Friday, January 23, 2015

Should we ban laptops in 1L courses?

This is a new article by Professor Eric DeGroff (Regent) entitled The Dynamics of the Contemporary Law School Classroom: Looking at Laptops Through a Learning Style Lens and is available at 39 U. Dayton L. Rev. 201 (2014).  From the introduction:

The Millennial Generation, which comprises the majority of today's law school population, is clearly the most technologically savvy age group ever to enter the legal academy. They have all come to maturity in the television age, and most have been immersed in computers and other electronics since early childhood. They are used to having immediate and virtually unlimited access to information and enjoying instantaneous connection with their peers. Having lived in a fast-paced, media-rich environment, they are typically sophisticated users of technology, are probably better than any previous generation at finding information quickly, and have embraced multi-tasking as the norm, even in the classroom.


In addition to their technical skills and remarkable proclivity for continual action, they have been described as generally bright and energetic, achievement-oriented, career-minded, motivated and self-confident. These traits undoubtedly serve them well in the study of law. Unfortunately, the Millennials also enter law school with wide disparities in academic preparation and skill, and in growing numbers are used to thinking and learning in ways that are less than ideal for understanding the nuances of the law. They are used to receiving information passively from television, the Internet and other forms of visual entertainment. Many are products of secondary and undergraduate educational programs that placed little emphasis on analytical reasoning. They are more likely than previous generations to be visual learners and holistic, right-brained thinkers characteristics that historically have placed law students at a significant disadvantage academically. Accordingly, they are less accustomed than their predecessors to thinking sequentially and logically and are ill-prepared for the rigorous questioning, sorting, cataloguing, and synthesizing of conceptual frameworks that are essential for legal analysis.


Though the Millennials are typically adept at finding information, legal scholars have noted that they tend to be “superficial processors of information” and are “not accustomed to being reflective” or to “engag[ing] in the deeper thinking . . . that leads to more enduring learning.” Scholars have also described the Millennials as having short attention spans, which poses particular challenges for traditional law school pedagogy. Aware of these characteristics, commentators have suggested that a growing percentage of today's law school population seem to lack the capacity or even the motivation to engage in the active learning that is necessary to acquiring the analytical skills essential to effective lawyering.


Scholars began to recognize these trends and the challenges they would pose to legal education more than two decades ago, when Generations X and Y were first arriving on the law school scene. Reaction to these concerns by the legal academy has been slow, but significant. One response has been a proliferation in academic support programs designed to help at-risk students survive the rigors of the law school environment. Another more recent response has been an increasing awareness by legal educators of the importance of adult learning styles and a willingness to consider alternatives to the traditional Socratic approach in the classroom. A growing body of literature suggests that accommodating students' learning styles in some ways may be helpful to ensuring the success of legal education for the current generation. A question related to this issue is whether to permit, or even encourage, the classroom use of laptops by students as a way of accommodating their preferences for technology


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