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April 19, 2008

Self-serving paternalism: reflections on Baze and law school learning bans

Another full read of Baze led me to a couple unexpected insights: (1) the Justices are very comfortable using 21st-century materials, even as some law schools and professors try to preserve 20th-century teaching norms, and (2) the raging debate over banning laptops or the Internet in law school classrooms is somewhat akin to the debate between Justices Stevens and Scalia in Baze concerning a constitutional ban on state use of capital punishment.  Let me explain each insight in turn:

1.  In the Baze lethal injection ruling from SCOTUS, a majority of the Justices' opinions (4 of the 7) cited to websites, and I counted a total of 13 references to website materials.  Among the cites, Justice Stevens' referenced a forthcoming law review article now appearing only on SSRN, and two opinions cited to two distinct transcripts from legal proceedings that have been made widely available through on-line posting.  I am not sure if all these citations officially make Baze the most web-friendly ruling in Supreme Court history, but they clearly reveal that the Justices understand that effective judging in the 21st century — and thus effective lawyering in the 21st century — requires an Internet connection.

And yet, on the very same day that the web-friendly Baze decision is released, we get this report that the University of Chicago Law School is now blocking student access to the Internet in classrooms "to help them concentrate on course instruction."  Even though the Justices now clearly appreciate that effective judging and lawyering in the 21st century requires an Internet connection, the super-smarties at the University of Chicago Law School apparently now believe that being an effective law student requires preservation of a 20th-century teaching environment by banning Internet connection in the classroom.

2.  I realize that I am troubled by Internet bans and laptop bans in the law school classroom for some of the same reasons that Justice Scalia is troubled by Justices Stevens' advocacy in Baze for a constitutional ban on the death penalty.  Responding to Justice Stevens' arguments that the death penalty is now unconstitutional, Justice Scalia laments what he sees as misguided (and constitutionally inappropriate) self-serving paternalism: "Purer expression cannot be found of the principle of rule by judicial fiat.  In the face of Justice Stevens’ experience, the experience of all others [such as legislatures, social scientists, and citizens] is, it appears, of little consequence.... It is Justice Stevens’ experience that reigns over all."

I have the same reaction to all the professorial self-congratulation about the positive impact of banning the Internet or laptops in the classroom.  I can fully appreciate why the experience of some law professors — particularly those professors who use only traditional casebooks and have not updated their teaching materials, styles or notes in light of modern technology — might be improved if students cannot access 21st-century technologies in the classroom.  But I have never thought that my experience in the classroom, rather than the experience of my students, is of paramount importance.  Thus, unless and until my students tell me that they prefer a classroom setting without laptops or the Internet (or alumni/practitioners tell me that a web-friendly classroom was not helpful training for their future careers), I will keep trying to create and improve a 21st-century classroom experience for students rather than self-servingly conclude that preserving a 20th-century teaching environment is needed "to help [students] concentrate on course instruction."

Cross-posted at SL&P

April 19, 2008 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 18, 2008

What if there were two competing rankings?

In an earlier post, I suggested the idea of a BCS calculation for law school rankings, which would combine the U.S. News poll with other, less prominent, rankings.  It is a project I intend to pursue, and am now evaluating other rankings which could be included.

This plan is not entirely consistent with the BCS calculations, which include not one but two major rankings and several minor ones.  The two major polls (of writers and coaches) contribute the most weight to the final outcome.  Because there is no other ranking as important as U.S. News, it is impossible to come up with an identical two-major construct in evaluating law schools.

The dominance of U.S. News in this area is intriguing.  Why has no other major media source challenged this dominance, given how lucrative those issues must be?  Britain provides a counter-example, where both the Times and Guardian newspapers compete in producing university rankings.  Notably, they use different formulas, with the Times being more focused on research and total resources.  Wouldn't it be great to see Time Magazine, for example, step up to the plate?  Perhaps a second major ranking could even include a measurement for innovation...

-- Mark Osler

April 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vision 2020: Digital Ubiquity and University Transformation

The University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) is hosting Vision 2020: Digital Ubiquity & University Transformation: 2008 Higher Education Leadership Summit, August 6-8, 2008. The conference is co-sponsored by Apple. Details on the conference website.

The deadline for submitting presentation proposals is May 2, 2008. "Academic officers, instructional and academic technology managers, faculty, staff, IT staff and librarians from higher education institutions who have designed and implemented innovative solutions taking advantage of digital ubiquity are encouraged to submit proposals. 1:1 Apple notebook, iPod, iPhone or other intense integrations are particularly encouraged." Submissions should relate to one of the themes listed below;

-- Joe Hodnicki

April 18, 2008 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2008

Professors Going Paperless

The Affordable Textbooks Campaign is a coalition of Student Public Interest Research Groups and Student Government Associations in fourteen states who are working to make higher education more affordable. Continuing their campaign to draw attention to the cost of textbooks, the Campaign recently celebrated a milestone— reaching 1,000 professors who have signed a statement supporting the use of free, online and open source textbooks. Looks like only two law professors have signed the Open Textbooks Statement to Make Textbooks Affordable.

Course ePacket Practices. Georgia State has been sued for course ePacket practices by Cambridge UP, Oxford UP and Sage Publications. According to the suit, “hundreds” of Georgia State professors have posted “thousands of copyrighted works” without permission on the University's library electronic course reserve system, Blackboard, departmental Web sites and individual course syllabi posted online. Details on Law Librarian Blog. -- Joe Hodnicki

April 17, 2008 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack