Monday, May 11, 2015

Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School

It is my pleasure to introduce a wonderful new article by our co-blogger James B. Levy Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School.


"The term 'digital native' was created by an educational consultant more than a decade ago to suggest a sharp divide between students born into a digital world and 'digital immigrants.' It has sent legal educators into a tizzy ever since trying to figure out how best to teach this supposedly new breed of law student. Do we allow laptops in the classroom or ban them? Is multitasking part of a new learning style or does it interfere with learning? Are today’s students primarily 'visual learners' who learn best with technologies like PowerPoint or is traditional media like print more effective?

This article begins by putting the present debate over the learning styles of 'digital natives' into historical context revealing that new technologies have always led to a 'moral panic' that they are changing the way students think and learn. To avoid making the same mistakes again, this article suggests we reject popular stereotypes and clichés about digital natives and look instead to learning science for a more objective understanding about how our students really learn. Only by understanding how the brain works and what it was originally designed to do can we make well-informed decisions about when to use classroom technologies and when to shut them off. Based on the foregoing, the last section of this article offers guidelines for making better use of several popular classroom technologies in ways that promote the critical thinking skills at the heart of a legal education."
Jim's article contains a very clear introduction to the brain and learning sciences.  It then shows how we should use this knowledge in connection with legal education, particularly the use of technology in the classroom.  I was struck by this sentence in Jim's article, "A more accurate picture of how today’s law students really learn is suggested by the title in that they use digital tools to gather information but still process it into knowledge using the original factory equipment of our caveman ancestors."
We on this blog have often stressed the importance of using learning theory to reform our approaches to teaching law students.  My emphasis has been to show how traditional law school teaching methods are not the most effective ways of educating students.  In his article, Jim has looked at it from the opposite perspective: how improperly using technology can hinder the learning process and how it can aid the learning process when it is used in connection with how the brain learns.  I think that Jim has written a very important article.

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