For some Yale Law School students, multitasking means buying lingerie online in lecture.
Shopping, chatting, and surfing — law students do it all on the Web during class via Internet ports that were installed in law school lecture halls during recent renovations. This newest addition, however, has at least one critic from the front of the lecture hall.
Law professor Ian Ayres has made his gripe public, taking it all the way to the op-ed page of the New York Times.
“I asked that laptop computers be used only for note taking, and my students went ballistic,” Ayres wrote. “I was surprised at how brazenly my own students resisted my laptop restrictions.”
Many students admitted that they use the Internet in class to relieve boredom and to catch up on e-mail. They also use it to shop.
“I was sitting behind a student one time who was buying sexy underwear on the Internet,” one third-year law student said. “I don’t think she knew that anyone could see her screen.”
Technology has transformed the notebook doodle into online chat discussions, and students no longer have to rely on heavily caffeinated drinks to stay awake through long lectures on libel. Yale Law School students pay $29,800 a year for such luxuries.
“One time I was in a class where all of the sudden the ‘welcome’ from America Online came from one of the student’s computers,” Marcelo Blackburn LAW ’04 said. “The professor made some joke about students obviously using the Internet during class.”
Despite all the obvious abuse of the Internet resources, students argue that it is their right to have online access in class.
“Not only can students perform spot research for class, but they also can learn to efficiently multiask,” said Joshua Rosenstein LAW ’02. “Every class — no matter who happens to be the professor — has boring points. Logging on alleviates boredom.”
It may seem logical, of course, that the country’s best and brightest should be able to sit through a single lecture without clicking their way through the sale pages of Banana Republic. Ayres supports this claim.
“I understand the importance of multitasking,” Ayres said. “Nonetheless, I think that it is necessary to weigh the private benefits against the external costs.”
In this case, the external costs are distraction and discouragement for the class.
“I’d say that at least half, if not three quarters, of the students use laptops during class,” Rosenstein said. “And I’d guess that a majority of those connect to the Internet for at least some time while in class.”
And why were these data ports installed? Why not? It seems almost ironic that these little data ports went in by chance and now spur so much controversy.
“We were already drawing power outlets to every seat in the law school so it made sense to draw Internet access to every seat as well for only a little extra money,” said Susan Monsen, director of information technology at the Law School. “Furthermore, students can work online in the classrooms when class is out.”
Monsen also added that Internet access at every desk is normal for many law schools and that the ports will almost certainly serve important educational usage in the near future.
A few students agreed with Monsen that Internet access in lecture served an educational purpose. Blackburn said that he looks up cases on Lexis-Nexis for summary and analyses. He does this usually, he admitted, when he hasn’t done all of the relevant reading.
Ayres also pointed out that Internet access in lectures could be a way for students to communicate with the lecturer as he or she speaks. He suggested that lecturers set up an online polling system, that students could respond to during class. This would provide the professor with feedback on their lecture style and speed.
As it stands now, however, the utility of Internet access in the Law School is debatable. Its misuse is prevalent.
In the backdrop of all this debate, Rosenstein poignantly adds that the presence of Internet access is not the reason so many students are online during class time. The constant chatting and shopping is, he said, perhaps a symptom of a larger problem — such as poor teaching.
“If students find that they really aren’t paying attention to class because of the Internet,” Rosenstein said. “They’ll stop logging on on their own.”
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