September 04, 2008
Finally, My First Week of Class
Posted by Lisa Fairfax

Finally, this is my first week back--apparently a bit behind some other schools.  But given the discussions about the classroom environment in general and lap-top use in particular, I thought I would ask some students here about their reactions to these issues.  Here are some of their observations:

  1. When schools do not have a particular policy about lap-top use, Professors end up sending mixed messages to students about the impact of that use on classroom discussion and behavior as some Professors adopt a strict policy against such use and others welcome and even encourage such use.  Of course, Professors' teaching styles differ, and hence this dichotomy with respect to lap-top use may be no different.  Nevertheless, students expressed frustration with the competing views and policies on this issue.
  2. A good number of students actually appear to find it very distracting to have their fellow students using their lap-tops to do things like play cards or surf the net during class room discussions, particularly when such students are called on and either can't engage in classroom discussion or take considerable time scrolling through their lap-top trying to pick up the thread of conversation.  This appears to confirm the supposition of those who believe that having lap-tops in the classroom detracts from the entire classroom environment.
  3. Having said that, most students seemed to oppose a strict ban on lap-top use, either on the theory that students should have the freedom to make their own choices about lap-top use or on the theory that, to the extent a lap-top ban is aimed at preventing student inattention, such inattention could occur even if a student did not have a lap-top, but was instead, for example, doodling on the page or simply day-dreaming.
  4. One of the more interesting comments was one students' suggestion that law schools may actually reward inattention (and hence potentially penalize those who pay attention), because of the single exam at the end of semester, which increases the possiblity that if students tunes out until the end of the semester, they can nevertheless do well or better than those students who paid attention or actively participated in class either because of a good outline or because the inattentive student happens to be a good test taker.  To be sure, there may be ways to ameliorate this possibility (and it could be that it is overstated), but this seemed to be a real concern for some students.

Ultimately, while we certainly did not generate any resolutions on the topic, students seemed pleased that Professors were actively trying to think through these issues and their impact on the classroom enviornment.  And that was at least a good way to start the semester.

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