Professor Stuart Green of Rutgers School of Law.
Fed up with distracted students and plodding classroom discussions, Rutgers Law School professor Stuart Green has launched an outright ban on laptops in his courses.
Green, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday, cited research showing that multitasking students retain less information and that students who take notes by hand in general perform better.
Law students are not immune. A 2013 study in which observers sat in the rear of law classes found that among the second- and third-year law students equipped with laptops, 87 percent used the devices for nonacademic purposes for more than five minutes per class and 58 percent were distracted by their computer screens at least half the time.
We caught up with Green to ask why he decided to join the small but growing ranks of law professors who have banished laptops, and how he thinks students will react. His answers have been edited for length.
I’m amazed by some of the things students have done in class. Streaming a hockey game or watching YouTube videos seems like a waste considering how much it costs to go to law school.
I think it’s a cultural epidemic, that most of us are overly connected to our devices. It’s very seductive. I don’t think it’s all students who are doing this. The examples I gave are some of the most extreme. More common is people who are just texting during class.
How long have you been contemplating a laptop ban?
I’ve been thinking about it a few years. A couple of my colleagues have already done this. A year or so ago somebody sent around a couple of these studies that have been done on the effects of multitasking in class, and student attention. I’d read a couple of those and had been thinking about it, but I didn’t decide to do it until this summer.
How do you think your students will react when you tell them they can’t use their laptops in class?
I think they will resist at first, or they’ll protest. I think there will be some pain at the beginning. Because I think being connected electronically almost has an addictive quality to it. But from what I can tell from others who have done this, the students will adjust. They may actually find it to their benefit.
What do you hope comes out of the change?
I hope class discussion will be even more lively, and that my students will have a better learning experience.
Do you think taking notes by hand will require an adjustment period?
Certainly taking notes by hand is something none of us who use our computers a lot are used to. My own handwriting has certainly degenerated since I was younger. There may be some hand cramps. But from all these studies I’ve read and the anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard, most people find this to be beneficial. I’ve got a lot of emails from around the country today, many from other professors and lecturers who have done it—as well as from students—who said it was a good change.
What about people who say that law students are adults and should be able to decide how to spend their class time?
That’s the issue that has held me back as long as it has—the idea that they’re adults and should be able to make up their own minds. But I think it has gotten to be a critical enough problem. In the end, I’m the teacher and it’s OK for me to be paternalistic. That’s what teachers do. They know better than their students sometimes. In this one, I’m willing to make a judgment that I know better. Maybe I’m wrong, but we’ll see.
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