Friday, April 13, 2012
About five or six years ago, messages about laptop use in the classroom hit both the ASP list-serve and the Teaching Methods list-serve within a few weeks of one another. Even though the distress signals have calmed, “laptops-in-the-classroom,” as a usual suspect for student disengagement and distraction, still pops up at my law school. Responses vary from embracing, to tolerating, to banning the machines. How to manage the machines is the challenge. And it's going to be a challenge for our graduates as well. What is a diversion for students while in law school can become a monster of a taskmaster in law practice.
Law school classrooms have changed dramatically in the last twenty years or so. Up until about 1980, the biggest observable change was from black boards to white boards. Since then, the changes have been rapid, often with little attention to pedagogical detail, but more to being able to brag that a school was the most wired. Even just fifteen years ago, only a few students brought a lap top to class, and it certainly wasn't an Apple. Now the view from the podium is a sea of laptop lids, and eyes down.
The problem is not so much that students and lawyers are bathed in technology. The challenge is to determine how best to use that technology. Various practitioners’ journals include reviews and advice about the latest in software and hardware that make the lawyer’s workday efficient. The reviews are tempting, but each new machine and program has to be managed, requiring time and effort. Those who write about the virtual world have coined some interesting buzz words in the last several months: cognitive surplus, neural plasticity, digital alarmists—that last term might apply to me.
However, even those whose professional lives have embraced the technical world wonder about the effects of the machines and the Internet on our daily lives. Chip-maker Intel felt the pressure a few years ago. In 2007, Intel gave its employees the option of “email-free Fridays” in an effort to promote more direct communication within the company. Just last year, Caitlin Roper, managing editor of the Paris Review, in reviewing two books about the tech world for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that she felt “faster, but more distracted than I used to be. I don't know anyone who doesn't struggle . . . with the issue of how much to let technology aid, or encroach, on daily life.”
Roper's words define that daily effect: the demon that technology and the Internet can become unless it's leashed. A few years ago, a GPSolo article told the story of the young associate's attempts at a vacation with her family, while leashed to her office via her smart phone. It wasn't a pretty picture. It's the classic concern about whether the owner is leashed to the dog, or whether it's the other way around.
I've noticed a subtle unleashing trend at my law school. Southwestern's Bullocks Wilshire is a wonderful marriage of the building's Art Deco style with an LA coolness. In the open spaces you get a Michael-Jackson-Billy-Jean-MTV effect when the ceiling lights fire up as you pass by. It's lively but subdued. Faculty offices have light sensors, but several of us turn off the sensor so that the office is illuminated by window light only. Subdued.
I occasionally go one step further: my computer is off as well. Deep thought. And the notebook I'm using is yellow, with horizontal lines. My office is quiet in spite of the hubbub of Wilshire Boulevard outside my window, perfect for thinking and as close as I can get to an imaginary walk in the wilderness while in the heart of Los Angeles. Nothing to distract me from my distraction.
Is this a lesson for my wired students? As academic support professionals we can develop strategies for effective and efficient use of the new beast, and learn to cage it when we need to. I know I need help with this.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Exams are rapidly approaching. How are you doing with all of your daily tasks, papers, and exam studying? If you are looking for ways to use your time more wisely and be more productive in that time, here are some suggestions:
Choose your study locations carefully. If studying at the law school stresses you out and you get too distracted at home, here are some possible alternatives to consider: Other academic classroom buildings on campus. The main university library. The Student Union Building. Local coffee shops or fast food restaurants. The business center/function rooms at your apartment complex. A little-used office or conference room at the law firm where you work part-time.
Complete the hardest or least liked task on your daily “to do” list at the first chance you have in the morning. You will get it out of the way and not have it hanging over you all day.
Break every project or study topic into smaller tasks. You can often get a small task done in 15 – 45 minutes instead of looking for multiple hours to finish a larger task or study topic.
Take small breaks roughly every 90 minutes. Get up and walk around for 10 or 15 minutes rather than just stay seated. You will feel more refreshed and be able to focus better after your break.
If you tend to turn small breaks into longer than you wanted to take, use the alarm function on your smartphone to bring you back on time.
Ask a classmate or family member to be your “study conscience” for the remainder of the semester. Give that person permission to point out when you are procrastinating.
Every 3 to 4 hours of studying, take a longer break of at least 30 – 60 minutes so that you can relax before the next intense study session.
Some people need to take a 2-hour break that combines exercise and a meal at the end of the class day before they can re-focus for the evening. By combining exercise with a nutritious meal, you keep two healthy options in your routine.
Pull together the questions you have about course material to this point and get them answered soon by your professors. You will be more likely to learn the material correctly. You also will avoid the last-minute rush during the end of classes and exams. Some professors will only be available by e-mail once classes are over.
Consider condensing sections of your outlines that you have already learned well to half of the current length. Have the condensed version become your master document for exam study for those sections. As you learn additional sections in your longer outline, condense them also. (Begin your condensed outline as a new file and keep the longer version as a separate file in case you need to refer back to it.)
Complete as many practice questions as possible each week. Set aside blocks of time specifically designated to complete questions for each course. Otherwise you are likely to put off doing them.
Be on the lookout for when you are wasting time: between classes, checking e-mail and texts constantly, chatting with friends in the lounge, napping.
Have a series of study tasks that you can do in small amounts of time: using your flashcards, completing a couple of multiple-choice questions, writing out your “to do” list for the next day, going to ask a professor a question, editing a few paper citations.
Balance study group time with individual study. You cannot depend on your group members in the exam. Make sure you know the material and are not lulled into a false sense of security just because the group knows it.
Avoid people who stress you out, tempt you to avoid work, or make you feel inferior. Surround yourself instead with people who remain calm, are focused on their studies, and encourage you.
Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Your brain cells need the rest so that you can be more alert and productive. You will get more done in less time if you are well-rested.
Avoid junk food, caffeine, and excessive sugar. Healthy, nutritious meals three times a day will give your brain cells the nutrients they need to perform well.
By being more intentional in your use of time, you can boost your productivity a great deal. Everyone needs to find better ways to use the time available during this crunch time period. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Call for proposals:
Unbundling Part-Time Programs from Full-Time Programs
The AALS Section on Part-Time Division Programs is soliciting panelists to discuss and describe ways that law schools have created curricular and extra-curricular offerings for part-time programs that are specifically designed for the schedule and needs of part-time students, rather than mirroring the full-time program.
If your school has an innovative or unusual schedule for part-time students, creates different course configurations from the full-time courses, provides internship or extra-curricular activities designed especially for the part-time program, or in some other way unbundles the part-time program from the full-time program, please take this opportunity to highlight these programs or activities.
ASP professionals might also have insight into innovations or initiatives specifically tailored to support the academic success of students who fit the demographic profile of students in part-time programs: older and returning students with work and family responsibilities.
Proposals need not be long or complicated. Please send a short description of the feature you would like to share with the section. Length of presentations may vary, depending on the final number. Proposals should be forwarded by April 18 to:
William S. Richardson, School of Law
University of Hawaii