More on Laptops in the Classroom

My colleague Rob Schwartz is addressing the laptop issue in New Mexico this summer while teaching in the Pre Law Summer Program for Indian Students (PLSI) run by the Indian Law Center.  Here is his response  to Sergio Pareja’s email (described in my last  post).  Rob  gives credit to our colleague, Ted Occhialino.  By the way,  Rob, Sergio and Ted all have reputations as outstanding teachers!

“I agree that it would make sense to discuss this. This summer I am trying the Ted Occhialino approach to this issue — I gave each of my PLSI Civil Procedure students a choice of either using the laptop in class or closing it and, as compensation, receiving the Teaching Assistant’s daily class notes summarizing the class.  Anyone who chooses to use a laptop is free to do so, but must agree, under the Honor Code, never to receive or review any of those notes, which are really prepared jointly by me and my teaching assistant.  All students chose to receive the notes (a very wise choice) — as has been the case in all of Ted’s classes, I think, too.  No one has to play the heavy, and we all get the benefit of much better discussion.  Now and then students ask if they can open their laptops (when their printer failed to spit up a copy of a case brief before class, for example), and that has never created a problem.  My brief discussion with Ted before the start of the summer session dramatically improved the quality of all of my classes — and I thought he was just going to teach me Civil Procedure!  Of course, he has been doing that, too.  I will never again teach to a full classroom of laptop zombies, even if my class cannot always compete with the best shoe sales.

Another, less complicated but equally effective way to deal with the issue would just be to bite the bullet and tell students that they cannot open their laptops in class unless they get the teacher’s advance permission, which will be granted only on good cause shown.  I’m not sure I have the guts to do that, especially with the Ted alternative available.”

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