April 12, 2005

Let's encourage students to IM in the law school classroom.

This is a subject that came up and was batted about at lunch today. My colleague Asifa Quraishi said the students are already using the classroom WiFi to IM each other, and maybe it hasn't been so bad. We got going on the subject of how maybe we should outright encourage the students to IM, including sending tips and cues to a student who is engaged in Socratic dialogue with the lawprof. What's wrong with students pooling their expertise on the fly? The student doing the speaking is not rendered passive. He or she will still have to read the messages quickly and integrate them with existing knowledge. It could be lively and energizing. The students who aren't chosen to speak will have some way to express themselves, which might help them listen to the student who is speaking, and a spirit of community and collaboration might take hold. Am I wrong?

UPDATE: I'm getting a lot of interesting comments on this one, including some saying I'm being naive or foolish, but I see Glenn Reynolds agreed:
I actually do encourage [IM-ing] -- I figure that this way you've got several students thinking about the question seriously, when they might otherwise just be waiting to see if the student I've called on makes a fool of himself. How well it works depends on the class, and how extensively they tend to IM, but I do agree with the point.

Good point. If there is IM-ing and anyone is struggling to answer a question, everyone is implicated. The lawprof could say: "No one is offering you any help? So no one has any ideas?" All would have to take responsibility, instead of idling while the other student tries to speak.

Another thing we talked about at lunch is that all the students would get practice writing apt and pithy answers, as IM-ing trains you to do. I find this notion so appealing that I would like to see a technology that would allow me to ask a question of the whole class, require that every student enter a sentence or two answering, and then randomly display one answer on a screen in front of the class, which we could then discuss. You wouldn't need to know whose answer that was, and everyone would have made a go at typing out an answer, and I think that might put us in a nice position to begin a discussion.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Other technology, from an emailer:
Regarding your recent blogpost, I am a fan and a student at MSOE. IM is nice for class, but nothing beats Microsoft Onenote! After recently discovering the ability to “share” a note-taking page several of my friends joined with me to take down what is going on in class. Not only do we get a full audio recording, but we have triple or better overlap while taking notes that don’t miss any points. Oh, and the audio is linked to the notes, click on a word and have the audio automatically transfer you to that point in the recording.

As you know, MSOE is primarily engineering. Engineering notes are almost never strictly text and often make little sense with hastily drawn in margin notes about every little thing discussed. The only way to capture fully every diagram/handout/equation and still understand what the professor is actually talking about is to break down the responsibilities (often wordlessly) and focus on one aspect of the notes of the class, leaving your friends to take the other half. Often this means someone pastes in Visio diagrams while someone else uses a program like Mathtype.

There are a few difficulties with this approach…. Network access (wired or wireless works fine) must be present in the classroom. Sometimes formatting decisions must be made. Finally, the format is great at MSOE as laptops are standardized and handed out by the school itself. It would also help to have friends you are with between all your various classes. The only remaining problem is the cost of the program itself.

It was really nice to see such subjects as technology in class discussed by professors. I’ve been using this feature throughout this quarter and I almost with I wasn’t graduating this year, given how easy notetaking became.
Sounds great! I guess in the future there will be no excuse for not getting everything down. Once they can't write "Althouse talked too fast" on the evaluations, just think how fast I might talk.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Aspiring Lawyer responds and points out some software that might be just what I'm looking for. I've got a request in to our tech guy about this. I would love to bypass the Socratic agonies and get everyone answering everything!

27 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

I think that this is a very cool idea, especially for students in graduate programs.

After my undergraduate career at Ohio State, I was a student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. There, I was enrolled in the four-year graduate program for the Master of Divinity degree. One of my professors, Bruce Schein, was particularly demanding, using an interrogatory style that involved putting lots of fragments of evidence together. I can well imagine that students IMing one another could, collaboratively, resolve many of the issues and problems with which Schein presented us.

Chris said...

If that sort of thing would be allowed in a courtroom, it'd be good practice.

Jim Gust said...

Though I can support the idea of IMming to the student speaking, what of all the IMs among the students about tonight's dinner plans and other unrelated comments? Isn't there a risk of the class losing focus?

Eric said...

You're not wrong, just naive (on this issue). It is wishful thinking to imagine IMing students conducting the likes of a telepathic salon. More likely students are using IMs to mock other students' answers as well as the professors. I may be as cynical as you are naive, but I'll wager I'm closer to the truth (having sat on the other side of students' in-class computer screens).

But let's assume it is a substantive discussion flying about thanks to WiFi. I still don't buy that it helps or is productive. Getting the answer correct, with or without hints, is not the goal. It is, in my opinion, more important that students figure out the how and why. I don't think IMs, by their very nature, can accomplish this.

Add to the above the notion that the longer a student takes to type an IM "helping" another student along, the longer that student is disengaged from the in-class conversation. So even if there is a benefit to one student, my guess is that it comes at a cost to another (although it might not be zero-sum).

Jordan Golson said...

I use IM in a few of my classes, we use it to make fun, criticize, compliment and plan our strategery for responses. It's very useful.

Head of Royal Intelligence said...

I'd worry about the fact that the best classroom discussions could wind up happening in IMs and only benefiting the two students having them, rather than the whole class.

I graduated from college before wi-fi hit my campus, but I have experience with passing information back and forth with another student using plain old paper and pens. We were the only two free-market/libertarian-leaning students in a political science program full of self-declared socialists and Marxists, and much of the time the two of us were passing notes in a way that really did benefit the class as a whole--getting all of our facts and details straight before we went on the offensive against whatever left-wing argument was currently being advanced. I really do think that in the end this led to better discussions, since we got the kinks worked out of our arguments before we started making them, wasting less class time.

But sometimes when the classroom discussion veered off into the swampiest irrelevant reaches of poststructuralist theory, or into plain old off-topic feminist ranting, we'd just withdraw and have our own discussion, passing a notebook back and forth. And THAT is not conducive to healthy and thought-provoking classroom discussions. Of course, preventing people from wanting to withdraw from class discussions is mostly a matter of classroom control and not letting your students wander off into irrelevant cul-de-sacs in the first place....

RFTR said...

Someday we're all going to have wireless internet anywhere we go with our laptops, and lawyers will be able to use the same process in a courtroom... why not give them a head start now?

Sam W said...

This all sounds quite useful, and could be a great benefit, but whats to stop these students from passing information say, during a test or exam? I see it happen alot at my school, and its causing some big problems.

Ann Althouse said...

Sam: During an exam the students have special software that blocks their access everything but a very simple word processing program. Actually, at my school, we don't allow computers for exams (yet).

Sam W said...

Ah, that would solve that problem. Wish my school would get it. All laptops, cell phones, palm pilots, you name it, are being confiscated, but your school sounds a bit more up to date than mine.

JK said...

I like the idea of having every student come up with a few sentences on a topic and that start the discussion. That way at the very least students who wouldn't normally participate are forced to think about the topic (at least in the beginning). A potential problem might be requiring all students to have a laptop. But some law schools already require this, so maybe it wouldn't be a big problem. The more I think about, the more I like the idea. I say go for it!

jinnmabe said...

I use IM all the time in my law classes and I think it's helpful. I've seen comments in a group IM conversation mentioned in class tons of times, and yes, it's after we've refined it a little bit. You're not going to stop them from doing it without banning the net altogether so why not encourage them to use it for good?

Mike said...

It seems to me that the most important point is that the professor integrates it into his or her method of teaching and teaching material. As examples, I offer up two different classes at my high school (we have a laptop program and school wide wi-fi).

My government teacher takes advantage of the internet a lot in our class; he also asks a lot of questions directed at students and encourages lively discussion. Usually, the "smart" students end up having a side discussion over IM; this side discussion will work its way into the verbal discussion.

My English teacher still uses the internet, but not to the extent of the government teacher. Also, her teaching style is not nearly as discussion oriented (partially due to the material, I suppose). Anyway, the end result is that more often than not, IM simply becomes a way to amuse oneself during a boring lecture. We got the entire class in a chat room a few times last semester during a particularly boring lecture, but we definitely weren't discussing the life and times of John Milton. :-p

It seems to me that it is wholly up to the teacher as to what path the class takes. Granted, some subject material is more receptive to this than others, and there are always students who will misuse wi-fi regardless of the class, but on the whole, teachers who make an effort to integrate the internet and the capabilities of wi-fi into the classroom will be more successful in educating their students.

John Althouse Cohen said...

When IM-ing is allowed in class, all the students can (in theory) put the whole class in their buddy lists and agree to IM each other answers. That way, the student who's called on will always have the right answer as long as anyone in the class knows the right answer (and assuming that people don't send wrong answers). There's no point to a Socratic method where the student always knows the answer. If profs never want to get wrong answers, they should only take volunteers---or, better yet, only lecture.

And the idea that students who IM "pool their expertise" or "collaboratively solve problems" is ridiculous. The typical Socratic-method question has one clear right answer that you either know or you don't. I don't see how IM-ing could improve class discussions.

Ann Althouse said...

John (my dear son): you know I do prefer to take volunteers or to lecture, so this system would help me to branch out into the reluctant sector of the class. I don't enjoy hanging one student out to dry. I just want to engage people and make them care about the subject. If IM-ing could buoy everyone up, I'd like it. The particular interlocutor would still have to put sentences together and be rational, and the follow up questions would test that person and keep him or her on his or her toes. And I'm thinking the mutual support among students would be nice. The chosen student wouldn't have to think: I'm singled out; everyone is judging me. That student could think: all my colleagues are supporting me, in this joint endeavor -- understanding the law.

Bryan said...

I agree, great idea. In fact, I'd try IM, a group messaging interface, and open web access. Instructors need to get past the idea that they must always be the single and constant focus of everyone in the classroom. Minds will wander and instructors will drone on, so we might as well let students do something productive besides daydreaming and doodling and PSPs.

I'm no longer a student (though I do work in education.) But if a wi-fi connection is available in a meeting you can bet I'll be using it. IM and web access has saved me a great deal of time by allowing me to have information immediately that I'd otherwise have to look up later and wait to discuss. (Or, more likely, never discuss at all because the topic has passed.)

Old Patriot said...

Several points:
I'm much older than most students - almost 60. I've also been a "student" for most of my life. I had a history professor (Richar Chardkoff) in 1967-68 that used to lecture for three hours, almost non-stop. Note-taking was ESSENTIAL, since half of what he talked about wasn't in the textbook, or in the outside reading (these were 400-level US history classes). I still have my notebooks from those classes. IM, voice-conversion, and shared notes would have been a GODSEND! Even a computer would have been great - I can type three times faster than I can write, even with the nerve damage I have today. And those early notes are readable, but just barely, and only because I can remember (once I get started) what was being discussed.

A side note: Thanks, Ann, for instituting comments again. It saves me from having to email you two or three times a week. Secondly, I found Dr. Chardkoff's email address online recently, and we've corresponded several times now. In my opinion, the Internet is the greatest invention since fire!

Old Patriot said...

Several points:
I'm much older than most students - almost 60. I've also been a "student" for most of my life. I had a history professor (Richard Chardkoff) in 1967-68 that used to lecture for three hours, almost non-stop. Note-taking was ESSENTIAL, since half of what he talked about wasn't in the textbook, or in the outside reading (these were 400-level US history classes), but would be on the mid-term and final exams. I still have my notebooks from those classes. IM, voice-conversion, and shared notes would have been a GODSEND! Even a computer would have been great - I can type three times faster than I can write, even with the nerve damage I have today. And those early notes are readable, but just barely, and only because I can remember (once I get started) what was being discussed.

A side note: Thanks, Ann, for instituting comments again. It saves me from having to email you two or three times a week. Secondly, I found Dr. Chardkoff's email address online recently, and we've corresponded several times now. In my opinion, the Internet is the greatest invention since fire!

Jonathan Dresner said...

I'm not sure that a majority of my students own computers, much less laptops. I get an awful lot of handwritten homework, still (though I haven't gotten anything produced on a typewriter for five years), and a fair number of my students depend pretty heavily on the school computer labs and printers.

Are you folks talking about computer lab classrooms, or are your students just better equipped?

HaloJonesFan said...

As far as the engineering student and the OneNote: Does ON allow you to animate the results, or present a sequence? That could be an invaluable tool for calculus classes, where there is often a specific process to determine an answer. Copying down each step of the process requires a huge amount of notepaper. On the other hand, if I could animate the transformations, derivations, etc. by erasing and re-drawing the actual _equation_, that would help enormously.

Druschc said...

Hey Helo, I'm the student who posted the ON comment. Typically for calculus (which I was mostly through with when I started ON) I use the program called "Mathtype" to generate the proper looking equations. Copy/paste lets me easily create the next step and make necessary changes. Often during a lull I will then add colors/highlighting/etc. I find that lines are the best way to represent time in such cases (because hitting enter can't be beat for speed.)

You can email me at druschc@gmail.com and I'll be happy to send you a PDF with some class note examples of the past few years.

As far as advanced equations (semi-conductor physics for example) I usually stick to the same method as above, but cut/paste the final equations into Visio or another program to get a sense of what they represent.

Druschc said...

Oh, I forgot one other thing. You are able to automatically "collapse" levels by double-clicking the "+" sign, which you enable you to save space, or you can just use the "subpage" function (which creates additional pages derived from the page creating them.)

I've considered making custom software to help out, and I'd really have some benefit to having a "tablet pad" or a small personal scanner (the tube-like ones that are portable.)

Druschc said...

Jonathan Dresner:

MSOE is a private school, and since we're engineer/technology focused the school decided to mandate a laptop program which all students must pay for and all students get the same model (with an update to a newer model after 2 years and keeping the laptop when leaving.) This was mainly to eliminate desktop computers and make things much easier for students who have to program extensively in at least one class a quarter. We have on-site technical support and RMA service with "loaner" systems.

Hopefully in a few years it will be more possible to institute the same programs in other schools and let people take more extensive notes. Also, being able to search instantly for something you did 3 years ago within a class-room does have advantages.

Mellow-Drama said...

I am a law student currently IMing in Secured Transactions. Let me tell you it has saved more than a few people this semester. It can be misused -- in Property, I had a friend who would inevitably IM me whenever I was called on and write things like "Everyone thinks you sound stupid," etc. but it was all in good fun.

The IMing/chat room idea is better than what goes on now, which is a lot of Solitaire or web surfing. At least with IM, people would be reasonably paying attention to the subject matter at hand, rather than reading and responding to blog posts. :-)

Ann Althouse said...

Hmmm.... I suppose some people are reading these comments while in class.

Dean said...

Or, some of us were reading these comments when we should have been researching some point of law. What the heck, my lawyer-clients don't use IM anyway.

steve pines said...

I have painstakingly been searching for something to take notes with on my PC for myself and my students. Notetaking to me is not a passtime BUT an absolute must. I dont think I or my students can function without tracking and taking notes of all lectures and assignements.

I am looking for something affordable to replace Pen and paper on my PC. Without having to get a Tablet. In group assignements I cannot see IM taking off it is very inflexible and is relevant for only 2 people.

I came across Livepad at http://www.seeplain.com seems very flexible and affordable. I used its collaboration function to share my workspace interactively with my class where even they could contribute to the workspace there and then. Has anyone used this before? I am trying it out and have been impressed by it. I'd love to hear any views on this software.