). But it was easier to find my notes & the answers on my laptop. But I also book briefed cases for class. So I guess in short, or long, that I think laptops in class are a good thing. I believe that the students are paying good money to be there & if they don't want to pay attention, so be it. To each their own.

Blog Designed by : NW Designs