March 2, 2012

"2Ls With Higher LSAT Scores Goof Off More With Laptops in Class, With No Effect on Grades."

Interesting... but if that's happening in your class, professors, I'd say your class needs to be taught on a more challenging level, and it needs to be apparent that the way things are presented in class will matter for exam purposes.

Now, you might think if students are going to go off task during class that they'd just skip class, but the laptop is a great compromise for the student. You have a complete defense against boredom. If you can go on line, you're able to do what you'd probably be doing if you'd skipped class. And there's the added bonus of putting in an appearance and being able to engage with the class at any point.

Presumably, a good student has learned the rhythms of the less-than-challenging class. He knows how it feels when the prof is drifting into a languor — repeating things, reciting the facts of the case the student already read, riffing on the general themes of the course, amusing himself with stories about some judge he's always fawning over. And this good student can half-listen and reengage when he hears key words and changes in intonation that signal that something useful might be happening.

Profs, don't take the laptop away from the student. Take the student away from the laptop.


Lyssa said...

I found that if I tried to surf the web, I usually did tune out and when I would tune back in, I would realize that I'd missed things. But playing Solitare was a great compromise - I could completely engage, but my hands stayed busy and I was less tempted to wander off, mentally, and I could stop easily and re-engage completely. Top 10% of my class.

Freecell required too much advance planning, though. And I could never understand how people would play reaction-time based games - that always seemed like a really bad idea.

Synova said...

I would think that if their grades aren't suffering that they are probably still paying attention.

Anonymous said...

For students at the top of the LSAT spectrum, big law school lecture/socratic courses just aren't that hard, in fact they are quite easy.

If you try to make those courses sufficiently challenging to engage the top students, the others wouldn't have any idea what is going on.

Also, why do the charts at the link only go up to LSAT 177? Doesn't it still go up to 180?

edutcher said...

CS profs just looked at the machine to see the notes taken.

Biz profs didn't.

DADvocate said...

Where is the proof that being "on task" a large percent or all of the time enhances learning? During the 1960s there was a theory that schools should have few windows so that students would focus on the lessons and teacher rather than looking out the windows.

Later, research showed that having more windows enhanced learning. Apparently, having a psychological break allows the brain to ingage more readily than trying to force it to focus all the time. I went to a brand new high school that had followed the minimal window rule (one window in the back corner) and it was oppressive. It was like all the classrooms were in the basement, and there was no basement.

virgil xenophon said...


Classrooms at the Air Force Academy were unfortunately built following that late 50s, early 60s concept--most are utterly windowless..allsons Butern.

bagoh20 said...

"If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it OUR time, and certainly there's nothing wrong with a little porn on our time."

Bruce Hayden said...

I am sympathetic here, having had scores in the top parts of the upper range in the LSAT the two times I took the test. But, working during law school, I started "goofing off" in LS as a 1L, by studying ahead in class, necessitated by working full time, and then commuting an hour each way. Part of this was listening with part of my mind to the professor, and part was gaming the selection process by volunteering a lot early on in my classes so I could control better when I would be called, and could skip some of the briefing.

I actually developed this in high school, where I could make the honor role without taking a book home all year (and never took a study hall). I did this by doing my homework in one class for the next class throughout the day. As long as I could do well on the tests and respond when needed in class, the teachers never complained.

Don't know what I would have done if laptops had been prevalent when I was in LS, and if I had not worked throughout. Probably something not as productive as what I did do. Maybe either blogging or playing FreeCell, as it is more challenging to me than Solitaire. (I use the XP version instead of the Vista version, as it is faster and doesn't distract me with stupid visual effects). If blogging though, should probably stay away from commenting in a professor's blog while in their class.

But it does point out a problem with law school. For most schools, there is enough of a range of talent for the subject, that a significant number of students are going to be bored in the 2L (and, even 1L) classes, while another chunk are over their heads. I suspect that the amount of loafing declining in 3L may be partially attributable to there finally being some latitude for tiering the students, where the most talented are in classes with their peers, and likewise for the least talented.

This does bring to mind the joke told by one of my profs about the Florida vagrancy statute struck down by the Supreme Court as vague under Substantive Due Process. After listing some of the predicate acts ("Rogues and vagabonds, or dissolute persons ... common drunkards, common night walkers, ... lewd, wanton and lascivious persons,... common railers and brawlers, persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object, habitual loafers, disorderly persons, persons neglecting all lawful business and habitually spending their time by frequenting houses of ill fame, gaming houses, or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of their wives or ...[parents] shall be deemed vagrants..."), he suggested that many 3Ls would have fallen within this definition. (Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972))

Justin said...

I am a firm believer in handwritten notes. You retain a lot more that way, and I think that's because you have to quickly synthesize information in your head before writing it down. You don't have the ability to write down every word that is said.

I used my laptop during class the first semester of my 1L year. I did okay, but after that semester, I quit using my laptop. I finished in the top 3% of my class.

People did all kinds of things on their laptops during class. I saw a lot of shopping. There was a guy in my Family Law class who constantly looked at antique weapons online. There was also a guy who I caught looking at porn during Evidence. He went on to become president of my school's Student Bar Association his 3L year ... to this day I wish I had exposed him.

Anyway, my vote would be to allow laptops but disable the internet. I think that's a fair compromise.

And I agree completely with Althouse (whose Fed Courts course I took my 3L year when she was a visiting professor at my school). It's pretty easy for a professor to teach a course and construct an exam in a way that renders the use of laptops relatively pointless. It's just that most professors unfortunately don't teach that way.

yoobee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yoobee said...

I might have missed something, but I think there is a large assumption in concluding too much about the results of this study. There is nothing to suggest students who had high scores on their LSAT also earn the best grades during their 2L year.

I am not aware of a correlation between a student's LSAT score and their 2L grades. The study only highlights that the amount of time spent surfing the web does not impact 2L grades, and that 2Ls with high LSAT scores goof off the most. It may very well be the case that the same 2Ls who goof off also get mediocre or low grades (which are not affected positively or negatively by not paying attention).

Honestly, I do not think that an LSAT score is the best predictor of success in law school. I did well in law school and on the LSAT, but was still beaten in class rank by students with lower LSAT scores. Also, it is incredibly easy for students to game the law school system and law classes. I think that many students find it easy to breeze through law school and are fine with being in the 30-70 percentile range (especially if they go to a top 30 law school).

I would like to see a study that correlates LSAT score to 2L grades (not general law school success, but actual 2L grades).

Justin said...

I think that many students find it easy to breeze through law school and are fine with being in the 30-70 percentile range (especially if they go to a top 30 law school).

This is why there are so many incompetent, idiot lawyers. Even at the best firms in the country. They graduate law school having faked their way through classes (which is easy to do) and without any worthwhile work experience (which is also easy to do).

George Sewell said...

"...Take the student away from the laptop"...Oh, what a concept - applicable in so, so many ways.

traditionalguy said...

Outlaw it! That's like those doofuses who are texting while driving. Outlaw it before it kills the grade curve.

But suppose those kids are so smart that they double task everything. Should we outlaw the most intelligent communicators because we can't do it?

traditionalguy said...

@ Justin...There are no such thing as idiot lawyers, there are only idiot clients.

Dustin said...

What they need to do is eliminate law school. go back to an apprentice system with a tough bar exam.

The reason the smart students are ignoring law school is because they are well aware that this is a ritual they have to get through before they learn how to be a lawyer. Law school can teach you how to be a law professor, but only two or three classes (trial techniques, evidence, and legal research) are going to help you be a lawyer.

Even the procedure classes are unhelpful. You can't memorize this stuff. You need to learn how to research it frequently and with high specificity, every single time... and the only part of law school that is like this is cramming before law exams.

In fact, I would prefer a lawyer who blew off class and crammed well to a lawyer who actually did well on the exam because he paid really close attention for three months.

No disrespect intended to Althouse or other legal academics. I do believe in the value of academics, but I think that value is limited.

Dan in Philly said...

On the other hand, in any class there will be some students who are much much smarter than the others, and if you teach the course to be challenging enough for them, you will totally lose the rest of the class. Why is that hard to accept?

In the real world, we reward such high productive people with higher salaries, especially in billable hours worlds such as law. If a brilliant employee can produce more than 2 normal employees, you can pay him much more than the other 2.

In the classroom environment, your ability to compensate a brilliant student is far more limited, you cannot give a grade higher than an A, after all. If the student knows he can goof off 50% of the time and still get an A, there's going to be little a teacher can do to get his attention back, as I said if you make the material challenging enough to interest him you will lose the rest of the class.

Instead, why not allow them to goof off and let their free time be the compensation they get for not having to work as hard as the other students? Again in the real world, there are many times when an employee is very productive but cannot get a raise or promotion (ahem). As long as the work is getting done, more and better than other similarly compensated employees, you can reward your stars by allowing them some of their time to amuse themselves. It's a nice non-monetary benefit.

Justin said...

There are no such thing as idiot lawyers, there are only idiot clients.

There are both. When they get together on a case, watch out.

Skyler said...

Why should what's presented in a lecture need to be important to the grade? Is this an ego factor?

My experience is that the issues are far more complex than what can be covered in a few hours of lecturing and that regardless, all learning will be done outside of the classroom.

I confess that I rarely got much value out of attending lectures, but since they were required at my school, I went, and since attendance was required many professors felt no need, seemingly, to make them either interesting or helpful.

The sad truth is that law professors, as are undergrad professors, are rarely chosen for their ability to teach. I'm not sure what the criteria are, but teaching ranks very low on the list.

Methadras said...

2Ls With Higher LSAT Scores Goof Off More With Laptops in Class, With No Effect on Grades

And yet still blowing a gigantic wad of government subsidized school loans that is inflating the cost of tuition to ungodly prices and for what?