Home > 1L > a no-laptop class might be a nice experience actually

a no-laptop class might be a nice experience actually

March 22, 2006

While I understand how frustrating it might to discover mid-semester that your professor is banning laptops from the classroom, I don’t disagree with the professor’s rationale or even think it’s necessarily a bad idea.

“My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing,” Entman said Monday. “The computers interfere with making eye contact. You’ve got this picket fence between you and the students.”

I think this is pretty true–many students use their laptops to hide from the professor (yes, myself included) and many students tend to transcribe when taking notes on a computer–particularly when they don’t understand the material very well. Yes, again, myself included. It’s instinct. When I am confused, I take solace that my notes are, essentially, dictation. If only I could type faster!

But I would be interested in taking a class with a “no laptop” policy, if the class was one I really wanted to take, and the professor was someone I really wanted to have–and if I knew about the policy ahead of time. Consider–if everyone in the class is proscribed from using the computer, there’s no lost competitive edge. Everyone is relegated to taking notes by hand. A spirit of camaraderie would probably flourish, too–those with good handwriting would be courted by those with chicken-scratch, and study groups would help one another transcribe the handwritten notes into typewritten outlines. And, again, everyone would be in the same boat, and none of us write so much anymore that anyone would be likely to be a better handwriter.

Now, to be honest, I’d probably not want a no-laptop policy for a 1L class, particularly because I think it’s important that everyone in such a class be aware of the policy so no one complains about it (á la the students in the article). But I think for an upper level class, it could work quite well. So, professors, if you’re interested in banning laptops, consider it! But not for 1L classes. And decide before the semester begins–and, indeed, before registration. Make sure the laptop policy is clearly listed on the course description so that every student knows what he or she is getting into. And see what happens!

Hat tip: JD2B

Categories: 1L
  1. March 22, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    My negotiations class bans laptops, but it’s a completely interactive class, so it makes more sense. Plus there is no final.

    I would NEVER take a substantive class without a laptop. I do not synthesize by listening in class. I absolutely transcribe, and I sort it out in my head later.

    Banning laptops wouldn’t stop me from transcribing. It would just give me carpal tunnel.

  2. March 22, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    I would be more sympathetic to the Prof. if it were an undergraduate course. The problems I have with the policy for a graduate/professional course are:

    1. It’s overly paternalistic. If you don’t know how to take notes and study *by the time you reach law school* it is _not_ her responsibility to teach it.

    2. Along those same lines, some people actually do learn better by transcribing… see transmorgriflaw’s comment above.

    3. Many of us who *do* use laptops aren’t transcribers. In fact, I take very succinct notes (if I do say so myself) and I try to pay attention in class and participate. But I write for shite. I don’t write fast (which means I often can’t get my complete thought written into notes longhand, even if it’s not a ‘transcription’) and frequently I can’t read my own writing 15 minutes later–let alone 4 weeks.

    I sympathize with the Prof. who wants more engaged students–but penalizing those of us who know how to use a laptop as a tool, not as a crutch isn’t the answer. This isn’t high-school; we’re all students in law school by choice and we should be allowed to choose the method in which we take notes. If that method fails, it fails no one but ourselves.

  3. March 22, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    And I touch type… I make *better* eye contact with a laptop than I do with pen/paper. Why not require typing classes?

  4. March 23, 2006 at 1:17 am

    In law school, I was an old-fashioned pen and notebook student. To be honest, it was because I was too poor to afford a laptop that could be easily lugged around. I had what must have been the first laptop built in 1993..a Toshiba Satellite. Weighed about 20 pounds, and I could never have lugged it to class.

    Luckily, I have neat handwriting. My classmates with laptops often borrowed notes from me!

  5. March 23, 2006 at 9:56 am

    I go to school (undergrad currently, so that may have something to do with this…) where we are all pretty much too “poor” to afford laptops, and if we did own them we would probably not bring it to school due to the high crime rate.

    I tend to write as fast as I can to transcribe notes. So I understand the solace in dictation you’re talking about. But writing by hand is a bitch. Study groups are technically not formed just leaches. I tend to take accurate notes, where as others are lazy and tend to leach off me when exam times comes. I’ve taken to pretending I’m stupid as not to be invited to these groups any longer.

    However, I agree, it’s important for a professor to establish where they stand on laptop use before the semester starts.

  6. Skeptical
    March 23, 2006 at 10:04 am

    I like my laptop for taking notes because I can type faster than I can write too, but I think the real reason the students are so up in arms if the loss of wireless internet, is it possible to survive law school without it?

  7. March 23, 2006 at 11:48 am

    I do use the network in class (I frequently pull up cases from the notes in Lexis) but I could *definitely* live without it. If the professor didn’t allow network access, an inconvenience, sure… but not the full-on disaster that not being able to type would be.

  8. March 23, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    I’m not generally a transcriber, but I do think that when I don’t understand something in class, I tend to take it down verbatim and try to figure it out later on my own. Without a laptop, though, I might be more inclined to ask questions. Furthermore, I am much less likely to ask a question in class if I think I can figure it out on my own or look it up online. And while I might get the answer to my question that way, asking it aloud might have led to a deeper class discussion.

    Again, I do not think a no-laptop policy would be a good idea for a 1L class. I’m not even sure it would be good for a large upper level class. But in a small seminar, with a really interesting topic and a terrific professor, I think it could work–but only if everyone in the class was OK with putting their laptops away. I think it would also depend on whether it was an exam class or a paper class. With an exam, I think students need to have a broader grasp of the material, so a laptop ban might indeed penalize. In a paper class, though, the grade is based less on that broad knowledge and more on the application of theory and analysis.

    So there you have my ideal non-laptop class: a small seminar with a handpicked professor on a very interesting topic, grade determined by a paper.

  1. March 23, 2006 at 8:41 am
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