Even when multitasking is blocked, students who take notes on a computer tend to perform worse than students who take notes by hand, according to a 2014 study by Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. They found that laptop users were basically creating a transcript of the lecture, while those taking notes by hand were synthesizing the information. This confirms my own experience when meeting with students who appear to have a nearly verbatim record of what I said in class but fail to grasp what I was trying to convey. It’s like making a cake recipe from scratch, measuring out all the ingredients perfectly, but forgetting to put the concoction in the oven.
Laptops in the classroom can also make it harder to teach. Most law professors do more than lecture. We ask questions, pose hypotheticals, encourage students to engage in dialogue. Yet I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve called on a student with a question, only to have him look up from his laptop in bewilderment and ask me to repeat it. That slows down class discussion, making it harder to cover the material planned and impairing the learning experience of students who aren’t absorbed in playing Candy Crush or QuizUp.
My best guess is that many of my students, millennials almost all, have never been in a university classroom where they weren’t connected to the internet. As bright and hard-working as they are, they don’t know what it feels like to be completely focused on a text, or fully absorbed in a classroom discussion.