Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing
Technology abounds today’s law students. Laptops, iPods, iPads, and BlackBerrys are just a few of the newly developed modes of communication, notetaking, and music-storing devices that creep into our vocabulary – and students’ backpacks. Given the competitive nature of law school, students understandably bring laptops to class hoping to maximize their performance. Unfortunately for all involved, students use their laptops beyond the task of note-taking. The distractions that present themselves in class have led law professors to complain on various fora about the frequency of laptop use in the classroom. Some posit that students’ inappropriate use of laptops in the classroom has exceeded acceptable limits.
As a result, some law professors have banned laptop use in their classes, while others have allowed laptop use with restraint. Research reveals that laptops are beneficial for those whose learning style complements their use; laptop use may also slightly benefit all students, regardless of learning style. Because laptops appeal to both tactual- and visual-oriented learners and may additionally benefit the whole class regardless of learning-style preferences, I advocate a moderate position: Professors should permit laptops in the classroom, but subject to controls that can channel benefits and minimize distractions. Particularly for a skills class, such as Legal Research and Writing, it would be crippling to ban laptops. For casebook courses, some students, if not all, would benefit from continued use of laptops - within limits.