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March 19, 2010

An iPad in a Law School Class--A Skeptical View

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 My blog colleague (and former JON law clerk colleague!) Doug Berman wonders if an iPad (or similar Tablet computers from a plethora of other makers) could transform law school.    

Imagine three possible constituencies:

1. Students. Students use laptops both to take notes (alas, sometimes verging on stenography) and to read material (alas, sometimes including Facebook). Most reports suggest that inputting text is slower on a touchscreen than via a keyboard. Indeed, reports suggest that typing is faster than writing in cursive for many people. 

It's unlikely that we'll see folks using Dragon Dictation or IBM Voice in class to do dictation (unless engineers come up with noise canceling systems that prevent your noise from leaking out, rather than other people's noise from leaking in.

Also, where would a student put the iPad in a classroom--on her lap, or on the desk?  Steve Jobs showed off the device in a nice overstuffed chair, but unfortunately we do not provide those in our classes.

2 Faculty.  Faculty spend much of their time writing--mostly emails, it increasingly seems.  Again, it seems difficult to imagine writing a 50 page law review article with 400 footnotes, or a 300 page book on a touchscreen device. Faculty members might however employ dictation software--typically in the privacy of their office. 

3. Staff. Staff are constantly organizing and writing, again making it difficult to rely upon a touchscreen device. 

It may be that writing on touchscreens has improved far more than I recognize, or that it is about to do so. I find writing on my iPhone to be a huge nuisance, and I limit myself to short Twitter like bursts--but others find it less debilitating than I.

Now consider a fourth constituency:

4. Libraries and Other Information Services.  Given that we aren't typically allowed to write in a library book and simply receive the information provided therein, a Tablet might well prove useful.  However, libraries may be quite concerned about (1) breakage on devices that might roam (a fear that might be lessened if ; (2) theft; and (3) battery life. Apple's requirement that you send in your iPad to them to have a battery changed seems less than ideal. 

The times may overtake me; five years from now, perhaps I will be writing this blog entry on a tablet. But for the next couple years, at least, I think I can comfortably predict that I will be loyal to my laptop.

(photo by Dawn Endico.)  

Anupam Chander 

March 19, 2010 in Technology -- in general, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack