Online Students

A few thoughts as the month clicks over and we start counting down to September and the return of our students – something I’m looking forward to even though it doesn’t look likely that I will finish everything I had intended to do over the summer.

Simon Chester posted recently about the use of laptop computers in class and the ongoing debate over that, with some professors not allowing it. I think that’s a transitional thing and its inevitable that such attempts to hold back the tide will be overwhelmed before long. Nearly every student at this law school (Osgoode Hall) has some form of portable wireless device which can acces the Web, allow email, word-processing, telecommunication and likely a variety of other functions. Students are multi-task proficient (they seem to be born that way now) and frankly they also have the attitude and the expectation that everything be online. Although this is not the case, it is very very difficult to get that message across – not least because what was not online yesterday often is today, or next week. Questions that I did not think could be answered online – well sometimes a student shows me that it can. Staying ahead of the students has been the name of the game for quite a while now and will be – perhaps forever. No sooner do you install wireless than the question is asked, ‘does it allow printing?’ So you scramble to provide that. Then they expect online reference assistance, at 2am!

Life in a law library is endlessly interesting – and I wouldn’t go back to the pre-Internet days for anything. Remember cut and paste updating of Acts? [shudder]


  1. Elizabeth Ellis

    With the recent upgrades to the Bell wireless network, I am doing more internet searching on my Blackberry these days (tiny screen notwithstanding). Most of the searching to date has been for personal info (location and hours of stores, etc). Each success seems to encourage me to try something more complex, and as more websites become viewable on Blackberries, I can imagine searching for substantive legal material at some point.

  2. In the end, the debate is really not about laptops or pda’s in class or the library. The issue is really one of learning and teaching. The combination of the internet, digital information, and faster/smaller computers should have created change in the way students learn and faculty teach. This is happening to some degree; but it is amazing how the old lecture/note taking/casebook method still prevails. Especially amongst students themselves.

    The whole point of not allowing laptops in class is to enrich the educational experience. I don’t want to tell war stories of my life in law school, but in my days we had huge casebooks of unedited material, chalk and talk lectures, and endless notes. I personally couldn’t write that fast. So I hated the classroom experience.

    Image then not having to take notes, but having them provided ahead of time, with e-readings that can be cut and pasted ahead of time, so that you come to class to engage and discuss about the law and the issues it raises, not just to record what happens in the lecture.

    I see it as a truly exciting time in legal education when in some ways we can go back to the roots of university education as a communal and collegial activity.

    Sorry, I rant. Must be the effects of salt air.

  3. Hear, hear Neil!. The challenge now is that students and/or professors are not necessarily prepared to engage, and therefore, might not be willing to see how the technology can help them do so. In those cases it is our task to show them how that can be done.