A new article from Temple University law professor Kristen Murray seeks to take the laptop debate out of the realm of anecdote and baseless hypotheses by actually asking students how they use laptops and analyzing the responses.
In "Let Them Use Laptops: Debunking the Assumptions Underlying the Debate Over Laptops in the Classroom," Murray concludes that laptops generally should stay, and that professors can find better alternatives to an outright ban. She also discusses several beliefs about laptop usage which she calls myths:
1. Students Use Laptops to Take Transcript-Style Notes
2. Laptops in Class Lead to Decreased Class Participation and Engagement
3. Laptops Primarily Provide Law Students with Opportunities for Distraction
4. Because They Are Digital Natives, Law Students Make Informed Choices About Laptops and Learning
5. Law Professors Have Developed Sufficient Standards for Measuring the Results of Law School Laptop Bans
Regarding Myth #3, Murray points to the professor as the bigger cause of student distraction:
Students reported the effect of their interest in the class as follows: 16.8% engage in non-class-relatedlaptop use “the same amount in every class”; 41.9% “engage in them less in a class [they] find generally more interesting”; 28.7% “engage in them less when the specific [topic of] discussion is more interesting” to them; and 7.8% cite other factors (such as how interesting the professor is).
This looks pretty intuitive. It's not like students haven't always found plenty of other ways to distract themselves without laptops. Doodling, passing notes, sudoku, knitting, sleeping. Students aren't checking their e-mail in class because their e-mail is so interesting, it's because the professor is so boring.
[SSRN gavel wave Prawf's Blawg]