As reported on AbovetheLaw.com, professors are increasingly likely to ban laptops in their classes, and some schools even have their lectures halls set up to block wifi signals.
Professors have a laundry list of reasons for the policies, but two always top the charts: (1) students tend to transcribe the lecture instead of think about it, and (2) students goofing off tend to distract other students. These are both pretty lame reasons.
Transcribing v. Thinking
Yes, many students do tend to get into a transcription-trance during class. But, we’re perfectly capable of reading over our notes later and thinking through issues then. Most classes stay on big topics for days or even weeks, so it’s okay for a student to have an interesting idea a class later. Hell, they’ll probably realize it wasn’t that interesting and decide not to waste time with it, whereas if they weren’t transcribing the lecture they’d have more dumb thoughts pop into their head to inspire them to raise their hands and annoy everyone else.
And, while I can go back and think about your class afterward, what I can’t do is go back and hear your class verbatim.
If you want students to do more thinking and less transcribing, then don’t simply lecture, engage us.
This has a much easier fix than banning laptops. Simply say at the beginning of the semester that the first two rows are reserved for people who think they might be distracted by what’s happening on their neighbor’s laptops and declare those rows a strictly no-goofing off zone. It’s not just laptops that can be distracting, so a professor worried about distractions should ban distractions, not just laptops. I find the girl who spends all class knitting far more distracting than the one sitting next to her doing online shopping or playing on Facebook.
What it really comes down to though is that professors tend to just be boring and their lectures often add little of interest. We’ve already read the cases, the comments in the books, and the study guide written by our professor. Most of us are only in class because the ABA set an attendance requirement for your credits to count (and some professors really will threaten to withhold your credit for missing class).
In undergrad I had one professor (for several classes) who had one simple rule for attendence: if you don’t come to class, you will fail. He never kept attendence though. Never checked to see who was there and who wasn’t. The lectures and class discussions were just so incredibly useful than come exam time, if you hadn’t been in class all semester, you’d be screwed. And he tought philosophy of law classes, so I think it could work in actual law classes pretty well.
Or, as one of Mystal’s professors told his class, “If you are more entertained sitting at home after you’ve already paid to attend my class, the fault lies with me.” Professors aren’t concerned with students transcribing or distracting others, what they’re concerned with is competition. Even after spending twenty or thirty or even forty thousand dollars a year on classes, we often still don’t care and it’s a blow to their egos. If you want us to pay attention, be more interesting, instead of banning the competition. It’s not my fault that your anecdote about vodka sauce or the Backstreet Boys just isn’t as entertaining as surfing pro-anorexia (thinspiration) websites: