February 28, 2012

Things that make law students go "off task."

This is from a study of students using laptops in class, but the researcher was able to gather data that is more generally useful to teachers, because it identified some very specific things that cause the student to look for something to do other than paying attention:
1) Student laptop users tend to go off-task when X-(anything) occurs for 4 minutes or more...

2) When professor is engaged in Socratic method with one student...

3) When a classmate engages with professor...

4) When professor is monotone, or, overly uses one linguistic intonation style...

5) Approximately 40 minutes into class...

6) When professor calls on students in expected order...
Apparently, students like variety... and not listening to other students.

28 comments:

tim maguire said...

I don't know that it's the fault of the teacher if the student stops listening, but it is the fault of the teacher if the student can stop listening and still do well in the class.

traditionalguy said...

A speech intonation that causes sleep would be the one thing that a good professor could control.

I suggest public speaking lessons for the Professors.

This study seems to be looking for excuses for bad communication that do not put responsibility on the speaker.

virgil xenophon said...

And any of this is news? Exactly why? Laptops have been around long enough that such habits should all be pretty much intuitively obvious by now. How many stories about people texting holding their crackberry's in their laps at sit-down dinner-parties does one need?

Ann Althouse said...

"And any of this is news?"

I think the 4-minute and 40-minute marks are news because they are so specific.

The other things confirm suspicions, but it's interesting to see that with empirical research.

Rob said...

This law student would have enjoyed law school more if she had a laptop.

http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/althouse.jpg

edutcher said...

Same rules apply to computer science students.

Troubled Voter said...

1L year at my 20-something-ranked school was the worst mostly because we were forced to sit in the same section with the same people and from that group of people there are a few who loooooove to talk for the sake of getting good marks for participation and also just to hear their own voices many times throughout the day. The good news is that these people tend to transfer to a higher ranked school after 1L. The bad news is that there are a crop of transfers from lower-ranked schools who similarly enjoy hearing themselves speak. :-/

The Drill SGT said...

Apparently, students like variety... and not listening to other students.

No, what they understand is risk. When the prof is doing any of the above, there is little risk of being called on and made to look like a fool...

rhhardin said...

Cutting class entirely worked for me.

That was before laptops.

Old RPM Daddy said...

Didn't read the article, but from the Professor's summary, it sounds like what makes students go "off task" is showing up at lecture in the first place.

John said...

Apropos of nothing related, except they're students, nice write up on the UW sailing team in the March Sailing World.
http://www.sailingworld.com/racing/college/college-sailing-team-spotlight-university-of-wisconsin-madison

traditionalguy said...

The legal reasoning has no drama. None, Zilch! Might as well memorize the Koran.

The Case method at least introduced persona of past dramas of fights.

That history tells a story that gets many students interested.

The history of Abe Lincoln's acts before, during and after the Civil War, and as carried forward by The Radical Republicans in Congress, is half of what a Constitutional Law Class needs to learn.

Lyssa said...

That sounds about right based on my experiences in LS. Particularly when one student was dominating the discussion - that student rarely had anything of great use to say, and it was not risky (both for being called on or for being prepared for the test) to zone out.

That said, I found that I paid more attention if I played Solitare during the lecture; it was just active enough that my hands were occupied and I was less tempted to zone out during the dull parts, but easy to step away from and not mentally engaging enough to be a distraction. (I tried Freecell, and it was too much.)

Tank said...

Troubled Voter said...
1L year at my 20-something-ranked school was the worst mostly because we were forced to sit in the same section with the same people and from that group of people there are a few who loooooove to talk for the sake of getting good marks for participation and also just to hear their own voices many times throughout the day


Credit for participation? Really?

Not at my law school. Some participated volunarily, others not. There were lots of surprises when grades came out and many silent students turned out to be at the top.

Petunia said...

In my fed courts class long before the days of laptops, I had a classmate who asked a lot of questions. My friend Jane and I would just put our pens down, because we knew that not only would we not understand the answer, we wouldn't even understand the question. Had we had laptops, we'd have been surfing the net.

We called the classmate "The Claw" because of the way he raised his hand. He worked at a fancy hotel restaurant, where the uniform was knee breeches, a white shirt, a bow tie, and buckled shoes, and he wore that outfit to class. A lot.

He was a nice guy, and his legal mind was waaaaay above average. He is now a professor at a top 5 school, which doesn't surprise me in the least.

Petunia said...

I just looked him up. He's still wearing the bow ties! :)

Peter said...

Perhaps one might ask, is it the student's responsibility to remain on-task, or is it the professor's responsibility to be sufficiently entertainnig?

Although the lecturer has some responsibility here (can we just forbid the use of PowerPoint?), it seems worth mentioning that some areas of study are both valuable and yet not all that entertaining.

And so, putting most of the responsibility on the lecturer will have the side effect of restricting the subjects that can be presented.

Peter said...

Perhaps one might ask, is it the student's responsibility to remain on-task, or is it the professor's responsibility to be sufficiently entertainnig?

Although the lecturer has some responsibility here (can we just forbid the use of PowerPoint?), it seems worth mentioning that some areas of study are both valuable and yet not all that entertaining.

And so, putting most of the responsibility on the lecturer will have the side effect of restricting the subjects that can be presented.

Peter said...

Perhaps one might ask, is it the student's responsibility to remain on-task, or is it the professor's responsibility to be sufficiently entertainnig?

Although the lecturer has some responsibility here (can we just forbid the use of PowerPoint?), it seems worth mentioning that some areas of study are both valuable and yet not all that entertaining.

And so, putting most of the responsibility on the lecturer will have the side effect of restricting the subjects that can be presented.

Lem said...

The same people speaking all the time is a trn off.

Chip Ahoy said...

I took tons of notes and kept them all. Fine, maybe it was a few pounds. Later, due to storage concerns,I looked back at it all, read some of it, and despaired. I threw away everything with only words, filled a bin, and kept everything with pictures on it. Now I have a box full of spectacular doodles along with odd word things that are still there on the same pages.

I'm hoping this anecdote illuminates some area of your interest.

Hup! The déja vù thing is happening again. I must now shut up.

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of it is gaming. If you don't think that you were going to be called on, you are free to do something else. For me, it was briefing cases that were coming up in class.

And, yes, I was the type of student that so many others disliked, appearing to constantly raise my hand in order to participate. I was not under an misimpression that it would help my grade. I did for three reasons. First, it let me control when I was called on. Very quickly, in order for the profs to pick other students, they would skip over me, esp. when I wasn't volunteering. Secondly, it kept me awake. And, thirdly, it helped me learn.

So, about half way through 1L, in one of our core classes, a middle-aged woman took me aside and requested forcefully that I not talk or volunteer as much. She was, supposedly, talking for other students. I responded that it was their problem, not mine, and that they were free to volunteer, just as I did, and that I was just getting the most from my tuition, which I was paying myself, unlike her, who was most likely on scholarship as an aggrieved minority (Hispanic). And, I suspect that today she is the type of lawyer for whom I have little time or respect - spending her time on minority grievances, likely on the public dole, or at least working for a liberal "non-profit", etc.

I should add that back then, a lot of the profs were trying to emulate Paper Chase, and so verbally beat up their law students. Surviving a 10 minute debate about half way through Torts as a 1L was one of my high points in LS. After that, I knew that I had an edge over the rest of the students who wouldn't push themselves in this direction, and it was downhill from there to graduation.

Bender said...

One of the things they tell you in a teaching methods class is to not give out any handouts until the end of the class.

If you distribute handouts at the beginning of the class, many students will invariably end up looking through the handout rather than listening to and following the instructor.

Sigivald said...

Well, I can't speak for law students, but I do recall that listening to other students talk was typically the Least Interesting Part of my Philosophy training.

(And what I'd like here is a comparison between laptop "off-task" and non-laptop "off-task".

If the laptop is simply replacing some other sort of inattention or goofing off, who cares?)

(OT: Sometimes the CAPTCHA requires matching both words, sometimes not. Interesting.)

Joe Schmoe said...

Great info, Ann. Thanks for posting. I love this kind of stuff.

To me, this is another nail in the coffin of the traditional lecture format. Standing in front of students lecturing for an hour just doesn't cut it.

Interestingly, the study confirms students perk up when they think they'll get a tip on homework, exam, or term paper. Those are what their grades are based on, so no surprise that's what they focus on. Any parts of the lecture not related to those graded items are superfluous. If you don't like it, then you've got to figure out a way to make your lecture format more meaningful.

Beevalo Bill said...

When I was in my second year of law school (1983), I bought a Kaypro II computer -- which was a 30 pound "portable computer". While I bought it to finish my master's thesis, I started bringing it to law school to take notes.

My purposes, obviously, where not to find distractions, but to capture more of the class. (I did not get really bored in LS until year 3)

Professors and student alike, were very wary of the device and the noise of the tapping keys.

It was a great tool, but I succumbed peer pressure.

My how things have changed.

CyndiF said...

There are people in my department (astrophysics) who spend a great deal of time trying to determine the best way to teach science to non-science majors. Their numbers show that students who use laptops in class average a full letter grade lower in their final grade than those who don't.

Rich Cook said...

Not surprising to see students tune out a professor with all the resources out their on the internet and elsewhere. What do you think happens when you attend CLE courses.

Rich Cook

the-barristers-toolbox.com