TWO: She went back to law school for an LLM last year (she received her JD a few years prior to that), and in her LLM classes she observed most students multitasking with computers in class--instant messaging, surfing the web, paying bills, gambling online--while also paying attention in class. In her opinion, it did not hurt their concentration, grades, or learning. She also claims it did not hurt the quality of class discussion.
THREE: She concludes that there is a generation gap between most professors, including relatively young ones, and their students.
FOUR: She thinks that "much of a law faculty's apprehension about laptops in the classroom relates to us, not [the students]."
Let me respond to these points in reverse order. As to point #4, I fully agree--much of it is about faculty perceptions, and in some cases it is also about faculty insecurities. And yet, that does not mean it is all about faculty perceptions or insecurities. A previous commenter suggested that I run an experiment in class, in which on some days I ban computer use and see what happens. That's something I am likely to do at some point--especially if a class seems filled with zombies, not law students.
Regarding point #3, ouch. She is right. I graduated from law school in 1994, and only one student in my 1L section (100 students) used a computer in class. I didn't have a computer with Windows until after I graduated from law school. And I neither own an iPod nor have plans to get one, which officially qualifies me as a neo-fogey. But again, her point goes to striving to understand our students. That may mean allowing computers in class. But then again, it may not. Which is a good segue into . . .
Point #2: I am sure modern students are better multitaskers than many professors, including those of a certain age like me (30s and 40s). Having said that, I multitasked quite well in law practice--you have to--but on the weekends I could get a "full day" of work done (what would take me a full weekday, including interruptions) in about 5 hours (that is, without interruptions). Not much multitasking efficiency in that.
And while I am at it, I do have to observe that just because students can do something does not mean they should be encouraged or permitted to do so. Little kids want to eat dessert for each meal, yet should we let them? They are better off, we generally think, being made to eat broccoli sometimes, even though they may want chicken nuggets and fries for any and all meals. In like fashion, would law students be better off in the long run (that is, be better lawyers) if we were to force them sometimes to "uni-task" in class on just a single matter--just as they are supposed to in client interviews, in court, and in depositions? They already know how to multitask, but I wonder if some of them know how not to.
And finally, as for point #1, I know the temptation is strong to surf or do other stuff in class. I sometimes take my computer to faculty meetings, so that I have have access to relevant files on my laptop during the meeting--and believe me, the temptation to work on other matters and check the news online is quite strong sometimes during those meetings. But I don't. It's disrespectful to my colleagues, and ultimately does not further the purpose of the meetings. The same can be said for non-class use of computers in the classroom.
My intuition tells me that my classes would run better--better interaction, better student concentration, fewer distractions to other students--if I were to ban computers. And yet Dunham has very good points. And at the end of the day, is such paternalism worth the effort? I don't have my mind made up on this one. The tension between anti-paternalism and concern over classroom dynamics is quite strong in my mind. But if I do make up my mind, I'll certainly post about it on this blog.