Albany Law Faculty Workshop and CELT Series

Date: February 1, 2012        Time: 12:00-1:00 pm

Speaker:   Kim Novak Morse, Associate Director of Writing Support Services, St. Louis University

Topic:  “Laptops, Law Students, and Course Performance: An Empirical Sketch of the Contemporary Law Classroom” 


What are law students really doing behind those laptops? Is it as bad as we think? In an IRB-approved study, I captured the actual extent of 1-3Ls off-task laptop behavior over the semester.  Later, I correlated their off-task use with final course grade and LSAT scores.

The findings are rich with implications. Besides unexpected patterns of use, we learn students re-direct their attention back to class in consistent ways that, we as teachers, can orchestrate. This workshop offers concrete ways to re-direct students’ attention away from their laptops for more meaningful engagement. 

Professor Kim Novak Morse joined SLU LAW in 2005 after ten years of teaching critical reasoning, writing and research to undergraduates and graduates. Morse draws on her undergraduate and graduate studies in philosophy and writing pedagogy to make legal analysis and writing more accessible for the budding law student.

Morse is committed to developing student excellence in legal writing. Besides offering legal writing workshops throughout the academic year, she advises students on both class and non-class writing projects. In 2006, she founded the country’s first Student Legal Writers’ Association at the School of Law. In addition to offering writing events, the writers’ forum allows students to work on independent projects to develop their legal writing and research outside of class with the aim of publishing their scholarship. She has also filled the gap for regional law students wishing to sharpen their presentation and scholarship skills by establishing a successful Annual Law Student Symposium.

Professor Morse’s research interests include legal writing pedagogy, curriculum development, history of legal education, and law in higher education.

About 30 of our faculty attended this workshop.


  •  observational study of 6 law school classes (95 students for one semester)
    • 1L (Contracts & Crim Law)
    • 2 L (Taxation, other class opted out)
    • 3L (Sec. Transactions & Conflicts of Law)
  • 6 Research Asst. observed 12 students at a time
  • Timed students’ off task behavior – frequency & duration
  • also observed classroom conditions when students were off-task


  • What is the extent of laptop misuse in class?
  • Is there a correlation between laptop misuse & course grade or misuse & LSATs?
  • Whichclassroom behaviors promote off-task behavior?
  • How can faculty re-direct students’ attention when they are off-task?


  • 2Ls were off-task more frequently & for longer duration.  3Ls the least likely to be off-task. (NOTE:  there were fewer 2Ls in the study and 3L classes were smaller in size… Did this skew the results?)
  • Students with higher LSAT scores were off-task more frequently & for longer duration.
  • There was no relationship between percentage of time off-task and final grade.
  • There was no relationship between percentage of time off-task and LSAT scores.
  • The following behaviors promoted off task behavior:  socratic method with 1 student, 1 student engaging prof, prof’s monotone voice, 40 min into the class, calling on students in a predicted order…


  • Students are off-task but not as many or as often as we think.
  • Students that are off-task aren’t the ones we may think.
  • Being off-task doesn’t necessarily negatively affect one’s final grade.
  • Rather than banning laptops in the classroom, professors should instead employ teaching methods that engage students and methods that will re-direct their attention when they do go off task.

Click HERE for Professor Morse’s presentation. (pdf)

Of course, the meaningful use of technology by faculty can re-direct students’ attention such as, PPT slides, interactive whiteboards.  There are also technology tools that can engage students in the classroom such as, clickers and online response systems.

Laptops are, for the most part, essential for law students as they take notes in class and summarize, organize and synthesize when they are hearing.

I am glad that Prof. Morse’s supported this!!


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