To the chagrin of some law professors, the clickety-click of laptops in the classroom may be here to stay.
So suggests a national study released today by Indiana University that found that law school students who used their laptops in class were highly engaged in classroom activities. The study of more than 29,000 students at 85 law schools found that students who frequently used their laptops to take notes, review ideas from past lectures or read a self-prepared case brief were more likely to come to class prepared, contribute to class discussions and synthesize material across courses. They were also more likely to work hard to meet faculty expectations.
“It was reassuring to know that all students are not spending their time texting colleagues. In fact, they’re using the technology to advance their own learning,” said George Kuh, an Indiana University professor and director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE).
Kuh said that, hopefully, the study will help dispel fears and concerns about laptops being a distraction in the classroom, particularly among law school professors who are skeptical about the benefits of laptops in the classroom.
“We know it can be done. We know it is done,” Kuh said of laptop use in the classroom. “And so we need to be more sensitive to their uses as opposed to outlawing the technology.”
That’s what some law professors at Chicago-Kent College of Law are trying to do — ban laptops from the classroom.
“Their argument is the students are prone to distraction, that they might sit there and do e-mail. I’ve never understood that opinion,” said Richard J. Gonzalez, an employment law professor at Chicago-Kent who supports students using laptops in class. “To me, our job as the professors is to hold their interest. If they’re bored enough that they’re doing other things, that’s kind of [the professor's] fault.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, said he wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. He said most of his students bring laptops to class, and he doesn’t mind a bit. “I think it lets them take better notes quicker. If they want to look up a case, they can look it up right on the spot,” Gonzalez said. “It’s an enhancer.”
The laptop findings were one small part of the annual survey, which gives law schools an idea of how well students are learning, along with what students put into and get out of their law school experience. Other key findings from the 2008 report are the following:
• Students pointed to clinics and professional responsibility courses as the most effective settings for learning legal ethics.
• More than one-third of all law students wanted more opportunities to do practice-based legal writing during law school.
• Students who entered law school immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree spent less time studying and more time socializing than other students.
• Students who reported higher law school grades also spent more time participating in co-curricular activities.
• Third-year students devoted less time to their studies but were more involved than other law students in such co-curricular activities as law journal, internships, pro bono work and research projects.
• Third-year students at smaller law schools and private law schools with religious affiliations were more likely to say that their law school experience contributed substantially to acting with integrity, strengthening their commitment to serving the public good, and to working effectively with future clients.
The LSSSE 2008 Report is cosponsored by the Association of American Law Schools and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The LSSSE 2008 Report, Student Engagement in Law Schools: Preparing 21st Century Lawyers, may be obtained for $10 from the LSSSE Web site.