Monday, January 28, 2019

Are We Prepared for Future Students?

Another semester begins, and I proclaim the benefits of physically going to bar review lectures and taking notes with a pen on the handouts.  Students' eyes roll, unless they are already transfixed on their computer screen they didn't hear my speech.  Some will pretend to agree, but by the summer, less than 20% of our students show up for the on campus bar review course.  I groan and start thinking of new strategies to get students into seats.

Many of you have similar discussions with similar results.  I don't think I am a Luddite, but my mind wanders some days to creating a new law school called Luddite Law where wi-fi, screens, and technology are banned.  Then the next student meeting knocks on my door, sits down in my office, and proceeds to spend a couple minutes turning off the 35 different noise making devices before being able to start our meeting.  Of course, I then look at "The Facebook" on my iPhone after the meeting because those devices are addictive.

Low-tech law school is definitely a dream.  At my law school, every class that allows laptops has over 95% of students typing notes.  Less than 3-4 students hand-write exams in any given class.  The NCBE even announced they plan to move the MBE to online testing.  Technology is pervasive throughout law school buildings.

Many would agree that law school teaching has not accounted for new students and their technology.  Many professors are slow to integrate tech into the classroom, and instead of embracing the tech revolution, some merely ban laptops (which I am guilty of).  Students entering law school right now have not known a world without the internet, and they owned cell phones most of their lives.  Even if they started with a Nokia, they had the ability to instantly call someone.  They could even play the best phone game ever, snake.  Students today are engrossed in technology, and some of our teaching is behind.

Teaching is not evolving as fast as tech is progressing, and we may start falling even farther behind.  A recent Education Week Article discussed new classrooms from elementary school through high school.  The author said the environments looked more like video game arcades than classrooms.  Students learn reading comprehension and math on the computer with games that provide immediate feedback.  Studies discussed in the article did not find standardized test score improvement, but the schools utilizing the methods found "soft skill" improvement.  If the movement continues, law schools will start enrolling students in 5-10 years who learned primarily online in school.  Will we be able to teach these students with our current methods?  Should we change our methods or teach students how to succeed in our classrooms?  While Personal Jurisdiction would be fun in a computer game, would it work?

I know my Luddite Law thought is a dream, but I am concerned about the numerous different directions technology is going in legal education.  The NCBE is using more, professors are restricting use, and students enter with more tech skills.  Problems will arise, but I also trust this community to start building solutions.  I hope to be a part of the solutions eventually instead of just complaining about that new fangled technology.

(Steven Foster)

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