Using technology wisely in the classroom

From FOI and TG (tech goddess) Alyson Carrel: Many of you might have seen the articles about the new research showing that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop.

I know many of our law schools have been having this discussion – do we or do we not allow students to use laptops in the classroom. But I’d like to encourage us to expand the discussion from whether or not we allow students to use laptops to the discussion of how we better integrate emerging technology in our classrooms. Typing lecture notes on a laptop may be a poor substitute for taking notes by hand, but laptops aren’t just for note taking. They also have the potential to enhance student engagement and comprehension of material if used in a pedagogically sound way. And as the practice of law changes with advances in technology, it makes sense to integrate technology in our classroom when we can.

Although I’ve historically had a laptop ban in my classes, I’ve worked with NU’s Emerging Technologies Librarian, Kara Young, to design projects and teaching methods that require students to open up their laptops and even go online. For instance, I regularly have students use their laptops in class to complete self-reflection questions I posted online using Google Forms. As each student completes their reflection, their individual responses are automatically collated into a single spreadsheet I can access and quickly gauge student understanding of the material. I also regularly have students access Google Sites where I have posted videos, texts, and questions that they must then answer. Working in groups, they upload answers to the Google Site that then other groups of students can access, view and comment on.

I couldn’t agree more that laptops can be distracting in class and a poor method for taking notes. But as the practice of law changes to incorporate more and more technology, it seems odd to tell students technology has no place in our classroom. We have plenty of colleagues who similarly ban laptops in the classroom, and there are other schools that have disabled wireless access in their classrooms to limit the disruptive nature of laptops. But I’d argue we can all do better than that. Even if a poor note taking machine, laptops with access to the internet can enhance student learning in other ways.

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