The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom

The case for banning laptops in the classroom’ is an interesting article that looks at whether students’ use of laptops in the classroom has any real benefits. It includes a study by Princeton University on whether writing notes longhand, on paper in a classroom is more beneficial than using a laptop. The study suggests that typing notes on a laptop is actually impairing learning as it is a much shallower process decreasing effective modes of recall. The article also points out that laptops are hugely distracting both for the student and teacher alike. When the teacher looks up from the front of the class and sees faces down behind screens it gives a physical barrier between the students and the teacher. The students have a great temptation to check emails/facebook/surf the web in class and so their ability to concentrate on learning is greatly diminished. In a law context where the optimum learning environment is one where students are engaging in conversation and debate, should the laptop be banned?

The link to the article is here
The link to the Princeton study is here

Thomas Molloy


Student emails

I don’t know about others, but I find most student emails both time consuming and unhelpful. They are time consuming because when you craft a reply you are only helping one student with one question (so you may have to answer the same question for another student on a different day). And they are unhelpful because students tend to treat email as a bit of a crutch and ask questions before they really think too much about the answer. The problem and one potential solution is discussed here.

Personally, I ban all course content related email (and refuse to reply to it). So, a student can email to say that they have to miss classes due to illness or can seek an extension etc, but cannot email simply to ask a question about course content. All such questions must be asked either in class or through a Q and A on-line forum on the course webpage (hosted on Moodle). Even there, I encourage and incentivise students to answer each other’s questions (with my promise to monitor the forum at least twice a week and tweak answers where necessary). Many people consider running an on-line Q and A forum time consuming, but personally I find the time I save on emails more than makes up for the extra work.

Does anyone still reply individually to student emails asking questions about course content? What other strategies do people put in place?

Lyria Bennett Moses

Law & Society 2015 Conference Call for Papers

The global Law & Society conference will be held in Seattle on 28-31 May 2015.

From the website the theme and short description of the theme:

Law’s Promise and Law’s Pathos in the Global North and Global South

What has law accomplished in the Global North and Global South? Its champions have promised much—the spread of human rights and the rule of law, the elimination of discrimination and the protection of the vulnerable, the lure of economic development and the fostering of global trade, endowments of human dignity and restraints on economic rapacity. Its critics observe law as an instrument for repression, hegemonic control and infringements on privacy and intrusive surveillance (in the context of a never-ending and ubiquitous ‘war against terror’), as a weapon against free speech or political opposition, as a tool of economic exploitation and domination, and as a retreat from politics. The 2015 LSA annual meeting will engage law’s promises and law’s pathos in domestic and transnational contexts, through plenaries addressing the roles of law in the war on terror, in climate change, in emancipation and protection of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and in law’s relationships with religions.

 In case you missed it the call is here. The deadline is 15 October 2014  11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time USA.

New US Law School Standards

A revised set of Standards for Law Schools has now been formally approved by the ABA House of Delegates.A version of the new standards with the changes blacklined is here.

What will be intriguing for Australian audiences is the fact that for the first time Law Schools will be required to have learning outcomes:


A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following:

(a) Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law;

(b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context;

(c) Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system; and

(d) Other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.

Interpretation 302-1 For the purposes of Standard 302(d), other professional skills are determined by the law school and may include skills such as, interviewing, counseling, negotiation, fact development and analysis, trial practice, document drafting, conflict resolution, organization and management of legal work, collaboration, cultural competency, and self-evaluation.

Interpretation 302-2

A law school may also identify any additional learning outcomes pertinent to its program of legal education.


Student engagement and debt levels linked to later life wellbeing

A recent Gallup-Purdue report from the US makes some interesting findings on graduates.  The Executive Summary notes:

 where graduates went to college — public or private, small or large, very selective or not selective — hardly matters at all to their current well-being and their work lives in comparison to their experiences in college. For example, if graduates had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled also. Feeling supported and having deep learning experiences means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes for college graduates.

A Huffington Post article which has more data than the online report quotes the report as saying:

Relatively recent college graduates — those who earned their degree from 2000 to 2014 — who have more than $50,000 in student debt are significantly less likely to be thriving financially and physically than their counterparts without loans,” Gallup said. “They are also less likely to have a strong sense of purpose and to be thriving in their community well-being. Notably, for 2000-2014 graduates, the most indebted degree holders are less likely to be thriving in social well-being, something that is not true of the larger sample.

These results relate to college graduates who have significantly less debt burdens than law students. 

Together the report suggests Australian law schools are heading in the right direction with student experiential learning but there are significant dangers ahead for students if there are fee increases.

Alex Steel

Some thoughts on “editing a collection” as scholarship

Last week I discussed in another post why a textbook and writing a textbook should count as scholarship.  Today I will tackle the issue of whether serving as an editor of an edited collection should also count as scholarship.  This is important for, like textbooks, one’s work as an editor of an edited collection is in many legal academic environments not counted as “acceptable” or “countable” scholarship (even if within the specific law faculty the work may be recognized at book launches or in some catch-all category  for “[o]ther ‘research output’ which takes into account the practices of the discipline concerned”).  Just as I was annoyed last week by the negative view of textbooks as I worked on my textbook proofs, so too the negative view of the work of an editor of a collection is annoying as I spend today working on two edited collections (one thankfully at the very last stage before submission, the other a continuing millstone around my neck).

First, let me present some of the arguments why work as an editor of a collection should not be counted as scholarship.  The argument is essentially that the work of the editor is not scholarly, but is instead akin to the work of the research assistant, line-editor, book binder, printer, publisher and others whose contributions are not typically deemed to have added sufficient scholarly input to the final scholarship output.  Rather, the conventional view is that the work of the individual authors of each chapter is what constitutes the collections’ contribution to our knowledge and understanding of a field. The work of the editor of a collection is thought to merely include assertedly non-scholarly tasks as: line-editing; noting where further substantive work needs to be undertaken by the individual authors; fixing the citation form of footnotes and noting where further citation support is needed; interfacing with the publisher (typically providing the excuses why the book is not yet complete – such collections are completed as fast as the slowest two or three of the contributing authors); communicating with authors (either cajoling them to complete their contribution or apologizing for the delay in publication); writing the preface and perhaps a non-substantive introduction; and other logistical tasks.

But, as an editor of three collections that have been published and with two in the pipeline I can see a different side to the work of an editor, a significantly scholarly one.  As an initial matter, putting the book’s concept together, for the best versions of these books have a tight theme, is itself scholarly work.  The research required to draft a successful proposal and respond to the many demands of the publisher at that proposal stage also involves research.  Identification of appropriate contributors and communication with them, conveying the concept, is also scholarly.  Reviewing each chapter’s citations and recommending other support or citations is also a research activity.  But, the largest scholarly input of the editor is the substantive editing of each chapter – the demands of which are beyond even the best research assistants (assuming one has them).  When that substantive editing is done well, the contribution of the substantive editor is akin to the contribution of a junior co-author.  Yet, the editor of a collection does this for all the chapters – resulting in a significant aggregate substantive input to the book.  When I read through my past edited collections I see my thoughts, approaches, research and hard scholarly input throughout the entire work.

Furthermore, for the good collected works, substantive editors bring all the contributions together through the editing process to deliver one tight substantive contribution to the field.  Such substantive editing is very time consuming and includes independent research, not just for verification of author propositions but also for suggesting additional or alternate approaches the individual author should pursue to improve the work and to make it fit more tightly with the theme of the book.  Of course, there are edited collections where the theme is hard to identify or not well constructed, though a good introduction (itself scholarly work) can help.  There are editors of collections that do minimal or no substantive editing and only draft a cursory introduction.  As a contributor to more than a dozen edited collections I have seen the full range of editing.  It is easy to recognize in the final product which editors should have their efforts considered scholarship.  But, that issue speaks to the quality of their work as scholarship, not to whether the type of work is scholarship.  Just as an overly descriptive and unoriginal article in a journal is not an indictment of writing articles for journals as scholarship, so too bad edited collections and bad editing should not serve to undermine the scholarly nature of editing a collection.

In addition, at a policy level, by not sufficiently counting such work as scholarship there is a strong disincentive to work on such projects.  But, collections of work are valuable forms of scholarship.  They bring together different perspectives into one volume which is of tremendous value to their fields.  They provide authors an opportunity to work on an issue within a structured environment under substantive parameters which leads to valuable work that might not otherwise have been undertaken.  It is also another very good outlet for scholarship, as it disseminates scholarship in ways different to journals (e.g. at publishers’ tables at conferences, in libraries around the world, on book shelves in individual offices, etc).  Such collections also permit younger or new scholars to work on a project alongside senior members of the field and under the focused review of a senior scholar (the editor).  The editing produces high quality finished product, substantively of much higher value than that of many journals, especially in comparison to the many student edited journals (publication within which is often countable as “acceptable” scholarship). Furthermore, edited collections, unlike journal articles, are often the subject of a book review, itself a valuable contribution to the field . Finally, such books are “one-stop” resources on a discrete topic and are thus invaluable, a gold mine, for researchers.

In conclusion, as noted with respect to textbooks, a blanket characterization that the work that editors put into such valuable scholarship is not “countable” or “approved” does a disservice to the field and to the scholarly output of the editors.

Anyway, enough procrastination.  Review of draft chapters on comparative civil procedure or further work on the substantive introduction to a collection on China and international economic law beckons.

By Colin B. Picker

Some thoughts on textbooks as scholarship

In some jurisdictions, text books are not counted or countable as legal scholarship.  As I understand it, this is somewhat true of Australian legal academia.  I have to say, I find this somewhat perplexing (both hard to understand and somewhat annoying) as I sit here reviewing the final page proofs of the significantly revised version of my comparative law textbook (Comparative Legal Traditions: Texts, Materials and Cases on Western Law, by Glendon, Carozza & Picker (West Academic Publishing, forthcoming October 2014)).

As an author of numerous journal articles, book chapters and other forms of “acceptable” scholarship, I strongly believe that the analysis, research skills and scholarly efforts required to write a good textbook are at least equal to that required for the “acceptable” forms of scholarship.  In addition, a good textbook’s contribution to the development of the field can be equal, and sometimes greater, than many other forms of scholarship.

The research required to write or significantly revise a textbook can be intense.  Ensuring that the content (the texts, cases and commentary) in a textbook  are up to date across many hundreds of pages is a significant research challenge.  Furthermore, the typical textbook requires coverage across many more parts of a field than is required for the usual article or chapter, and even for many monographs (the gold standard of scholarship).

The legal analysis that is required for a textbook can be just as demanding if the textbook is more than just a compilation of texts and cases – and a good textbook should be significantly more than just a compilation of good texts (though identification and excerpting texts and cases is itself a valid form of scholarship). We would all agree that text presented without analysis by the textbook authors is not very helpful.  But the commentary required throughout a good textbook in order to present the field’s contours, internal connections and logic can be very difficult to craft.    Similarly, the questions and problems posed in a textbook that are designed to lead readers to deeper levels of understanding are exceptionally hard to write and may be little different than those analogies and hypotheticals provided in other acceptable forms of scholarship.

Of course, there are textbooks which would not satisfy the description I provide above. But bad textbooks should not be the ones used to set rules about whether textbooks are deemed acceptable scholarship or not.  After all, there is no shortage of bad scholarship, but so long as it is published in a peer reviewed journal or in a book published by one of the acceptable publishers it can be counted.  Obviously we should be looking between the covers to judge the scholarship quality of all types of publications, and not as a matter of course rejecting certain types.  While this may (or may not) be suitable in other disciplines, such as those in science, it is clearly not so for law.

There are additional and critical reasons why we should not penalize academics’ work on textbooks.  By relegating textbooks to the trash heap of scholarship we discourage the best scholars from working on these important parts of our fields.  Textbooks help to set the tone of a field by educating the future practitioners, officials and judges that are the lifeblood of the field. Indeed, often those textbooks continue to be found on their office bookshelves decades after they graduated law school.   I would thus argue that textbooks play a significantly more central role than does almost all other scholarship – so much more than the vast majority of scholarship which ends up hardly ever being read by these participants, or indeed by anyone.   Fortunately many of my colleagues and other legal academics in Australia and elsewhere ignore the negative consequences and do devote significant time and energy to writing textbooks.

As readers of this blog will know, I have written many pieces critical of American scholarship and academia (based on my experiences there and outside America).  But, the place of textbooks in American legal academia is an example of where American legal academia has it right.  It is often the case in America that the leaders of a legal field are the ones who write the textbooks for those fields.  For proof, look at how many of the Harvard, Yale, Chicago and other elite law school academics are authors of the leading textbooks in America (e.g., my co-author Mary Ann Glendon,).  Indeed, it is a sign of your standing that you write a textbook for one of the leading academic publishers.  The adoption of your textbooks across the country is a sign of and a reflection of your position as a scholar, itself reflected within the covers of the book given that so often those very textbooks develop new approaches and provide avenues for research not otherwise available – reflecting that they truly are valid forms of scholarship.

Anyway, enough procrastination.  Review of Chapter 12 of my textbook beckons.

Colin B. Picker.