Monday, November 20, 2006

Jamming wireless networks

WirelessOf all the technological innovations that have transformed law schools in the Internet age, none may be more useful than the wireless network. Knowing that broadband access is available anywhere, any time in a law school is a great source of comfort. The content itself isn't bad, either.

At the same time, no other technology is more despised. Law school technology crews are invariably asked to jam wireless networks in certain places at certain times. Let me be specific: Every faculty has at least one member who asks that the network be jammed during his or her classes.

But why? Consider the following:
  • FreecellYes, wireless networks facilitate Internet access. That means sports and gossip pages, personal e-mail, perhaps even online poker during class. All that is distracting, arguably in a way that crossword puzzles are not, since other students can see the offending screens. But a ban on wireless access simply restores the primacy of solitaire, hearts, Freecell, and Minesweeper.

  • Jamming the network for one professor's benefit runs the risk of creating dead spots. And forgetting to restore coverage is simply the latest variation on the theme of careless or even inconsiderate behavior among professors. It's bad enough that we forget to erase the chalkboard or to raise the projection screen.

  • The whole affair reeks of needless paternalism. Law students, with rare exceptions, are old enough to vote, to drink, and to enlist. They are also old enough to waste tuition and to receive (or deliver) informal social sanctions for engaging in poor, distracting uses of wireless technology during law school classes.
If it were up to me, I'd keep the wireless network running at all times. The fault lies not in our technology, but in us.

This item has been cross-posted at Law School Innovation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Law students' behavior in wireless access classrooms makes law school classes appear to be part of a time-wasting, rent-seeking program foisted on law students by tenured profs, the ABA, and the bar. That may be a false illusion, but all that surfing hurts law school credibility.

11/20/2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger Anthony Ciolli said...

Couldn't professors easily avoid problems #1 and #2 by banning laptops instead of jamming the wireless network?

11/21/2006 5:03 AM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...


You can't easily ban laptops when your school requires them. Even if there's no laptop policy, a ban on laptops would be incredibly destructive. These days, I suspect, a majority of students use laptops rather than pens and notepads to take notes.

11/21/2006 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few thoughts:

(1) I know less than nothing about FCC law, but I thought jamming wireless networks was illegal. Thus I thought schools were trying to find other technical solutions to the web-browsing problem.
(2) One solution (from Harvard Business School) is to block the passwords of students during times when their schedules indicates that they are in class. One side advantage is that it might motivate people to go to class (can't log onto the web even if you're not in class). Of course, it's incredibly easy to get around this one (e.g., borrow someone else's password), but at the very least it sends a strong message about expectations.
(3) It might be that there is no general answer to whether students should be forced (as opposed to asked) not to use the internet during class. Individual professors may have very different feelings about and experiences with students' browsing the web and (I think this might be more of a problem) IMing each other. And students may identify learning with a particular type of teaching, and they may be wrong. So they might (incorrectly) choose to ignore a professor early on in the semester because that professor doesn't match up with their idea of someone they should respect.
(4) Here's another possibility: "Welcome to my class. It is totally up to you whether you use the internet or not. However, if you plan to use the internet for a substantial portion of class, I request that you now move to the back row, so that your web browsing doesn't distract other students."

11/21/2006 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wireless cards have dropped in price to the point where some students would still have wireless even if the school's network were blocked. It's inevitable that students will be on laptops in larger classes.

11/21/2006 10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Needless to say, this is a popular topic in the law school technical community as seen here in these threads from the teknoids mailing list. Of course law schools are all over the map on dealing with this decidedly non-technical issue.

11/27/2006 5:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home