Not the Evil TWEN: How Online Course Management Software Supports Non-Linear Learning in Law Schools

Article excerpt


The students entering law school today grew up using computers and are comfortable with technology of all kinds. As Professor William Anderson, then President of CALI, (1) said in 1995, "'There is a generational thing here. Some of these students have been working with computers since kindergarten, and they know how to extract information from these machines."" (2) The situation has only intensified since Professor Anderson made that statement because the move to Internet-accessible classrooms has accelerated, and most students are computer literate and comfortable with online information. (3) By 1995, the majority of public elementary and secondary schools in the United States had Internet access. (4) By 1998, the majority of instructional rooms (i.e., classrooms and libraries or media centers) were connected to the Internet. (5) According to a study done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, (6) except for schools in very poor districts, almost every school in the United States today has access to the Internet. (7) Simultaneously, the number of homes with access to the Internet has increased, (8) and the residential use of broadband service is expanding. (9) In addition, "[m]embers of Gen Y (those ages 18-27) are ... the most likely to have used wireless devices." (10) Because of this national expansion of Internet access, approximately 20% of today's college students began using computers between the ages of five and eight, and by the time they got to college, 86% of them had "gone online." (11)

Due to their early introduction to the computer, today's students may learn most effectively when they receive information through an electronic medium, assuming it is done well, because that format actively engages them. (12) For this reason, "it would behoove law schools to integrate ... technology ... in a pedagogically sound way." (13) Most experts on legal education (14) do not propose that electronic technology be substituted for the law school classroom experience, (15) but rather that it be used to enhance and extend it. In fact, the "affordability and ubiquitous nature of computers, coupled with the growth of the Internet, has encouraged many law faculty to use technology in teaching their traditional physical classes, or to supplement those classes with a virtual, or online, component." (16)

Some law professors even consider it their professional responsibility to help students "make the transition into today's professional world, which already depends on tomorrow's technology." (17) One professor feels that "demonstrating the capabilities of various media can help prepare students for the practice of law." (18) This professor points to the common use of "visual images to explain facts to judges and juries," (19) including diagrams in automobile accident cases and anatomical illustrations in medical malpractice cases. (20) As high technology makes its way to court rooms, attorneys will need to know how to make the best use of it; an "advantage of utilizing computer technology is that it promotes students' familiarity with resources that inevitably will be integral to their practice." (21) Furthermore, some corporations now insist on paperless work environments and rely increasingly on technology for both internal and external communications; they expect the attorneys with whom they interact to be digitally literate. A relatively easy way to begin to integrate electronic technology into legal education is by establishing course Web sites. (22)

In this article, I will discuss both how today's law students learn through technology, and also theories of personality types and learning styles. I will first review the few existing empirical studies on the subject. Next, I will discuss course Web sites and how they can support, not replace, what happens in the traditional law school classroom. (23) Then, I will discuss how my law school implemented TWEN (24) course Web pages, and discuss the results of a survey of TWEN usage by faculty members at Pace University School of Law. …