Wednesday, May 28, 2014

iDon't type my class notes

A recent Washington Post article (here) outlines findings of a joint Princeton-UCLA study that appeared in Psychological Science (here) in April.  The study found, in the smallest of nutshells, that students who take notes longhand achieve better learning outcomes than students note-taking electronically.  It also seems to find that analytical skills are heightened in longhand note-takers, potentially because the process of taking notes with pen and paper necessitates some analysis of the material because one can't write it all down, while mindlessly transcribing quotes is much easier at 60+ WPM.

Our summer semester is just starting at Faulkner Law, and this week Prof. John Craft and I have been busy with an intensive "boot camp" training for our summer clinic students.  This afternoon, I took the students to OnePlace Family Justice Center, where our Family Violence Clinic conducts initial client intake and conducts client meetings.  Our office there is large and informal, with a couch, a small round conference table, and a desk.  No student desks, no PowerPoint, none of the traditional classroom trappings.  It is (and is intended to be) a law office. That is where we met today.

The training consists of reviewing intake procedures, studying the Alabama Protection From Abuse Act, and a brief introduction to the psychology of abusers and survivors.  I've done the training in a classroom before, and the students would all take out their laptops and iPads to tap out the pearls of wisdom rolling from my tongue.  It's certainly a boost to the ol' ego to have someone taking down your every word, but I find that I end up repeating myself a lot more and answering a lot of questions later on, when students have finally processed the information. 

In my session this afternoon, there were no electronic devices.  My students had paper handouts, took notes on them, and asked some of the most thoughtful and insightful questions I've been asked.  I could see them moving from an information gathering state-of-mind to a preparing-to-practice state of mind almost instantaneously. Even to my clinician's brain, the impact of teaching this material outside the traditional setting was impressive.

The findings of the Mueller/Oppenheimer study will carry over for students beyond graduation--and bar passage.  It's important for all of academia, and law school in particular, to focus more attention on demonstrating responsible and effective use of technology to our students. Today's super-typists will still be tomorrow's lawyers one way or another, but will they be able to sit down, relate to a client, and focus on realtime problem-solving?  Will they feel comfortable truly listening to their clients, absent the distraction of note-taking to the point of taking dictation?  Will they bill any hours the day their computer gives them the blue screen of death? Are we (institutionally) providing them with learning experiences in every course that facilitate their ability to do those things?  After today, I'm rededicated to making sure of it.

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