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August 11, 2013


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Law profs who are still in the mid-20th century will ban laptops and go so far as to give the students the prof's notes to compensate! Students cheat on this rule anyway, so it is pointless.
Taking notes on the laptop isn't the issue: it is the ability to chat online, shop, etc., during class.
With this generation glued to a little screen at every moment (see, recent survey on HP about how many keep their phones on and nearby during sex) why hasn't the law academy agreed that turning the net off during class is essential? Let the students keep the devices, just turn off the internet/phone access.
Turn off internet in the classroom unless it is necessary to the class presentation!

Bob Strassfeld


When members of my faculty raised this, we were told that the University (which was then selling how thoroughly wireless we were, having ten-years earlier after spending a fortune of cable called ourselves the "most wired" university) would not permit it. Law profs, both those who are stuck in the mid-20th century and those who are as tech savvy as anyone, do not necessary call the tune.

Bob Strassfeld


The laptop ban is a blunt solution, right? Yet, I can name some very prominent profs who have adopted it.
When I raised this issue, an optional laptop ban was the solution recommended by many. The reason: Just as you say, given the boasting about the "wireless" that last thing the University (and many profs) wanted was to block it ... (and this was in the main a misunderstanding of the "zone" nature of the wireless network, allowing selective blocking).
That is the reason I referred to the last century. There just wasn't a deep level of understanding.
Wireless repeaters to bring signal into the classroom are no longer really necessary with smart phones and tethered devices, in any event.
So, it is time to revisit blocking net access in the classrooms. Unless it is needed for instruction, it is asking the classroom to compete with the universe on the net, the ability to pass notes in class without detection, etc.
Alternatively, there should be a camera facing the students laptop screens visible to the professor at all time. That would be a wake-up call, I think, especially in lecture halls.
Classes exclusively on the net are entirely another matter, of course.

Bob Strassfeld


I agree that it is a blunt solution, one, incidentally, that I once tried to impose and got considerable blowback. Individual faculty, however, are left with few tools that aren't blunt instruments. I confess to a fairly unsophisticated understanding of what we might or might not be able to do to selectively block. There are times when internet access is pedagogically useful. Moreover, as I think you are suggesting, however successful we might be at turning off the university network in our classrooms, I assume that verizon, ATT, et. al. would still reach into those rooms.

I'm not sure if you are joking about cameras. I suppose I am enough of the last century, that I would be horrified at that level of surveillance of our students. Further, in my experience they do not shame easily. Last semester I sat in on a colleague's course. I took up a seat in the back of the room. My colleague would from time to time call on me for my opinion, so students knew who I was. Nevertheless, they did the whole array of internet activity short of visiting porn sights.

Bob Strassfeld


The porn issue is a reality! I have heard about classrooms where "a hostile environment" has been claimed because of the porn viewing (a violation of some student code, I suppose).
When, therefore, will the issue of net access in the classroom be addressed?
Blocking cell phone access is possible, though, once again, an investment. Once installed, a switch could be turned on or off, as the prof wishes, and the whole situation would change, though not without complaints, for sure.
As for the surveillence, yes, I was sort of jesting. But not completely. The problem of cell phone cameras/videos has not yet erupted fully in law schools, but it will at some point. Turning cameras on in the back of the classroom would be, at some level, fair play, but I would prefer another solution.
You are surely right that there isn't a deep sense of obligation in the newer classes. Indeed, as the original post suggests, there is a growing sense of consumerism and "the customer is always right." That isn't the future; that is now.

Mitch Winick

Another approach would be to make the classroom experience so interesting and engaging that the students would actually prefer to be involved rather than tuned out. It would require teaching rather than lecturing and learning how to integrate the technology rather than hiding from it.


"Another approach would be to make the classroom experience so interesting and engaging that the students would actually prefer to be involved rather than tuned out. It would require teaching rather than lecturing and learning how to integrate the technology rather than hiding from it."

I had several professors that commanded the rapt attention of the room, despite the presence of laptops. There was no single teaching style or classroom approach- but inevitably it deviated from the make the students read back the casebook approach of the doctrinal 1L classes.


When you teach 100 students in a lecture hall, we can be sure that not one is browsing, chatting or otherwise using the net for purposes other than the class?
What have we learned? Lecturing is not teaching, and turning off INTERNET access when not germane to use in the class is "hiding from technology."


Another approach would be to make the classroom experience so interesting and engaging that the students would actually prefer to be involved rather than tuned out. It would require teaching rather than lecturing and learning how to integrate the technology rather than hiding from it."

That would work some times, but not always. The fact is that learning is not always super fun. Student attitudes matter. There is a lot of tedium involved, as is often the case in practice. Of course professors/teachers should do all they can to engage students. But competing against all the information/entertainment/porn in the world is going to be tough. Actually, the most "interesting and engaging" professors were not always my best teachers or, I should say, the ones who imparted knowledge that lasted beyond the classes I took with them. My view of who were my best teachers has changed over time.

It appears that no discipline has a real handle on pedagogy. All have outstanding teachers, but the question of how to cultivate them has been raised across the board.


I wonder how much of law students not paying attention in class is due to the model of having the final exam as the only grade for the class.

I had two undergrad professors who regularly gave very short pop quizzes. They'd be five questions, short answer, and ridiculously easy if you'd done the readings -- something equivalent to "The definition of what animal was in dispute?"

Guarantees student engagement? Nope. But it does guarantee that students are going to do the assigned readings every day, and that seems like a prerequisite to getting students engaged.

I'd also be interested to see if anyone's done a study on student engagement as it relates to age and number of years between undergrad and law school. I suspect that people who have been out in the work force for a few years will be more engaged than those who are in their 17th+ consecutive year of education.


I think there have been studies that point to the benefits of frequent assessments or testing. This is one of the many areas where technology can play a positive role.


Well, by the time students get to graduate school they should be mature and capable enough to decide for themselves their level of participation. Presumably, the difference between students that did and did not pay attention in class and keep up with the material would be reflected in the final exam.

If this is not true, and if keeping up with the material and paying attention in class does not provide an advantage on law school finals, then one of two things seems to be true:

1) Law school finals don't provide a reliable assessment of students' knowledge of the material.

2) Law school finals do provide a reliable assessment of students' knowledge of the material, but law school classes don't effectively teach the material, at least for a significant number of students.


It is possible to learn a great deal in a class, and not do a bang up job on the final. That is not just true about law school.

Ray Campbell

It is possible to learn a great deal in a class, but not to learn it from the classroom proceedings. I think sometimes we professors overweight how much we 'teach' the material and underweight how much students 'learn' the material, with the professor in class being just one resource along side the casebook, Wikipedia, commercial outlines, student created outlines, and peer discussions.


Yes, that is possible. People learn in myriad ways. The Oxford system favors tutorials. Many people thrive in that environment. Others might do better in a classroom setting. It could depend up the particular subject. Some professors might "overweight' how much we 'teach"..." But not all. Not, in my experience, do even most do that. But, of course, you could have different experiences.

Bob Strassfeld


I would take offense at your cheap shot, but you don't know me and have never seen me teach. I will also say that my observations of web surfing have not been in my class since I don't know what is on my students' screens (although when they are staring at their screens and laugh without apparent prompting from anything said in class, I assume they are at best "multitasking"). My observation of students shopping, watching sports videos, catching up with email, etc., has been in other people's classes, some of them average teachers, others truly inspired (and none simply lectured, though I have learned a lot from great lectures). Obviously effective teaching will reduce but not eliminate our students' distraction. The problem of student distraction is not unique to law schools. We recently had a faculty candidate who spent much of his interview time texting away on his cell phone. Perhaps he was telling his friends, "This interview is going great." It wasn't.

I do feel bad about diverting Jackie's posting from the topics she raises of the consequences of rampant consumerism and the brave new world of online legal education.

Jacqueline Lipton

Well, Bob, at least someone realized what my intention was in the original post. I suppose I was a little obscure! But it's interesting to see the concerns people raise when one mentions digital tech in the classroom. I thought the battle over Internet access was over, but apparently not.

Learned Hand

Do professors ever take attendance in class? I know the ABA requires some minimum attendance, but I've really never seen professors take any type of attendance. So for some classes where the professor has taught the same subject matter before, students usually just get an old outline and ride that to glory.

Also, the casebook method and the socratic method can be brutal and I think a lot of students welcome having the internet. For example, if a professor engages a student with a bunch of hypos and it takes 15-20 minutes, most students will just wait for the punchline (if there is a punchline (e.g. blowing smoke in someone's face is battery). It's also like when professors assign reading a bunch of cases and when most student just go online to get the case brief.


When I was touring law schools before making my enrollment decision, one of the clearest memories is hearing everyone in a 100+ person lecture hall typing at the same time. The professor had just finished a remark and no one was talking for a moment, and with all the keyboards going at once it sounded like it was raining.

I'm now in an MFA program, and no one brings computers to class unless the professor specifically requests them for an in-class assignment. In fact, I think it would be considered highly rude to bring one. No one gets out their cell phones or tablets either. The emphasis is on participation in the discussion and understanding the ideas, not on taking notes to be studied 2-3 months in the future in preparation for an exam.

Student engagement is in part structural, and in part cultural. If students expect only 3-5% of the class to be called on any given day and the topic to be a bit of law that was already arcane 100 years ago (if the professor even gets to the assigned readings), you're not going to get much engagement. On the other hand, if students regularly have something to do other than read and put off outlining, they'll probably pay more attention in class.

Also, I think anon @5:56 probably overestimates the level of maturity (and self-discipline) possessed by the average 22 year old.

Finally, to Jacqueline, that's not the future of education. It's here now, it's called BarBri, and while many of the lectures are considered a joke, there's very little laughter.


BL1Y -- I am not sure if the fact that people in an MFA program, who are studying, say, dance, take fewer notes in class than people in law school has much relevance to this discussion. Someone participating in a trial will take a lot more notes abut what is going on at the trial than someone particpating in a dance performance will take about what is happening in the dance.

And of course, people have learned to dance and dance well and make a lot of money at it without getting an MFA degree at all.

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