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Re: "I know at least some law students out there now regularly chat during the lectures about what the professor or other students are saying while it's happening. Tell me how that affects your attention, your feelings of satisfaction and participation..."

I had a few classes in law school that were mind-numbingly dull and boring. I am not afraid to admit that I paid no attention whatsoever to the professor during such lectures. My mind wandered, as did the minds of most of my classmates, until the lecture was over and we were free to leave. We only attended at all in case the prof blurted out something important, like something relevant to an exam (which was rare, with some of the profs I'm thinking of right now).

Oh how I would've loved to have had a chat-enabled laptop during those lectures! If there was even a slim chance that the substance of the prof's lecture was going to be the subject of my thoughts, it would've been through such a chat session. So, to answer your question, such chat sessions would have only had a positive impact on my learning experience in those specific classes.

David iacalone

I've been out of the lecture loop just long enough to have missed this technology. I bet the same folks who believe carphoning doesn't distract from good driving believe that backchanneling doesn't detract from the classroom or lecture hall experience.

Hey, UCL, what's the chance that your back-chatting would have been about the topic of the "dull and boring" lecture? Active attempts at interacting with the lecturer on the issues being discussed might have helped enhanced everyone's classroom experience.


I find it too hard to concentrate on what my professors are saying at the same time as IMing.

There are many students in my classes who IM. From what I've seen, the messages come in 3 types: snide remarks about students or professors, topics completely outside the realm of the lecture, help for people who are called on.

I think the backchannel enhances the experience only to the extent that it makes the experience less boring, but other than the people getting help, I don't think learning is enhanced much by IM.


I think that the specific question of whether it enhances learning or not depends on the kind of learner that the particular student is.

I found that I learned the most when I was sitting down with my notes and books after the lecture, sorting through it and putting my own words to the subject. The lecture itself was only the beginning of the learning process. I might get the beginning of what I would consider adequate understanding, but a full and deep understanding has yet to come to me during lecture. This isn't true just of law school. It's been true all the way along in school for me, back to elementary school. I'm just not an aural learner. I find attending lecture necessary, and rarely missed class, but it wasn't where I did my primary learning.

What I need to get out of lectures is enough to prod and assist my own independent learning later. I don't find IM distracting from that goal.

In terms of whether IM hinders participation, I don't know. I regularly participated in class, but again, it was almost always with the goal of refining a general idea for later digestion. IM didn't prevent me from that.

I think that for students who rely heavily on lectures, IM would probably be very distracting.

What IM in class does do, that I found to be an essential part of the law school process, is promote a bond among classmates. There is a sense of connection and shared experience that is promoted by being in the same class, participating in the same lecture at the same time, and sharing immediate feedback during that lecture. I think IM helped reduce some of the negative competition that law school can bring out because of that strong and instantaneous connection. I got to know far more people in my section than I would have otherwise, because we'd banter back and forth over the year via IM, whereas I might not have ever talked with them outside of the classroom. In my experience, IM made the classroom a friendlier and more respectful place.

Along those lines, I suspect that the group of people IMing each other also matters. Is there an understanding that you might not respond for 10 minutes at a time if you're really taking a lot of notes? Is there a positive, friendly tone to the IMs or a harsh, negative one? My section IMers were generally very funny and friendly, which made being in the classroom with them fun. I don't know how I would have reacted if they had been nasty.

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