Killing Trees: Technology Trials and Tribulations

Hate technology?

Today and tomorrow I am attending a Law School Admissions Council conference about using technology to better reach our students.  I was asked to do an informal presentation about this blog, which I am looking forward to.  But I have to admit, I feel like a bit of an imposter.  Allow me to explain.

In the spirit of innovation, the conference is being conducted and documented on a dedicated TWEN page—this is where conference members can review the schedule, presenter biographies, conference materials, and posts that we as participants have created in small-group sessions.  It’s a great idea, and besides a few of the usual technological glitches, it’s worked quite well.

We just finished a group discussion of the role of ASP professionals in exploring the advantages and disadvantages of using technology in our teaching, and our role in sharing these insights with other faculty members.  In addition to the content of the discussion, the format of the discussion was itself instructional.  We started with directed small-group work and then re-joined for a large-group discussion.  In addition to our in-person large-group discussion, we also used the “Live Discussion” tool from TWEN.  In short, this tool permits participants to join in a parallel class discussion via short text messages that are visible to the entire class.

We learned quite a bit about the ways in which the opportunity to participate by text encourages different folks to chime in, and also different types of comments.  We also realized that most of us are not capable of effectively focusing on two discussions at once.  I think this was a good first-hand experience in the challenges of distraction.  But we were also assured that our millennial students have more facility with this sort of multi-tasking.  I remain a bit skeptical.

And it is this skepticism that makes me feel like a bit of an imposter at this conference.

Let me offer the following by way of context.  Prior to the “Live Discussion” exercise, we first used the TWEN page to take a short quiz aimed at determining “How Millennial Are You?”  Scores in the group ranged from 7-97 out of a possible 100 points.  And, interestingly, from that point on, all the conference participants jokingly introduced themselves with reference to their quiz score.  (“Now this is coming from someone who is a 25 on the millennial scale . . . .”)

I scored a 97.  I suspect this was because I don’t own a landline, don’t read the newspaper, and am apparently the only person at the conference with a visible tattoo.  I have not one but two Facebook pages.

And yet: I did not bring my laptop to the first day of the conference, because I prefer to take notes by hand.  In fact, as my students know, I encourage my students to at least try taking their class notes by hand, because I believe it requires students to process and synthesize information in a different way, and perhaps in a way that works better for their learning style.

Indeed, I am fairly convinced that many of my struggles in law school were attributable to the fact that I was certain I had to take my notes on my laptop—still a relatively novel classroom technology when I started law school in 1995—when in fact I am a visual and kinesthetic learner who benefits tremendously from the creativity and freedom of recording ideas in handwritten form.

Along these lines, for this conference I planned on using a hard-copy handout in the session I would be leading so that my ASP colleagues could take handwritten notes to supplement the information already on the sheet.  But apparently all materials must be posted to TWEN rather than copied, both to reinforce the technology emphasis of the conference and to save trees.  (I love trees, but I will kill them for the sake of learning.)

While I am close to the millennials in attitudes and experiences (if not in age), I fear for the ways in which technologies are atrophying certain intellectual and social skills.  Maybe it is precisely because I am so familiar with the ways in which technology shapes our experiences and our selves that I am preoccupied with these concerns.

Like anything else, we need to consider technology (which we tend to equate with electronic devices, but which in truth includes things as mundane as a pen and paper) as one of many tools that can be used effectively for some purposes, but not for others.

Sitting at this conference, I see a few different categories of purpose emerging for technology:

– for feedback

– for in-class teaching

– for class participation

– for providing resources and materials

I am most skeptical about using technology for participation and classroom teaching.  This is because I feel very strongly that the classroom should emulate the professional environment, which requires confident oral presentation and use of basic technologies: pen, paper, memory and voice.  We cannot allow new technologies to supplant the skills that are still required in the profession.

But as is always with such conferences, my peers have opened my mind to possibilities that I had not considered previously, in particular using technology in the areas of providing feedback and improved access to materials and the professor herself.


One response to “Killing Trees: Technology Trials and Tribulations

  1. A few items regarding the use of technology in the classroom, per your request. Good post, by the way. I think it’s neat that you’re doing this.

    1) TWEN and Blackboard Discussion pages are a great idea but are limited by how often students do and will check up on them. If professors want a “lively” discussion, I’d be curious as to what success they’d have running it on a Facebook Group page or even via a Twitter feed. I know that professors are likely to be skittish in allowing their personal Facebook profiles to be viewed by their students, but it’s just a thought.

    2) Regarding taking notes by hand, it’s all about the professor’s teaching style as to whether that can be a successful note-taking style. If the professor has a methodical approach to presenting the information, even when done so socratically (sp?), taking notes by hand is great. When a professor is a bit less adept at keeping the discussion moving in a guided kind of way, hand-written notes become a mess of arrows and scribbles that lose their meaning soon after their creation. I’m sure that can be overcome with practice, but if a student is “at least trying” to take notes by hand they’ll be quickly frustrated and turned off if the lecture style doesn’t simplify that.

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