Tell the Prof to Talk Faster

Prof. Ann Bartow seeks advice for some students who have what I hope is an unusual problem.

I once asked one of my students if lots of people used their laptops to goof off. No, he said, you talk so fast there's no time for that.

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16 Responses to Tell the Prof to Talk Faster

  1. Joe says:

    Is it a Macintosh or a Windoze machine? And, is the miscreant a republican or a democrat? I grant you, watching porn during a lecture is worse than reading a newspaper during a lecture, but Darwin should take care of this person. I used to get bored during lectures, but I sat with a group of people who supported each other. If we heard snores, we woke up the guilty party.

  2. some guy says:

    I think here in this school they ban access to porn through the network, but I couldn’t swear to this because I’ve never tried to access porn.

  3. xoxohth says:

    Something about “porn” seems to make your commenters incoherent!

  4. Michael says:

    For the record, the above comment referred to spams that I have now deleted.

  5. BroD says:

    I think the students have done what they should do and that it’s now up to the instructor to act in order to maintain an appropriate learning environment. I would simply ask the offending student either to stop (or, since it’s a law class “cease and desist”) watching porn or to move to a seat where he can do it without distracting other students.

  6. Ann Bartow says:

    Point of clarification: These are not my students. Telling their prof is certainly an option I suppose, but I think they were hoping to handle the situation informally, at least in part because they seemed to doubt that their professor would take any action.

  7. some other guy says:

    Let’s say I’m a professor at a law school. I put time in prepping my classes. Presumably somewhere between one and all of my students do the same. When it comes time for class, I should at least expect to have an environment that facilitates learning, to include the exclusion of disruptive behavior, that I define. Now let’s say I’m a student, shelling out big bucks to be at said law school. Whether or not I have prepared for class, my tuition should get me an environment that facilitates learning, whether or not I choose to take advantage of that environment. That means no side conversations, no noise coming from computers, no surfing the net, and thus no porn. Distribute a change to the syllabus/course information, establish it as class policy, and move on. Someone help me out here…is there something wrong with this posture?

    Now, since I’m not in class, I’m going to go surf some porn where I won’t bother anybody!

  8. some other guy says:

    By the way, if you were in Michael’s class, and you wanted to pass, I’ll validate the notion that you did not have time to surf the net.

  9. BroD says:

    As a registrar, I’ve advised faulty on various disruptive student situations over the years.

    If the students can work this out amongst themselves, that’s fine but the professor has a responsibility (and authority) to address the situation if need be.

    Note that I’d probably let the student know that, while I’d be willing to allow him to test his novel hypothesis that his approach will not adversely affect his *academic* performance, it’s rather a high stakes gamble and that he might want to reassess the strategy in consultation with someone in the counseling center.

  10. UM 2L says:

    In my first class of the day yesterday, the law-reviewers in front of me spend the whole period reading the NYT and checking email. In my next class, the prof called on three people who asked her, one after the other, to repeat the question, all of them completely absorbed in their laptops (ironically, it was a give-away Rule 11 question). In my Lit Skills class, out of twelve of us, the five without laptops were participating, as were 3 of those with laptops. The other four were obviously surfing the net and sending IM’s, right in front of the adjunct professor (sitting around the table in A110-1). This is a typical day, and a systemic problem.

    I haven’t yet taken a class with Professor Froomkin, so I can’t comment on what goes on in his class. However, I have never, ever, been to a class where there haven’t been people on the internet. Our professors and administration are in denial. Understandably, getting called out for this type of behavior is pretty rare – not all profs have that kind of cojones (evidently neither do I since I’m posting this anonymously). And enforcing a policy of no internet use is next to impossible because it only takes a fraction of a second to close or minimize any forbidden application.

    Let me spell it out for you: Students don’t think there’s anything wrong with being on the internet while in class. They think 1) that the prof is boring so I am entitled, or 2) I can absorb the lecture just as well while reading something else. Here’s an idea: maybe maintaining concentration through boring lectures is a skill lawyers need. Are these same people, when in practice, going to think it’s OK to surf in court, or on firm time? If that’s not OK, how is the school preparing them?

    Everyone appreciates a wired campus, but whose idea was it to make the _classrooms_ wireless? Has any professor ever actually needed it? And if they did, what would the students without laptops do?

    Are students too wrapped up in law review, moot court, and other extra-curricular activities to be able to pay attention in class? Do laptops provide an easy and seductive diversion? By enabling this behavior, what message is the administration sending about the importance of class work?

    If a law school is serious about educating its students, it will ban laptops from classrooms. Why not just the internet?
    1) Because humans get about 90% of their information visually. With a screen in front of you, you tend to concentrate the majority of your attention on what is on the screen rather than on the lecturer.
    2) Because laptops encourage sloppy note-taking practices, such as verbatim transcription.
    3) Because writing your notes activates your brain, forcing you to summarize as you actively listen.
    4) Because having all your notes on your laptop means the laptop has become, in effect, an extension of your brain. This is great, except when you can’t access it (like during an exam). You see this all the time when professors call on someone and they stall, saying “I’ve got it in my notes, just a minute…” By contrast, hand-written notes act as more of a “pointer” (like in C) to the information you already have stored in your brain.
    5) Because, as a matter of respect, when a student is in a classroom, their attention should be on the lecturer. This promotes both more interest in the students, and greater satisfaction in the lecturer.

    Arguments against my position:
    1) Some of these younger students have never had the experience of taking hand-written notes. Answer: Ok, thanks for feeding our already out-of-control sense of entitlement. Besides, I never took notes AT ALL before law school, and managed to learn (and become extremely self-righteous about it, I might add!).
    2) Already-typed notes make it easier to outline. Answer: See previous.
    3) Our school would become less attractive to applicants. Answer: Doesn’t that say something about the quality of people we’re trying to attract?
    4) The students are “customers” so the school should acquiesce to their wishes. Answer: That would be fine if the school could also then alter the Bar requirements of legal professionalism. Since it cannot, the school must tailor its offerings and rules to meet the existing requirements, whatever they may be. In other words, it’s up to the school to provide the best legal education possible, since this is in line with the expectations of the greatest number of customers, former customers, and society in general.

    Finally, with all due respect Professor, how can you believe a sycophantic response like the one your student gave you? Sorry to micterate in your cheerios, but I guarantee that guy is happily surfing in class while you lecture.

    P.S. I’m sorry for the harsh tone of this letter. I love UM Law and think we have great students, great faculty, and an extremely supportive administration. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to be here, and to be getting the kind of education I’m getting. Too many people dump on the school, either because they implicitly want to associate themselves with somewhere “better” or they’re insecure or both, or for whatever other reason. I say let’s prove them wrong and create an institution that promotes respect, even for boring professors, and the best methods of learning, even if unpopular.

  11. Michael says:

    There are many arguments for and against internet access in class. The bottom line here, however, is that given the way the wireless cloud in the university works, shielding classrooms from it is nearly impossible technically. And I know I’ve found it useful to access the Internet via my laptop when the computers at the class podium were acting up.

    I tend to see the competition as a challenge to be interesting, or — failing that — at least relevant.

    My students are well over 18. They are adults. It irks me to take and enforce attendance, but I do as both the Dean and the ABA think it’s a good idea (indeed the ABA arguably requires it).

    I think students who ignore classes are in most cases hurting themselves. (In rare cases they are so smart they don’t need the class.) But there’s a limit to how parentalistic I’m prepared to be. Plus, some may be good multi-taskers. I do draw the line at conduct which disturbs others; so I’m much more bothered my noise, or movies, than by email on the theory that noises and constant movement are too distracting.

    Other than that, I trust that the final exam, which is not curved, will sort them out. Is that naive?

  12. UM 2L says:

    But doesn’t this “hands off” approach (i.e. they’ll pay attention if I can win their attention, or if they realize/make a judgment that they’ll do better on the final) dis-serve students? Another way to put it is: Is the substantive part of your lecture the only thing you hope to teach? If so, how do you reconcile that with your statements last spring about how the strike was a “teaching moment”? Further, does this laissez-faire approach to legal education comport with the law school’s mission and ABA-accreditation-mandated responsibility to produce responsible lawyers? The generation of lawyers who have had internet access on laptops hasn’t yet fully gotten into practice, so we won’t know (and maybe will never know) what effect it will have on what kind of lawyers they (we) turn out to be. Beyond that, might the law school consider banning laptops in class as a competitive measure? As a DF I once tried banning laptops for a few classes. It was impressive – people who hadn’t said anything all semester started talking – those were our best days.

    What is better: an attendance policy where students have to come to class but don’t have to pay attention, or one where students don’t have to come to class but cannot bring distractions if they do? Which one is less paternalistic? Which one teaches respect, and is more respectful of varying student needs? And won’t the final exam sort them all out in the end anyway?

  13. UM 2L says:

    Finally, I am skeptical of the effectiveness of the “If I’m brilliant, they will learn” attitude. Wouldn’t you agree that the best teachers take an interest not only in how they are teaching, but also how their students are learning?

  14. Michael says:

    In the abstract, I think there is a lot to be said for the libertarian approach to teaching adults that would not require attendance. But there’s also a surprisingly good case for requiring it — it communicates that we think class is important. It helps maintain good work habits. It seems to increase the bar pass rate (if only because by getting into the habit of turning up, students don’t blow off the bar review and then crash and burn). I used to not take attendance. Turnout wasn’t bad.

    I would absolutely object to banning laptops. Typed notes are much superior to handwritten ones. Many people type faster than they write. People with poor motor skills — dyslexic like me — can’t handwrite worth anything.

    But this thread is making me wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t go back to calling on people instead of relying primarily on volunteers?

    As to the most recent comment above, I agree that all but the best natural teachers require feedback to teach most effectively to all but the most brilliant students — but that too seems to militate in the direction of forcing participation, doesn’t it (or of lots of quizzes, which would get in the way of the teaching, I think)? Having said that, I have to say that I’m not quite sure what you are responding to. My attitude, at least, is not “If I’m brilliant, they will learn” (although it may include “if they listen they might hear something worth knowing”) but rather “If they are brilliant they don’t need me (much).”

    And finally, I’d like to point out that the issue of not paying attention in class is not perfectly correlated with the laptop issue. There are many ways not to pay attention that in no way require a computer.

  15. UM 2L says:

    Professor, I apologize. My last comment was unnecessarily abrasive and ill-considered. I was responding to the idea of competing with the internet/computer screen for the students attention.

    Your point about many other ways of not paying attention is well taken. It just seems a bit easier with a laptop: for all the professor knows the student could be writing notes or clicking through porn 🙂

    My point with starting this thread was that in my view, it is more difficult for professors and administrators than for students to ascertain the true level of class internet use and therefore arguably how much attention the class is paying to the lecture at any given time.

  16. Michael says:

    No offense taken!

    But you know, even without a laptop, if someone is writing furiously, how am I supposed to know if they are writing notes, writing a letter to a loved one, or working on the Great American Novel?

    As for detecting shirking, I’m sure you’re right, but I submit that we can tell more than you think….

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