June 11, 2008

"Luddites, paternalistic, or, worse, boring instructors who blame the Internet for their pedagogical shortcomings" ... lawprofs who ban laptops.

The Chronicle of Higher Education addresses the subject. (With some quotes from me.)

Their comment section is over here. I like the second one, from "Wilford Brimley":
You young whippersnappers with your newfangled folding computers—what a waste of time reading that facebook. Why, in my day we didn’t have such nonsensical tomfoolery, we couldn’t count but to 20 cause that’s all the fingers and toes we had. And the only people surfin was them pretty boys in Californy. Ahhh, flibbity gibbit.
The article ends with a quote from Harvard Business School prof John Deighton: "Ultimately the only way to ensure that a class member is not on the Web is to conduct an engaging class." That reminds me of one of the things I said that was not used: Make understanding of what was said in class crucial to doing well on the exam. Students are not motivated only by what happens to interest them.

ADDED: Law students deprived of laptops can't surf the web — or, wait, actually they can — but what are you going to do about jurors doing sudoku? Call a mistrial?


KCFleming said...

Make understanding of what was said in class crucial to doing well on the exam.

"This will be on the test."
Works pretty well at grabbing one's attention.

Sesame street and TV have made people stupid enough to believe that all teaching should be entertaining. It's not. Sometimes it's a hard slog, and even the best teachers have their bad days.

But it would be nice if education degrees were at all meaningful as to the teacher having either mastered the subject or learned how to teach. Instead, they learn ...well, what exactly? Union rules? Diversity?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"This will be on the test." Works pretty well at grabbing one's attention."

I'm fond of saying: And that's exactly the sort of question I will put on the exam. In fact, I may put that very question on the exam.

"But it would be nice if education degrees were at all meaningful as to the teacher having either mastered the subject or learned how to teach. Instead, they learn ...well, what exactly? Union rules? Diversity?"

We're talking about lawprofs. We don't have education degrees.

kjbe said...

The idea of actually writing down class notes (and subsequent doodles) seemed to connect me better to what was going on in class. I could (can) organize on the fly. Nowadays, writing from a keyboard seems so disconnected. And anyway, tuition seems too high to be on facebook while in class.

KCFleming said...

We don't have education degrees.

I know and thank the heavens for that. Just like medicine, law recognized the value of subject mastery over whatever it is they do getting education degrees. Have you or your students been harmed by that supposed lack?

That is NOT time wasting. I learned alot while doodling. I was in fact intensely listening while drawing. Not true with surfing.

Badger 6 said...

When I was in law school I used a laptop for notetaking; we had no wireless until my third year. When we did get though, it was quite the relief.

Law school classes, when conducted properly, can be riveting, but this requires the Professor needs to ask good questions and present the material well; but students have a responsibility to be engaged and prepared. All to often though at least one of the two is missing.

In my third year I took both Anti-Trust and Securities from my favorite professor - I was always prepared and anxious to talk about the issues, but this professor feels, and I understand, that he cannot merely call on volunteers, he has an obligation to get other students involved.

I knew that he would rarely call on me because he knew I was prepared; why should I fall asleep and be bored to tears because other students were not prepared and could not be bothered to think except when a professor was extracting information from them as if it was dental school?

The problem is not students surfing the net in class; the problem is others who are not prepared to engage in discussion either from the podium or from the seats.

Michael McNeil said...

The toes (at least my toes) aren't very dexterous for counting on, but if one counts in binary, one can count up to 32 on just a single hand, and 1,024 using two hands. (I used to count out long measures rest in binary on the fingerboard of my violin in high school orchestra!)

bearbee said...

...but if one counts in binary, one can count up to 32 on just a single hand...

Explain please. I keep getting different numbers.

Fen said...

Uninstall Vista, reinstall XP.

You should get 32 now.

Michael McNeil said...

Five fingers = 2^5 = 32 possibilities (imagine that 1 means finger down on the table; 0 finger up off the table), to wit:

01 = 00001
02 = 00010
03 = 00011
04 = 00100
05 = 00101
06 = 00110
07 = 00111
08 = 01000

09 = 01001
10 = 01010
11 = 01011
12 = 01100
13 = 01101
14 = 01110
15 = 01111
16 = 10000

17 = 10001
18 = 10010
19 = 10011
20 = 10100
21 = 10101
22 = 10110
23 = 10111
24 = 11000

25 = 11001
26 = 11010
27 = 11011
28 = 11100
29 = 11101
30 = 11110
31 = 11111
32 = 00000

Michael McNeil said...

Fen: LOL!

I no longer play in an orchestra, so I don't use this method for counting out rests any longer — but I do sometimes employ it when pacing out distances while walking to keep track of the hundreds and larger columns in the count (yes, I know; mixing bases: impure!).

Michael McNeil said...

1,000 two-legged paces = 1 Roman mile

bearbee said...


Various demonstrators come up with

Michael McNeil said...

bearbee: Nah, just consider 00000 to have a digit carried out of the 5-finger field (thus: 32), or start with 01 = 00000 going up to 32 = 11111.

former law student said...

Ann said:

I'm fond of saying: And that's exactly the sort of question I will put on the exam. In fact, I may put that very question on the exam.

Unless the student's concentration is completely devoted to buying shoes from Zappo's or planning her wedding, a statement like that will make her prick up her ears and jot it down. (My favorite in-class transgression was a student's downloading MP3s during Property.)

I liked having internet access in class, because I could pull up the cases in Lexis or Westlaw, and not have to carry thirty pounds of casebooks around.

Kirby Olson said...

It's best just to ban them in classes.

They could be surfing porn sites, or anything they want.

The bad will drive out the good. Shakespeare can't compete with porn.

It's like a parent putting candy and ice cream on the table and then trying to get kids to eat their dinners. It won't work.

You just have to keep the easy stuff off the table if you want them to do what's good for them in the long run.

blake said...


That's an interesting way to put it. Montessori education seems to involve giving kids a choice between various items and letting them determine what they do when.

But I knew a kid in a school where one of the items was always just pure play, and he always picked that. I don't know enough about Montessori to say that it's a failure in the concept, but it was sure a failure in the implementation.

And then they wanted to hold the kid back because he hadn't learned anything. He ended up excelling at a Christian (Catholic) school.

With that in mind, by the time you get to college you should know better than to his the desert table (or the play table) all the time. Some people don't, but given the odds that they'll be working at computers and facing the same dilemma for the rest of their lives, it's a skill they should develop. (A few Fs beats being canned from a job that pays the Internet bills....)

howzerdo said...

Pogo, trying not to be overly sensitive, but I have to respond to this:

"But it would be nice if education degrees were at all meaningful as to the teacher having either mastered the subject or learned how to teach. Instead, they learn ...well, what exactly? Union rules? Diversity?" and "whatever it is they do getting education degrees."

I am not sure of the regulations in your state, but in New York, since 2004, teaching certification has been done only at the graduate level. Students get subject-area bachelor's degrees (usually with an education minor) and then a graduate degree in education (with a concentration on the discipline that will be taught, or on reading, special education, ed psych).

Full disclosure: I have a PhD in education and I teach two classes in the undergraduate education minor at a public university. Most students in my classes plan to become teachers, a few are uncertain, but are exploring the option, and the remainder take my classes (espcially the lower division one) as an elective.

One class is an upper-level survey of social foundations. They read, debate, discuss, and write on many educational theorists, including Gardner, Skinner, Dewey, Famularo, Nieto, Adler, Rogers, Finn, Hutchins, Peterson, Kohlberg, Bennett, Piaget and many others. They create and present a major lesson plan. We watch a few videos, including "Closing the Achievement Gap" (about Amistad Academy in CT) and excerpts about the David School from "Country Boys." They learn about educational technology. We read and talk about what it means to be a role model and mentor to students.

Yes, we do consider the issue of diversity in society and in the classroom (and yes, I do briefly explain the history and influence of unions).

As much as possible, I try to advise students who don't seem like promising teacher candidates away from the field, and to encourage those that have what it takes to consider it.

The other class is a lower division class on (don't freak) tolerance. In that class students read and discuss objectivism, relativism, ethics, multiculturalism, moral education, religion, democracy, pluralism, etc. They watch "Weapons of the Spirit" and "A Class Divided." They also experience and present on something outside of their "comfort zone."

On laptops: among undergrads at a public university, I have only seen 1-2 computers per class at most. In my experience, texting is a much, much bigger problem.

John Althouse Cohen said...

These people aren't distinguishing between computers and internet access. You can have computers without internet access.

Kirby Olson said...

It's difficult, however, for the professor at the front of the class to distinguish.

I argue that notepads alone sufficed for two hundreds years in American education. They can close their laptops for fifty minutes without going insane.

Plus, it causes a disruption for the rest of the classroom.

Students are so ADD as it is that one more distraction like that just never helps.

I used to let students open their laptops but then I realized that they always failed, and plus all the clicking of keys and so on drove me and the neighbors of the students out of their minds. It's an incredibly solipsistic thing for a student to think that they aren't bothering anybody by surfing, clicking keys (I can't even stand it when a student clicks their pen endlessly).

People should learn to sit still and focus or else join a rodeo tour.

rhhardin said...

Other things binary is good for

This sentence has one thousand one hundred a's, one b, ten c's, one hundred thousand one d's, one million one hundred e's, one f, one g, ten thousand one hundred eleven h's, one hundred ten i's, one j, one k, one thousand ten l's, eleven m's, one million one hundred one n's, one hundred one thousand eleven o's, one p, one q, one thousand one hundred r's, eleven thousand one hundred s's, ten thousand eleven t's, ten thousand one hundred one u's, one hundred ten v's, one w, one x, one y, and one z.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

So Howzerdo, at what point do these future teachers learn actual subjects that they are expected to teach to their students. Things like, grammar, composition, geometry, actual (not made up for our political correctness climate) history, economics, chemistry or even shop and vocational skills.

All of the things you listed mean exactly doo-squat in the "real world" of functioning working people trying to get and keep jobs.

My daughter had teachers who couldn't write a decent letter or spell properly, who didn't know what the state capital of Texas or many other states were even though that was the subject of that class lesson, misrepresented history and didn't know who Stephen Crane was in a high school literature class. The list of incompetence goes on and on. Maybe they passed one of your diversity seminars? The only ones who actually knew their subjects were the chemistry teacher, the math teacher and the shop teacher.

Unknown said...

I am a first year at UChicago. I agree with, generally, the notion that the onus should be on professors to make their classes interesting or worthwhile. Having the internet in the classroom works well to that end. The problem is that my impulse to check something on the web isn't really tied to my relative level of engagement. Quickly checking a fact, your email, the news -- they seem like low cost propositions. It takes just a moment and the payoff is equally as instant. So why not one more site? A rational person would view the cost of site surfing in aggregate before even starting. But who can do that? Maybe I am particularly weak willed, I don't know. It just seems like the rest of the class was particularly weak-willed right alongside me. Maybe its paternalistic, but I am glad the administration made the choice for me. I think its better to think of the policy as a useful prophylactic than to emphasize its repressive qualities.

howzerdo said...

DBQ: "at what point do these future teachers learn actual subjects that they are expected to teach to their students"

To reiterate, students major in a discipline: mathematics, or English, or history, or biology, etc. in their BA/BS. That's when they learn what you refer to as the "actual subjects." Most minor in education, and will have their first exposure to writing lesson plans, managing classrooms, state and federal assessment requirements, the history of public schools, how schools are financed, school reform movements such as vouchers, charters, home schooling, etc., and (sorry) the diversity of learners, among other things. The minor includes a placement in a school (not student teaching, it is more of a teaching assistant experience).

In graduate school, they pursue the MS in education with a concentration in one of those disciplines, or in reading, special ed, etc. At the graduate level, they learn specifically how to teach the discipline that was their major as an undergrad (or they learn how to focus on reading, counseling, special education, or elementary students) and they complete the student teaching requirement.

It's sad that your daughter's only good teachers were math, chemistry and shop. My recollection of high school is that it was a mixed bag and every discipline had some great teachers, as well as some truly terrible ones. There were quite a few of each type, unfortunately, and the bad teachers are often more memorable than the average or even outstanding ones. Thinking back, I had a great math teacher, and an awful one. Same was true for English and also Spanish. (I didn't take shop, in my day we had home ec, where I learned nothing.)

But since I was a high achieving, self-directed student, the worst thing about high school was the social environment. I would never want to live through that again. Academically, give me the book, and I could teach myself. The same is not true for all students. Most need good teachers.

I am so far from a defender of the status quo in schools, and I have been a big supporter of various reform efforts as well as increasing expectations for teachers, but I find the snark about "diversity" amusing. Maybe it means something different to me than it does to you. Five years ago, there were more than 6.4 million students with Individual Education Plans in the US, and the number has been growing. There was nearly a 75 percent increase in the last 25 years of the 20th Century. That's "actual history" and "actual data."

Increasingly, these students are being included in regular classrooms. I didn't dream up this policy, the Feds did, with IDEA in 1992 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. (More "actual history.") The reasons for the increases are subjects of debate.

Whether you or I agree with any of it is not the issue. New, young, naive future teachers must be prepared to face that reality or the five year revolving door of the burned out will only worsen.

No, it isn't the only reason for burn out. And I admit learning disabilities are only one form of diversity; there are many others, and yes, I teach about those too, and am quite capable of defending my approach, but this hijack is already too long.

duvimom said...

I'm in favor of the unfettered use of laptops in class. Those two bubbleheads in torts, with the multiple AIM sessions they had going all semester, were in part responsible for my A. Without their hard work dragging down the curve I might have ended up with a B+.