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Monday, April 14, 2008

It's Not You, It's Me

Maroon-colored irony dripped from the coverage over the past few weeks of the University of Chicago's decision to cut off wireless internet access in its law school classrooms.  A school known for its faith in markets and preference for individual rather than collective solutions to legal and policy problems embraced a top-down, market-rejecting approach to classroom management.  A certain amount of paternalism comes out in the school's justifications for the policy:  Dean Levmore explained, "the question is, 'How do you best learn? That's for the faculty to decide.'"

At the same time, some of the other statements made about the wireless internet "ban" (a partial ban at best, since students with iphones or broadband will still be able to e-mail/facebook/above-the-law to their hearts' content) reveal what I think is the true reason the faculty targeted student internet use: Frankly, it ticked them off. 

Professors at U of C (and elsewhere) think what they have to say is important. Professors think (and should think, or they would have trouble doing their jobs) that listening to what professors have to say really is the best use of law student time.   And things have gotten to the point that you don't have to be a "hip young pRAWf" to sense that the student clicking furiously during another student's question isn't taking notes on that question.

As more and more law schools consider and embrace wireless deactivation (or the even more draconian laptop ban), I'd urge them to be honest.  Telling students you know what's best for them -- whether we're talking about attendance policies or wireless -- only gets you so far.  Be honest, and admit that you're banning wireless access because the plugged-in student is usually a disengaged one and has sucked the fun out of the classroom experience.   Students are more likely to accept a top-down policy change if it's justified based on faculty morale than student learning.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on April 14, 2008 at 11:14 AM | Permalink


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Golly, "Still Allowing Internet," it must be nice to be so smart that nothing ever occurs to you later, and you never suddenly think of something you'd like to check, and the professor's lecture is such old hat that no questions ever occur to you while he's talking.

Students use the Internet for lots of reasons. Yes, pointless surfing is a common one. Another is on-the-fly reference. For instance, I'm going to use the Internet right now... and then make two points: first, Merriam-Webster OnLine provides this definition: "disinterest (noun) ... 2 : lack of interest : indifference." (You may have been thinking of "disinterested," though you'd be wrong on that count, too. You could look it up.) Second, you're not "agreeing" with anyone - you're the first one in this thread to use the word "entertaining."

Posted by: rain_rain | May 7, 2008 2:21:39 AM

I guess what I don't understand, Dave 1l:37:07 (is Dave 8:28:27 a different Dave?), is why you haven't looked up the terms you don't know or why, if you are that interested in an unedited, you haven't looked up the full opinion before class begins.
So tell us more about "the way students are now learning." What do we need to know? What would you like to see incorporated into the classroom?
I agree that not every professor is entertaining. Guess what--not every client and every file in your future will be entertaining, either. I hope you can find a way to overcome your "disinterest" (and you might want to look that word up, as I don't think it's what you really meant).

Posted by: Still Allowing Internet in My Classes | Apr 14, 2008 10:10:02 PM

This surprised me, too. When I was a fellow at the U of C, the unsurprising party line was "If your students are paying attention to the internet rather than you, then you're not teaching well enough." I don't think this is right; there are distractions so powerful that the best teacher couldn't overcome them. But of all the schools that would have simply pulled the plug on wireless access, I'd have thought Chicago would have been the last.

Posted by: Dave | Apr 14, 2008 8:28:27 PM

Or better yet--embrace and adapt. Learn something yourself about the way students are now learning and incorporate that into your classroom.

I'm as guilty as anyone about occasionally checking out in class-it happens to all of us at some point. But I also use the laptop and Internet to my advantage in class. I have *many* times, looked up terms in Black's or looked at a full decision in Lexis to gain some insight not provided in an affront to editing that sometimes appear in casebooks. Not all Internet use is bad.

But the bottom line is that the best faculty members I've had didn't and don't have anything to fear from Internet usage or laptops, because they engage students, show a passion for the subject matter, and to put it bluntly, are superior teachers. Those who fear the technology, I strongly suspect, fear it because of their lack of command of their classrooms. They can ban laptops, shut off the Internet, jam cell signals, hell--they could even force open our eyes ala Clockwork Orange--and it still won't save them from student disinterest in the classroom.

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes the problem isn't with the students...

Posted by: Dave! | Apr 14, 2008 11:37:07 AM

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