Yes, I was already sick of this issue in 2006. But what the hell? If Ian Ayres is talking about it on Freakonomics, I'll have another go at it.
Ayres's piece is called "Surfing the Class," and you may have noticed that my post from 2 years ago has a little aside saying nobody says "surfing" about the internet anymore. Oh, the things that you think have gone away that keep coming back!
I wanted schools to announce that laptops, by default, should be used during class only for class-related activities unless the professor says otherwise.What kind of attitude is that? Why do you need a rule that a prof has to override? Just have no rule and let the prof impose a rule if he wants! Are you such a candyass that you can't impose the rule on your own, that you need your preference to be the default because you don't want to take responsibility for it? Ha!
Let the default be freedom. Let the students take responsibility for their own behavior, and let the prof take responsibility for withdrawing freedom if that's what he wants to do.
I’m happy to report that Saul Levmore, the dean at the University of Chicago Law School has recently announced an end to classroom surfing...Let's check to see if there is any reason not to limit what other people are allowed to do. What an attitude! Talk about default rules!
In praising Levmore, I should be clear that there is no good a priori argument against multitasking....
Law students are adults who generally can decide for themselves what is in their best interest — but...But... let's control them anyway.
Ayres does at least notice at this point that he's being illiberal, so he shifts into blather about "negative externalities."
The laptop screen is a billboard that is very visible to other students sitting behind the gamer. Surfing and game playing in particular can be very distracting — both visually and in the signal they send to others that you don’t care about class.You know, when I was a law student, birds tweeting outside the window would distract me. Students leaning their heads from one side to the other distracted me. The spittle in the corner of the teacher's lips distracted me. The prospect of lunch distracted me. But the world failed to adopt rules to clear away all these distractions. I figured out solutions on my own, like sitting in the first or second row and drawing elaborate doodles to stare at so I could listen better. I suppose my doodles were imposing negative externalities, very visible billboards that they were.
Back to Ayres:
Multitasking also makes students less present as participants in class discussion. Surfing doesn’t stop students from taking notes, but it degrades the quality of their attention.Is that supposed to be a negative externality too? Good lord. Just ask some good questions, teacher. Be interesting. Say: "And that's exactly the sort of question I intend to put on the exam. In fact, I might put that very question on the exam."
In recent years, I’ve tried to balance student liberty with my negative externality concern by allowing surfing, but only in the back row of class. In the back row, at least, it isn’t a visual distraction.In other words, there is a complete solution to the only real negative externality you've identified, the very visible billboard problem.
Ayres nevertheless continues:
I am tempted to ask students to collect data on how much surfing is actually going on (even when it is banned). I bet some readers will be upset with the idea of such monitoring. There is a growing sense of entitlement not just to surf but to keep your professor in the dark about whether you are surfing or not.Yeah. And these readers are right. Mind your own business, lawprof. You don't come by at night to see if they are doing their homework. Do your own job, professors, and make it so that paying attention in class matters by making it affect the exam and the grades.
If the admission application simply asked students to check a box if they were willing to forgo classroom surfing, I imagine virtually all applicants would forgo their God-given right to play solitaire.Ayres is a lawprof at Yale. If the application simply asked students to check a box if they were willing to allow their professor stop by their house and flog them for no good reason, I imagine virtually all Yale applicants would forgo their God-given right to be free of floggings.