ABA Commission on Future of the Profession & ABA Vote on Bar Passage Proposal

During the midyear meeting of the the American Bar Association  (ABA) held last week in Miami, several issues were considered which relate to legal education.  I will discuss two of those issues here: the creation of the Commission on the Future of Legal Education and the proposed changes to accreditation standards concerning bar passage requirements.

First, the ABA Board of Governors created a new ABA “Commission on the Future of Legal Education”, which will become operational in August.  Championed by incoming president, Hilarie Bass, the creation of the Commission was just one component of a proposal  to restructure the power and responsibilities afforded the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar . President-elect Bass believes that the ABA’s “lack of response to the constant barrage of grievances about our system of legal education is undoubtedly impacting membership and also preventing top students from entering law school.” Bass cites “low bar passage rates, excessive law student debt, the depressed job market for new lawyers and the lack of value that employers place on the capabilities of recent law graduates” as reasons to restructure.  Although the Board of Governors voted to create the commission, it did not “sign off on the extensive slate of responsibilities that the commission would have under the original proposal from ABA president-elect Hilarie Bass.

Earlier this month, Karen Sloan’s February 1st article in the National Law Journal helpfully outlined the arguments for and against the Bass proposal, including suggestions that the proposal was made too precipitously.  Sloan also notes those who  applauded the need for reform quoting SALT co-president Denise Roy about the need for reform in legal education and bar licensing,

Ms. Bass’s proposal promises to do just that, and SALT supports the effort. Of course, its success will depend on naming a commission whose members are high­quality creative experts who will consider a wide range of views from both within and outside the academy.”

Clinical Legal Education Association co-presidents Beth Schwartz and C.Benjie Louis agreed that there are challenges with the current structure and are also quoted in the February 1st article:

The Council has often ignored the comments of members of the law school community when considering changes in ABA accreditation standards.  The Council also has failed to provide leadership or a forum for discussing the challenges and opportunities of legal education and bar licensing.”

This past Tuesday, those of us who are members of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, received an e-mail from the Chair Greg Murphy reporting  that

“the ABA Board of Governors passed a motion last week authorizing the creation of a new ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education, which will become operational in August. The Board did not address President-Elect Bass’s proposal to change the name of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the functions of the Section, or the funding of the Commission on the Future of Legal Education. I have invited President-Elect Bass to come to the Council’s March meeting where these matters will be the subject of collaborative discussion. The members of the Section and other stakeholders will be kept advised, as appropriate.”

So, stay tuned!

The second issue important to legal education concerned the ABA House of Delegates vote on proposed revisions to Standard 316 concerning bar passage.  The revisions would eliminate the old more nuanced standard and replace it with the following ultimatum:

Standard 316. BAR PASSAGE At least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar examination administered within two years of their date of graduation.

Proponents and opponents of this proposed revision make good points. For example, consider Law School Transparency’s view that the present toothless standard (no school has ever been found to be out of compliance with 316) has permitted many schools to exploit students by enrolling some with LSAT numbers that predict failure. Equally persuasive are the views of those, such as the National Black Law Students Association  and SALT who oppose the revision on grounds that the proposal failed to address racial inequities in the law school admissions process and legal education.  In the ABA law Journal, Stephanie Francis Ward described data submitted for the initial hearing in March of 2016 by William Patton, a professor emeritus at Whittier Law School, which found that 33.4 percent of black students in California and 29.8 percent of the state’s Hispanic law students attend the five ABA-accredited law schools that would be most at risk of violating the proposed revision.

Meanwhile, CLEA called its nationwide membership  to action to oppose the proposed revision by  contacting their individual state delegates to the House.  CLEA’s formal statement in opposition acknowledges the ABA’s responsibility to discourage predatory practices but also emphasizes the need for more understanding of the diversity consequences.  The CLEA and SALT  opposition also makes crucial points about the danger of our using the current bar exam as the gatekeeper for the profession. As the SALT comment notes, “we continue to have fundamental concerns about the limitations of the current system of licensing lawyers through the bar exam and the unfortunate ways in which Standard 316 affects law school admissions and pedagogy.

In my opinion, the bright-line test which the proposed revision creates would upend the balance of legal education in a harmful way. First, there should be a deeper exploration of the consequences to the diversity of law schools and  our profession before revising. This should be done in conjunction with those committed  to remedying the embarrassing  fact that our profession is so much whiter than other professions.   Our profession is almost 90% white and has decreased in diversity between  2000 and 2010 according to ABA lawyer demographics.  Second, this proposal is likely to be  harmful to the interest of current and prospective students in proper preparation for  current practice in the 21st century economy.  One glimpse at the detailed survey work of the Foundations for Practice project demonstrates the plethora of skills which legal employers in this economy desire and which the bar exam does not even begin to test.  Third, imposition of this standard now will likely harm future students and the development of innovation in law schools for those students.  This is a time when all of us entrusted with the professional development of lawyers need to be thinking strategically about what lawyers will be doing 10 to 40  years from now. We have to be concerned about what a  future in a reduced labor economy – with artificial intelligence infused throughout it – means for the role of lawyers and the development of law students.  Finally,  making a bright-line test for only one factor – bar passage rate – and not for employment rate, skills and clinical opportunities, or other significant indicators, will reify a bar licensing process that is deeply flawed.  

In short, I agree with the ABA House vote to send the proposal back to the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar for more pondering.  There must be a better way to discourage predatory behaviors by certain law schools without potentially destroying much that is good and promising in legal education.

AALS Statement on Executive Order Restricting Entry to U.S.A.

Statement by the AALS Executive Committee on the Executive Order

Restricting U.S. Entry for Certain Foreign Nationals

Washington, D.C. (January 30, 2017) – The following is a statement by the members of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Executive Committee:

Law schools and universities in the United States are greatly enriched by the presence of international students and scholars from around the world. The Association of American Law Schools is thus deeply concerned by the Executive Order issued by President Donald Trump that restricts the ability of students and scholars who lawfully have the right to come to the United States from being able to enter or remain in our country. The Executive Order is inconsistent with our nation’s tradition of welcoming talented individuals from all nations to study and teach in the United States.

We commend the lawyers, including a number of law faculty, law students, and courts, who responded immediately to represent these individuals and to uphold the rule of law. The AALS urges the Trump administration to withdraw this Executive Order as inconsistent with freedom of inquiry and with basic principles of law.

 

I applaud the AALS for issuing this statement today. As a professional association, its first obligation is to the students and scholars affected by  the order as well as to the effect on learning in law schools and universities generally.

 

What is a “Fact”? A “Story”?

In Washington D.C., on the GWU campus, there is a statue of a hippopotamus. A nearby sign explains that the statue was placed there because hippos once could be found in the Potomac. George and Martha Washington liked watching them from their Mount Vernon porch. They were also a favorite of children visiting the estate. George Washington even had a false set of teeth made of hippopotamus ivory.

As you have likely guessed, that sign offers readers what we might call mendacities, misrepresentations, falsehoods, alternative facts, untruths, lies, or bulls**t. To end any suspense, there really is a statue, the sign really does say most of these things, and George Washington really did have a false set of teeth made of hippo ivory. But the Washingtons never saw hippos frolicking in the Potomac and no one would have children anywhere near the Potomac if there were. To see hippopotami in the Potomac, someone would have had travel to Sub-Saharan Africa, capture a pod of hippos (they are social creatures) without being attacked (they are very dangerous, killing 3,000 people each year), carry them across land to seafaring boats, make the trek across the Atlantic, and then to the Potomac—all while keeping the animals’ skin moist at all times. The hippos might freeze in the winter if not recaptured and quartered somewhere warmer. Hippos are also very large, weighing in at 1.5 tons or more.

Nevertheless, these facts and falsehoods hang together as a story. When did you begin to question that story? When you began to question, did you then question the entirety of the facts or were you willing to believe any of the information as fact? As lawyers, you know that stories are composed of facts, but if asked for a definition of a fact or of a story, can you provide one?

More importantly, we want the next generation of lawyers to fully appreciate the answers to those questions. With the decentralization of information, I find that I need to be more deliberate in my approach to teaching different categories of facts: actual facts such as the sun rising in the east on our planet; verifiable facts, such as the natural habitat of hippopotami; and debatable facts, such as whether this sentence should have used “whether or not” instead of “whether.” I also spend a significant amount of time distinguishing facts from characterizations, which are essentially the opinions or judgments of the writer. Someone’s “lovely summer-preview week in April” is someone else’s “torturous week in April” if that second someone suffers from summer Seasonal Affect Disorder. And, now, sadly, I am spending more time teaching the difference between facts and misrepresentations or falsehoods, such as a statement that this blog post focuses primarily on hippopotami (a misrepresentation) or on cat memes (a falsehood).

For several years, I have also spent several class hours on the importance of story structure as the delivery vehicle for facts and story strategy as a driving force in persuasion. A story involves characters, a setting, and hurdles or challenges that a particular character or characters must overcome to reach a desired goal. Implicit in that definition is the passage of time, i.e. a beginning, middle, and end. It is easy to see how legal matters exist as stories. The nub is in the teaching of the re-telling, from the client’s perspective, using description and detail—that is, facts—rather than characterizations.

Facts must be presented as a narrative rather than as a list if the author wants the audience to interact with those facts and remember them. Facts by themselves don’t persuade. Stories persuade. That’s not my opinion, but has been demonstrated by science across a variety of fields. We think, act, make decisions in story. As those of us studying and writing on applied legal storytelling know, former Oceanographer at the Department of Energy, Kendall Haven has published books to help professionals digest the vast amount of science out there. For yourself, take the simple but germinal test in the study conducted in 1944 by Drs, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel. Look at the video and see if you can answer a few of the questions. If you can, you have demonstrated that you think in story. To demonstrate this to my students, before showing the video I divide the class in thirds and assign each group a client to represent. After showing the video twice I ask each group to tell a story from that client’s perspective.

Contrary to what we may call our lawyer’s sense of justice when the verifiable facts disprove falsehoods, citing just the facts by themselves may actually backfire–here’s a great Harvard Business Review article with links to the original studies that will help explain why. In law, there are several studies of jurors that demonstrate the power of story, but only a handful of studies testing legal audiences. In a 2010 article Ken Chestek wrote about a study that used carefully constructed briefs to study the preferences of judges, court staff attorneys, newer attorneys serving as law clerks, appellate attorneys, and law professors. From the data, he concluded that stories are more persuasive to decision makers than syllogistic reasoning by itself. Attorneys and judges with more than five years of practice overwhelmingly chose a storied version of an advocacy document over a straight-up law/application version. Only the attorneys newly out of law school deviated from this pattern—begging the question, are we doing something in law school that skews this number so much from what judges and seasoned attorneys believe to be effective lawyering?

Assuming you are on board that our students should graduate knowing what facts are and knowing that representing clients means being able to appreciate and tell their clients’ stories, the last question to answer is the curricular locale for teaching these things. Historically, the clinic and externship programs at law schools have been celebrated for focusing students on facts and narrative in a capstone experience. I am a true believer that those programs will continue to be the locales in which students will most strongly make the connections between legal and narrative reasoning. But we do students a stronger service if they enter the capstone experiences with a strong foundation. The casebook authors can include more story so that teaching professors can reinforce the ideas of facts and narrative. The skills professors of the trial advocacy and practicum courses include some training, but the first and heavy lift most appropriately belongs in the required first-year legal research, analysis & communication course series. Gone are the days when we can teach those courses by indulging in the pedagogy of a legal document’s traditional text-based sections or on a singular paradigm for organizing legal reasoning. In 2017 we must focus on making students client-ready. Written and verbal communication in law occurs in a variety of mediums, to a variety of audiences, and in a variety of different rhetorical situations. The connecting universals across law and legal communications will always include law, facts, and story.

*Thank you to Courtney Knight, Class of 2017, Rutgers Law School, for the story idea.

A Cool Course Assignment and A Scholarship Opportunity

This post suggests that you might want to assign your students to interview a lawyer about an actual case and it provides some materials you could adapt if you are interested.  I realize that it is probably too late for you to incorporate this into your courses this semester, but you might want to do so in the future.

This idea grew out of a symposium I organized at the University of Missouri Law School about improving negotiation theory.  Two of the speakers, David Matz and Adrian Borbély, wrote an article arguing that too little negotiation theory is based on detailed analyses of actual negotiations.  I wrote a short essay agreeing with them and suggesting, among other things, that academics interview negotiators to collect and analyze detailed accounts.  Then it occurred to me that law students could do this as a course assignments.  I am particularly interested in research about negotiation, though you could use the same process to do interviews about virtually any aspect of legal practice.

Although this assignment might seem particularly appropriate for courses focusing on practical skills, it could be valuable in one focusing more on legal doctrine.  As an illustration, Stewart Macaulay’s classic article, Non-Contractual Relations in Business: A Preliminary Study, was based on his interviews with automobile executives who helped him understand how real-world business often deviated from what Macaulay taught in his contracts class.

You could require each student to interview a lawyer for up to an hour about a recent negotiation.  You could set the parameters of the assignment in terms of the types of cases, questions to ask lawyers, and content of the summaries.  These assignments could be fairly short papers that count for a small portion of a grade or longer papers that count for more.  Indeed, if you want to make this a bigger part of students’ learning, you could require students to do several interviews.

This assignment would have several benefits.  First, it would give students experience learning about actual cases that lawyers have handled, advancing the goal of preparing students for real-world practice.  Second, students would get a chance to practice interviewing, a difficult and critically-important generic skill.  Lawyers regularly interview people about sensitive matters and must develop rapport to get the candid information they need.  Third, it would give students a chance to practice protecting confidentiality.  Students would need to assure the lawyers they interview that they would not disclose certain matters, and then students would convey key information in their assignments while avoiding disclosure of unauthorized information.

Using Student Interviews for Your Research

Although most faculty would do this purely as a course assignment, you might want to use these papers as the basis for your own scholarship.  Many law faculty are curious about how people act in real-life legal situations, as distinct from principles from black letter law, theoretical analyses, anecdotes, “common sense,” etc.  They are tempted to do some empirical research, which they often assume requires surveys with large samples.  Not so.

As explained in my post, What Me – A Social Scientist?, this is a common misconception.  Moreover, doing good survey research is much, much harder than most novices realize – and is likely to produce less useful data than they expect.  The good news is that you can do very valuable research involving relatively small samples of semi-structured interviews like the ones described above.

If you assign students to conduct these interviews solely as a class assignment, presumably you would not need to get this approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at your school because it would not be considered as research.  Of course, if you do plan to use these papers for your research, you would need IRB approval.  If in doubt, check with your IRB.

I described these ideas in more detail in a post on the Indisputably blog.  In a later post, I provided documents you could adapt for this assignment.  These documents include the assignment itself, guidance for students in conducting and writing up interviews, and model solicitation letters and should be useful in getting IRB approval.  Although you shouldn’t need IRB approval if this is purely a course assignment, these documents are useful in any case because they reflect good, ethical research practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO JEFF SESSIONS RESULTS IN AN OPEN RECORDS REQUEST

Along with 1,400 other law professors, I signed a letter opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States. As a law professor, I signed this letter because of my concerns about maintaining the integrity of the legal system.

Shortly after the law professors’ letter was published, my university counsel’s office got an Open Records Act request seeking my emails.

The request, from a reporter working for a conservative political publication, sought: “a copy of each email (inbound, outbound, deleted, or double deleted) for the university email accounts of Andrea A. Curcio and [a colleague who also signed the letter] from the dates of December 15, 2016, to and including January 3, 2017, which includes any of the keywords “Sessions,” or “Jeff Sessions” or “Attorney General.””

A similar request was sent to university counsel for law professor signatories working at other public institutions.

Open records requests are a key to governmental transparency. Being personally subjected to one is unnerving.

How do you avoid such a request if you work at a public law school? You stay silent. Non-involvement with anything in the least bit controversial helps protect you from the possibility that anyone will ever ask to see the content of your emails.

I have often asked myself the theoretical question: if I had lived in Nazi Germany, or in the McCarthy era, would I have remained silent or would I have taken the risk and spoken up. That question is no longer theoretical.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day reminds us of the courage of those who stood up for what they believed was right. Today we again have a very visible choice about whether to step off the curb or to let fear silence us.

 

DO LAW SCHOOLS ADEQUATELY PREPARE STUDENTS FOR PRACTICE? SURVEYS SAY . . . NO! – Robert Kuehn, Washington University School of Law

Under ABA Accreditation Standard 301, law schools have two educational objectives: prepare their students “for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.” There has been much concern lately over declining bar passage rates, focusing attention on whether some schools are admitting students who may not be capable of passing the bar exam and whether a school’s program of legal education adequately prepares its graduates for the exam.

In focusing on the bar exam, it’s important not to lose sight of legal education’s primary duty of ensuring that law school prepares students for entry into the legal profession and a successful career. If studies of practicing lawyers and recent law graduates matter, it is clear that law schools are failing, even worse than in preparation for bar admission, to adequately prepare their students for legal practice.

A 2012 study by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) analyzed the job activities of newly-licensed lawyers to determine which knowledge domains and professional skills and abilities are most significant to their job. Acquisition of professional skills and abilities were deemed significantly more important to newly-licensed lawyers than legal knowledge — 25 skills and abilities were deemed more important than the highest rated knowledge domain. The percentages of lawyers using these 25 skills in their work (all rated between 89% to 100%) also were all greater than the percentage using the highest rated knowledge domain (86%). Yet these skills and abilities generally are not developed in traditional doctrinal law classes but in the experiential and first-year legal writing courses that, under the ABA standards, need only account for ten percent of a student’s legal education.

These important skills and abilities are also a small part of the bar exam, which purports to measure competence to begin the practice of law. Although the NCBE study was promoted as the basis for further development of the exam, since the study’s completion the portion of the exam devoted to testing skills remains the same (the 3-hour Multistate Performance Test). The NCBE’s only apparent response to the study’s dramatic finding that professional skills and abilities are what new lawyers need most for competent practice was to add civil procedure (the study’s highest rated knowledge domain) to the Multistate Bar Exam.

A report released this year by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers reinforces the disconnect between legal education’s overwhelming focus on legal knowledge and the competencies new lawyers need. A study of more than 24,000 lawyers in 50 states sought to determine the foundations entry-level lawyers need to launch successful careers in the legal profession. The study found “that characteristics (such as integrity and trustworthiness, conscientiousness, and comment sense), as well as professional competencies (such as listening attentively, speaking and writing, and arriving on time), were far more important in brand new lawyers than legal skills.” Yet, again, only in clinical and first-year legal writing courses are there efforts in the law school curriculum to address the “soft skills” so necessary for the success of new lawyers.

These two studies mirror the findings of decades of earlier studies. In a 1978 study, mid-career lawyers rated the importance of 21 types of legal knowledge and skills in their daily work and the role of their law school training in attaining that knowledge or skill. With the exception of knowledge of statutory law, none of the eight areas of legal knowledge was considered very important for their work. In contrast, six of the methodology and skills areas were deemed of great importance.  When then asked to rate their law schools’ role in developing skills, two-thirds said their school had been “not helpful” or “played no role” in their ability to develop essential practice skills like interviewing, counseling clients, and negotiating; more than 40% said law school failed to train them to draft legal documents or effectively communicate orally.

A later study of Montana lawyers came to similar conclusions. It asked what level of competence a lawyer should have to perform in a professionally competent manner and what level of competence they observed first-year lawyers to have. The results indicated the need for greater emphasis in law school on the development of professional skills and the importance of character traits to a new lawyer’s successful transition to practice. A 1993 study of Chicago and Missouri lawyers found large gaps between the skills lawyers deemed most important to their practice and the attention law school paid to those skills, especially in the areas of oral and written communication, drafting legal documents, problem solving, negotiation, fact finding, counseling, and litigation. The lawyers believed that a majority of these practice skills could be learned in law school, if the focus of legal education were changed. A similar study of Minnesota lawyers found most did not believe they were well prepared immediately following law school on nine of seventeen important practice skills. Like respondents in other studies, those lawyers believed these skills can be effectively taught in law school.

More recent studies have not reflected any improvement in the role of legal education in preparing graduates for practice. The American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study tracks the careers of a sample of lawyers who passed the bar in 2000. It asked lawyers three and seven years of out of school if “law school prepared me well for my legal career.” On this fundamental objective of legal education, law schools failed miserably — 40% of lawyers after three years of practice and 50% after seven years said that law school did not adequately prepare them. Both groups overwhelmingly agreed that law school was too theoretical and unconcerned with real life practice. In another study of early-career lawyers, only 28% believed that law school prepared them to practice law.

Two studies by LexisNexis reinforce this view. In a 2009 survey, 90% of attorneys in private practice and corporate law offices said that law school does not teach the practical skills needed to practice law today. A similar study six years later found that legal education has not improved, contrary to the claims of some legal educators and regulators. In the 2015 survey, 95% of hiring partners and senior associates who supervise new attorneys responded that recently graduated students lack key practical skills at the time of hiring. The lawyers also believe its not a matter that law schools cannot teach these skills but that they simply refuse to do so: “Most attorneys involved with hiring and management of new lawyers agree practical skills can be effectively honed through clinics, internships, clerkships, and experience in actual or simulated application to a case.”

Law students who just graduated realize their need for more practical training — 87% say legal education needs to undergo significant changes to better prepare future attorneys; 97% favor a law school model that incorporates clinical experience. Judges agree. When asked what change would most benefit law schools, judges of all types of court (federal and state, appellate and trial) rated more coursework on practice-oriented skills the highest, far exceeding support for expanding the core curriculum.

Fifty years ago the dean of the University of Chicago School of Law stated that the aim of law school “is not to train lawyers, but to educate men [and women] for becoming lawyers.” If the attitude of the ABA and law school deans has changed since then, it isn’t reflected in the readiness of law school graduates for practice when over 90% of lawyers give legal education a failing grade. So while educators worry about declining grades on the bar exam, isn’t it also time to fix legal education’s longstanding failure to meet its duty to adequately prepare it students “for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession”?

Do You Want to Engage Students More in Class? Consider Prohibiting Laptops.

Pace Law Professor Darren Rosenblum published an op-ed in the New York Times describing his experiences with and without laptops in his classroom.

He wrote, “When I started teaching, I assumed my ‘fun’ class, sexuality and the law, full of contemporary controversy, would prove gripping to the students.  One day, I provoked them with a point against marriage equality, and the response was a slew of laptops staring back.  The screens seemed to block our classroom connection.”

He then described what probably all instructors know these days, that many students are distracted by their online world and don’t pay attention in class.  He reported observing a colleague’s class, where he could see that many students were shopping online or surfing Facebook.  His article cites research consistent with these concerns.

After banning the laptops, he found that, “With constant eye contact, I could see and feel when they understood me, and when they did not.  Energized by the connection, we moved faster, further and deeper into the material.”

I prohibited laptops in my classes and found that students were much more engaged.  Banning laptops also reduced distraction by nearby classmates as well as my own distraction watching student clack away, obviously not related to the class discussion.  When I mentioned my policy at a faculty meeting, several colleagues enthusiastically endorsed this idea based on their own positive experiences.

About 25% of syllabi posted on the Dispute Resolution Resources in Legal Education website either prohibit or restrict use of laptops.

If you prohibit laptops, some students may resist, coming up with all sorts of cockamamie reasons why using laptops really promote their learning.  Although there can be some merit to these pleas, I think we all knew that they mostly wanted the freedom to mentally check out of class without detection.  Fortunately, most students accepted this policy without complaint, especially if it was presented decisively.  Indeed, I think that some students actually were relieved to be protected from this addictive form of distraction.  It probably also helps if a critical mass of colleagues at your school have the same policy so that it doesn’t seem as if you are just a single mean old Luddite when all your colleagues allow laptops.

If you are going to ban laptops, you should also prohibit use of cell phones except in emergency.  You probably have had the experience of seeing students appear to be fascinated by their laps as they check their phones beneath their desks.  I told students that they should let me know if they had a particular reason why they needed to check their phones.  For example, one student’s wife was expecting to deliver a baby and he wanted to know if he needed to rush to the hospital.

Here’s the language I used in my syllabus (including the following link): “You may not use laptop computers in class.  After many years of allowing students to use laptops in class, I decided to prohibit them because they distract students too much.  You may not use smartphones or other electronic devices in class except if you may have to deal with an urgent matter (such as a medical situation of a relative).  If you anticipate needing to deal with an urgent matter, please let me know at the beginning of class.”

It also helps if you provide students with some of the material of your presentations so that they don’t need to madly transcribe all your words of wisdom.  Even before I banned laptops, I posted on TWEN outlines of the class material for the day, which I think that also helped students focus on the class discussion.  Part of the trick is providing enough detail so that students have confidence that your notes provide the basic information they need but not providing so much that they feel they can get all they need just by reading your notes without paying attention in class.

Have you banned (or restricted) laptop and/or cell phone use in your class?  If so, what changes, if any, did you observe?

%d bloggers like this: