/ August 21, 2008

More iPhones, More Problems?

The world of higher education has been bitterly divided in recent years over the role that technology should play in the classroom. Dedicated readers of the Fastcase Blog may remember our post about the University of Chicago Law School Dean, who shut down wireless internet in the classroom when he realized students spent more time surfing the web than listening to their professors. On the other end of the spectrum, some universities are instead racing to encourage the assimilation of the newest devices and trends into academia. No example is perhaps more symbolic of this movement than the introduction of iPhone 101.

Several universities, including the University of Maryland, have announced that they will be giving iPhone and iPod Touch devices to either some or all incoming freshman, which they believe will keep students better connected with the classroom and more engaged with campus life. Defending the initiative, Kyle Dickson of Texas’ Abilene Christian University explains, “We think this is the way the future is going to work.” While professors may be wary of allowing devices with such potential for distraction into the classroom, instant access to the internet could be a boon for students and faculty alike, facilitating out of class participation and even providing a resource for crisis management and scheduling information.

Nevertheless, opponents bemoan the iPhone programs as wasteful and inneffective. Some fear that the need to “keep up with the Jones’s” in techonological savvy could subvert what should be the primary objective of these colleges, that is, to educate. Others believe that allowing students to amuse themselves on the internet or play with iPhones in class will rob them of intellectual strength and analytical skills, some of the few intangibles that are not available online at the click of a mouse. Professor Robert Summers of Cornell Law, who has favored banning laptops in the past, has also spoken out against the iPhone phenomenon:

“I would ban that too if I knew the students were using it in class. What we want to encourage in these students is active intellectual experience, in which they develop the wide range of complex reasoning abilities required of the good lawyers.”

But, whether you think that cutting edge technology enhances or hurts the classroom experience, there is one truth we can all agree on: the iPhone looks cool. Education aside, it may be that these schools just want to join the in-crowd. Or so the skeptics say.

Source: The New York Times

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