Using Technology and Laptops in the Classroom

Technology is important at the UNT Dallas College of Law. The COL will use educational technologies such as Canvas, CLIO, and “lecture capture” to further its educational mission. In addition, graduates of the COL should be capable of effectively using technology in the practice of law. Thus, throughout our educational program, students will use technology in ways that align with and prepare them for the ever-changing world of technology and law practice.

Nonetheless, we also recognize legitimate concerns about the effect of technology on student learning and on the classroom environment. We are not alone: The use of laptops and other technology in college and law school classrooms is currently a source of active discussion and research among faculty, learning specialists, and others. Back when laptops first became available, some colleges proudly announced that they had become fully wireless. Other colleges and law schools caught up, and it now is the rare classroom that is not wireless and fully powered. But the pendulum began to swing, and faculty on campuses around the country began to voice concerns about internet surfing and game-playing, poor student attention, and the effect of using computers to take notes rather than taking notes by hand. Students also have concerns, stemming from the distractions posed by other students’ texting or surfing, or other technology usages that are not respectful of the classroom environment.

With a primary focus on student learning, the faculty of the College of Law has adopted policies and guidelines relating to use technology generally, and laptops in particular.*

Please note: The following specifically addresses when and how computers and technology may be used in classes. All use of computers and information resources is subject to the UNT Dallas Policies on Information Technology (Policies 14.001 - .009).

All Technology In The Classroom

  • Any use of technology in class should follow principles of community respect and promotion of student learning. Thus, students should use any technology or devices (including wireless connectivity) only in ways relevant to the course. This means that students should not use smartphones, tablets, or laptops for internet surfing, answering personal email, playing games, etc.
  • The professor is free to set guidelines or restrictions in addition to the above.

Classroom Use Of Laptops

The faculty and administration of the College of Law have agreed on the following guidelines relating to the use of laptops in the classroom.

  • We discourage use of laptops as a primary note-taking method in class – especially when the student is essentially “transcribing” the class.
  • Instructors in each class may decide whether to allow the use of laptops in class.

Why would a school that embraces technology discourage laptops from note-taking in the classroom? The COL has decided that use of laptops by students as a primary note-taking tool – especially for “transcribing” – has serious drawbacks for the student’s learning and development of critical lawyering skills. We want to communicate these drawbacks in the hope that students will make the decision not to use the laptop as a primary note-taking tool – even if the individual professor allows use of laptops in the class. There are several reasons for this position:

1. Effective learning. When laptops are used to take notes of classroom discussions, the tendency is to type what the professor and the other students say. The laptop causes students to become “transcriptionists” or “stenographers,” attempting to type as fast as the professor talks. This clouds a student’s ability to actively hear the classroom discussion and teaching. It is more important that students be actively listening to the discussion, considering the points that have been made, determining what contribution they can make, and synthesizing the class. Typing on a laptop can obstruct that process. Further, the COL’s use of lecture capture to the extent practicable should lessen students’ concern that they will “miss” critical information in the class if they do not type out “everything” the professor said.

Studies show that students learn less effectively when note-taking by laptop than when note-taking by handwriting. A recent article in the Washington Post, summarizing one such study, explains:

The students who took their notes in longhand demonstrated in tests that they got more out of the lectures than the typists.
It’s not for the reasons most people think either. It’s not because of “multi-tasking” or the distraction available to students using laptops, especially with WiFi. That’s a problem by itself. But for this study, in a lab setting, no extraneous activity was allowed.
Even when students paid attention and took copious notes on their laptops, they still didn’t learn as well. In fact, the copiousness of their notes may be part of the problem, the study found.
Laptop users are inclined to use long verbatim quotes, which they type somewhat mindlessly. The handwriters are more selective. They “wrote significantly fewer words than those who typed.”
It may be, the researchers reported, “that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study” more efficiently.
- Fred Barbash, Why students using laptops learn less in class even when they really are taking notes, Washington Post online edition, April 28, 2014, The article describes the following study: Pam A. Mueller & Daniel M. Oppenheimer, The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note TakingPsychological Science, April 2014 (abstract available on line at

2. Preparation for the Practice of Law: Client Interaction. The COL is committed to an educational approach that prepares its students for the practice of law. Every lawyer will at some time interact with clients. That interaction must be a focal point in practicing law. Lawyers will need notes of their conversations with those clients. But using a laptop to create those notes while talking with clients is not conducive to a positive relationship. Law students need to develop note-taking approaches that will not hinder their development of a positive relationship with their clients. The clicking of keys reminds a client that his or her words are being recorded. In a client conversation, the client needs to feel that the attorney is attentive, focused, and concerned. Typing on a keyboard while a client is talking does not create that atmosphere.

Doctors recently encountered this impact when they began to use laptops to create electronic patient files. They discovered that the doctor’s attention to the laptop actually impeded their conversation and interaction with their patients. Indeed, recognizing this impediment, some doctors have begun to hire someone to make the computer notations for them.

3. Preparation for the Practice of Law: Witnesses, hearings, trials. Dependence upon a laptop can weaken a student’s ability to take notes in writing. In a courtroom, it is difficult to use a laptop to take notes of a witness’ testimony. It is difficult to use a laptop on a podium to access the witness’ court testimony. It is important that law students develop the ability to take notes in writing as a tool for the courtroom.

4. Learning environment in the classroom. The lids of the laptops form a visual block for eye contact between the students and the professor. Students are frequently trying to view the laptop screen as they engage in classroom discussion. This “split” attention can compromise class engagement.

*Adopted by the Faculty July 11, 2014