I just posted a comment on a discussion thread titled Laptops in the Classroom on the blog of law professor Michael Dorf. Dorf’s post discusses his ban this semester on the use of laptops in his first-year civil procedure course, a ban inspired in part by the article Taking Notes Without a Computer: How Laptops Distract from Classroom Learning by Sherry Colb posted on FindLaw. In large part the anti-laptop stance is an anti-surfing-the-web-during-class-discussion stance, but not entirely. Colb states “[w]hen you take notes by hand, you are forced to digest what has been said and write down only a fraction of it. You are forced, in other words, to think while the class is in progress.” Dorf states “[g]enerations of students (including mine) succeeded in law school without laptop computers, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they were better able to give their undivided attention to class.”
Colb’s statement assumes that laptop users take notes in a qualitatively different way than those who take handwritten notes, that they transcribe verbatim like speech-recognition drones. Dorf posits written notes as a superior vehicle for holding one’s attention. My personal anecdotal experience supports neither view — I am both eminently distractable armed only with pen and paper and a thoughtful note-taker on a laptop. I am curious what others think.