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University of Louisville Law Review

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When the creators of the children’s television show Sesame Street wished to know whether preschoolers would actually watch it, their head of research, Ed Palmer, set up a room with a television monitor showing segments from the show. On a nearby screen, Palmer projected slides of various images; the slides changed every seven-and-a-half seconds. Then he brought small children in and waited to see if the children focused on the Sesame Street segments or the still pictures. Only segments that elicited attention from many preschoolers ended up on the air. As a result, the producers discarded segments that they had intended to run and created new characters to hold children’s attention. After three or four sessions, nearly every segment held the attention of at least 85% of the children.

Law students in class also face distractions. In the fall of 2009, while waiting for a professor to vacate a classroom, I peeked into the class and noticed a student simultaneously texting on her cell phone and surfing the web on her computer. Consequently, in the fall of 2010, I stationed observers at the back of six law school classes in an attempt to determine, among other things, the extent to which laptops distract students, and whether student use of laptops for non-class purposes is affected by what is happening inside the classroom—for example, whether students are more likely to visit Facebook when the professor is lecturing or another student asks a question. Ultimately, the observers recorded detailed observations in sixty class sessions of a collective 1,072 laptop users (though there was considerable overlap among those 1,072 users).



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