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December 12, 2006

Power to the students? The case of laptops in the classroom

The first issue that we discussed at our forum last Thursday, on which we also lingered the longest, animated the unending controversy over laptops in the classroom. (Listen to this discussion). The topic itself interests me far less than what it seems to represent: a shift of power from professors to students in today's law school classes. (It also represents the changing skills and knowledge that a future lawyer needs, but more on that later).

Of course professors and students have always struggled over control of the classroom, but if my own law teachers were playing defense against the hornbooks sold in our school bookstore, teachers today are battling the entire Web. Students disgruntled with the quality (or entertainment value) of their professors can pool knowledge with peers around the country, view other professors' lessons and presentations, and even download MP3 readings of cases, iTunes-like. So, as Dean Pat Hobbs noted in the panel, students are increasingly expecting professors to entertain them. But I'm not convinced that this is the only dimension of change.

I propose that a law professor (and all teachers in general) cannot erect infinitely high seawalls against a rising tide of information and opinions -- indeed, given the reality that law students will step into as practitioners, such an approach may even be harmful. Rather, perhaps professors are increasingly being called on to serve as architects of an educational space that students create together and not just as drill sergeants of knowledge.

I am deliberately attempting to provoke discussion here -- please post your comments!

- Gene Koo

December 12, 2006 in Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink


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