Grey Tales


Tales from an Instructional Technologist in the world of legal education and beyond…

Baseline standards in service and usage?

What side do you see?

What Side Do You See?


Recently I had a conversation with someone about instructional technology who was focused on figuring out a baseline standard for service and usage for faculty. This person was trying to look at instructional technology through the same lens as you would apply standards to desktop support and training. The opinion offered was that it is just a matter of time before faculty would not have a choice whether they could choose to use technology or not—that, once the up-and-coming ‘digital native’ students hit the shores of Cambridge all faculty would be forced to embrace the holy grail that is technology adoption in their instruction. This person also believed that, soon, the pressure exerted on faculty from students would be so great that they could no longer individually deny using the technology in their teaching.

I, personally, have to respectfully disagree with this.

While I see the merit of this particular person’s point of view (from a view point of management and strategic planning), I find the point of view flawed in practicality. For one, I don’t think all students born into the digital era are automatically ‘techies’ ready to protest the absence of certain expected technologies—especially those coming to the Law School. In fact, I strongly believe that if a technology isn’t supported by the school, they won’t necessarily demand it from the administration. They will, to quote Harvard CIO Dan Moriarty from a recent campus workshop I attened, “vote with their feet”. They will build it themselves or find it out on the Internet in the land of Web 2.0. We, as university administrators, have to figure out whether that is undesirable, and if so, why. Another thing to consider, is even though these students may now all have Facebook pages, instant message clients, cell phones and know how to use a computer, they may not natively know how to increase their understanding through the use of a computer. Do they feel the same passion for using technology with their learning that they do with their socialization and entertainment? Playing games and socializing using technology is one thing, but learning is a whole other arena.

If there needs to be a baseline standard anywhere for usage, it may lie with the students, over the professors. I envision our law schools need to try to help better prepare our law students to have more practical skills using technology. It would be great to have standards like being able to practically draft a contract electronically or execute a dynamic presentation in a courtroom. Even with student standards on usage, you can’t apply a “one size fits all” mentality.

I don’t think there should ever be a set of instructional technology standards for usage that is forced upon any teacher or professor. I am from a school of thought that sometimes the best teaching occurs in the absence of technology—especially in law where there are teaching methods like the Socratic Method. While I agree that having these baselines for service may be desirable in instructional technology, producing baselines for usage is a slippery slope. For example, I was just talking to a Harvard professsor (not at Harvard Law School), and we were discussing my upcoming thesis. She took me to task because I waited so long in my paper to address the point of technology relevance to the faculty member. I do eventually address this point, but she felt it is so important it needs to be presented as one of the first and main themes of the argument for instructional technology usage. She stresses the importance of the ‘technology expert’ that consults individually with a faculty member one-on-one in order to to demonstrate how the technology is going to be useful to her. She needs to see how it specifically ties in with what she is trying to accomplish in her classroom.

I happen to wholeheartedly agree.

(Image retrieved on June 5, 2007 from

Filed under: Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Legal Education

One Response

  1. The Fuzzyones says:

    Right on!

    It is refreshing to see education professionals aware of the line between usefulness of emerging technologies and the detriment of the overuse of them.

    Students of all ages need to master the basics, ie acquire above average skills in reading, writing and mentally solve basic math tasks (multiplying without the help of a machine,) read more classics and must-read works as well as hone the social skills of being around other students and respecting/responding to the discipline of a real teacher/professor.

    Thinking they can bypass all of that merely with keystrokes will continue to give us students who are not adept to face the real demands of the workplace.

    Tech can help tremendously to facilitate/enrich learning but need not take away from the experience.

    Law school example is most adequate in making the point that if student emphasize too much on laptops to answer legal questions and be distracted from valuable lecture time from seasoned lawyers, they will not develop the legal mind and analysis and ethos essential to a good jurist’s training.

    I hope more young people heed your advice, Denise.


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