Some interesting back-and-forth occurred during the last panel of the day yesterday at the 2014 ODR conference, when David Bilinsky, a legal practice consultant, described the high tech tools he uses in teaching law students. To oversimplify his presentation, these tools allow students to conduct side discussions during lectures in a chat feature that can be employed either during an online or even an in-person class. The theory is that these side chats can expand on the lecture, and reinforce learning by facilitating more interactive participation.
This idea rubbed a lot of people in the room the wrong way, especially those of us who pre-date the online revolution and went to school in the days when teachers constantly told us to stop chatting with our neighbors and pay attention. Even though multi-tasking is now the norm, a lot of us still wonder whether it can really done effectively. Texting while driving, for example, has been known to cause a lot of deadly accidents.
This was the point in the program where the ideas behind using technology to increase efficiency and do things that we are not capable of in the real world, came into direct collision with one of the fundamental ideas behind mediation, which is that active listening and understanding are key to the success of that process. Especially if we are trying to teach conflict resolution and negotiation skills, where we need to impart the importance of paying close attention to what others are saying, staying attuned to the moment, and reflecting empathetically on what is being communicated, does it make sense also to encourage the listeners of those lectures simultaneously to chat with their fellow students about whatever related or unrelated topics may come to mind during the lecture? Well, said some of the panelists, students these days are doing that anyway. I understand that, but wonder whether what we really need to be teaching is how to put down the cell phone and the laptop and just listen carefully to what somebody else is saying without letting your own activities get in the way.