Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Computers or Paper in the Classroom?

There've been a lot of posts on legal blogs about the use (and banning) of laptop computers in the classroom for law school. This recent blogstorm started with this Washington Post article by Georgetown Law professor David Cole, and I heard about it through The Volokh Conspiracy. Reading the comments and following the links has been very useful to me, as people have very different takes on the issue.

Personally, I'm looking to buy a new laptop for when I start classes this August. I have a "desktop replacement" by Toshiba which is great when it works but is also pretty finicky. It's failed on me several times since I got it, including times during grad school when I really, really could have used it. It's not reliable enough to use as my main computer. However, I could use it as my "home" computer at my apartment and use the new one for research and in class. I went to Virginia Tech and technology was obviously stressed and implemented into many of my courses. At the same time, though, I only ever used my laptop in class once throughout my bachelor's and master's degrees, and that was to look up a picture of something we were discussing in class to explain the concept. I always took notes by hand, and I always made my outlines by hand on unlined paper before typing them up into a paper.

Actually, that's not quite true. I had a Palm Pilot with a full-sized keyboard my Freshman year, and not only did it make me look like a dork, but it also severely restricted my ability to take notes. I'm also told that in most professional schools (and colleges!) you can't have your laptop in front of you. If you can't use it in the courtroom, either, then it would seem that relying on it in the classroom might prevent you from developing and maintaining your notetaking by hand skills, to the detriment of your courtroom performance. Your computer hacking skills might get better, although I doubt there'd be an effect on your bowhunting or nunchuck skills.

Don't get me wrong: a wizard presentation using available technology could be really useful in the courtroom, although at the same time I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the idea of using eye candy to convince a judge or jury unless the other side is doing so as well, as it seems kind of unfair. I know I'm naive and inexperienced, but I don't want justice to be subverted just because someone has l337 skillz (is good with computers). I like the idea of being able to instantly look up information, and having a computer with me in class as a reference sounds pretty useful, but as a notetaking medium I'm not so sure.

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