If you sit in the back of a classroom, you can spot some laptop screens with Facebook, ESPN, or Spider solitaire, but you also see screens with notes or class-related texts. Some students seem to be doing non-class stuff most of the time, while others just pop into email for a moment here and there.
Critics think all of this is a sign that students are not committed to their education. But what's really going on?
Kim Novak Morse, a professor at Saint Louis University, is working on a Ph.D. in higher education and took on the laptop-in-class issue for her dissertation research. She found that most students are on-task most of the time. In her sample, second-year students were off-task more than either 1Ls or 3Ls. And, perhaps surprisingly, the students who were off-task the most often did just fine in the class: there was no correlation (negative or positive) between time off-task and grade. See Karen Sloan, 2Ls are worst offenders when it comes to laptops vs. lectures, Nat'l L.J. Feb. 29, 2012.
For more detail, see this handout from a presentation Prof. Morse gave at a conference on law teaching at New York Law School last June: Redirecting Laptop Users' Attention: Lessons from the Field.