Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Do Law Students Use Laptops to Digress from Class?

At St. John’s University Law School, Professor Jeff Sovern hired research assistants to spy on students during classes. Here is his interesting finding:

Sovern’s spies found that more than half of second- and third-year law students who came to class with laptops used the computers for non-class purposes more than half the time, compared to a mere 4 percent of first-year students. For the most part, first-year students tended to be rapt when text was being read aloud or a rule was being discussed, and less attentive when classmates were asking questions; upper-level students tended to be distractible no matter what was going on.

Here are Sovern’s speculations on the reasons for the student conduct:

The article speculates that student decisions on whether to pay attention are responses to the tension between incentives and temptation. While the temptation to tune out probably remains constant, ebbs and flows in incentives may cause students to resist or yield to that temptation. Because first-semester grades have more of an impact on job prospects, first-semester students have a greater incentive than upper-year students to attend to classes. Similarly, because students probably anticipate that rules are more likely to be tested on exams, students perceive that they have more of an incentive to pay attention when rules are discussed. Conversely, students may suspect that matters asked about by classmates are less likely to be tested on and so their grades are unlikely to be affected if they miss the question and answer, reducing the incentive to pay attention. 

Very interesting. Here is a link to the story at Inside Higher Ed. And here is the link to Professor Sovern’s article.


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