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November 20, 2006

Jamming wireless networks

Of all the technological innovations that have transformed law schools in the Internet age, none may be more useful than the wireless network.  Knowing that broadband access is available anywhere, any time in a law school is a great source of comfort.  The content itself isn't bad, either.

At the same time, no other technology is more despised.  Law school technology crews are invariably asked to jam wireless networks in certain places at certain times.  Let me be specific: Every faculty has at least one member who asks that the network be jammed during his or her classes.

But why?  Consider the following:

  • Yes, wireless networks facilitate Internet access.  That means sports and gossip pages, personal e-mail, perhaps even online poker during class.  All that is distracting, arguably in a way that crossword puzzles are not, since other students can see the offending screens.  But a ban on wireless access simply restores the primacy of solitaire, hearts, Freecell, and Minesweeper.
  • Jamming the network for one professor's benefit runs the risk of creating dead spots.  And forgetting to restore coverage is simply the latest variation on the theme of careless or even inconsiderate behavior among professors.  It's bad enough that we forget to erase the chalkboard or to raise the projection screen.
  • The whole affair reeks of needless paternalism.  Law students, with rare exceptions, are old enough to vote, to drink, and to enlist.  They are also old enough to waste tuition and to receive (or deliver) informal social sanctions for engaging in poor, distracting uses of wireless technology during law school classes.

If it were up to me, I'd keep the wireless network running at all times.  The fault lies not in our technology, but in us.

Jim Chen

This item has been posted at MoneyLaw.

November 20, 2006 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink


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Needless to say, this is a popular topic in the law school technical community as seen here http://www.teknoids.net/?q=search/node/wireless+classroom in these threads from the teknoids mailing list. Of course law schools are all over the map on dealing with this decidedly non-technical issue.

Posted by: Elmer Masters | Nov 27, 2006 5:10:24 PM

It seems critical to me that professors see the wireless network as actually contributing to classroom learning. On the level of freeform data-browsing, I can see why profs would want to shut the network down. It's not very different than your parents making you turn off your TV while you're studying. (This betrays me as belonging more to Gen-X than Gen-Y?).

However, can wireless networks directly enhance class engagement in a way that law professors can comprehend, embrace, extend? For example, if the Socratic method is such a great thing, can't more students engage in the Socratic dialogue through an official class backchannel?

Speaking from personal experience, during law school I participated a lot in class discussion, because that's my learning style. Sitting and listening is not my way of learning! (maybe this is why I feel compelled to comment on blog posts). I found through my recent experience at State of Play Academy that I also love being able to text chat while a teacher is talking. It's not quite social note-taking but rather a different kind of participation. However, I suspect that to turn this kind of ad-hoc chatter into something more intellectually productive will require more scaffolding -- maybe something like an advanced version of our Question Tool -- to channel students into active engagement with the class materials and not the latest sports scores.

Posted by: Gene Koo | Nov 28, 2006 6:55:11 PM

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