Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Casebook, Yes! Facebook, No!

With the fall semester in full swing, students here at Loyola New Orleans College of Law are busy reading hundreds of pages a week of case law and other assignments. That is a lot of material to absorb. How can you learn all that material more efficiently? Here’s one suggestion: shut down your laptop and smartphone.

Studies show that very few people multi-task as well as they think they can. In one study, done in the United Kingdom for Hewlett-Packard, researchers studied the effects of multi-tasking on subjects taking IQ tests. One IQ test was administered to subjects in a quiet room with no interruptions in order to establish a baseline score. A week later, the subjects took another IQ test while multi-tasking by answering a telephone and responding to e-mail. On average, subjects’ IQ test scores dropped ten points when they were multi-tasking. Other studies of IQ tests have shown that marijuana reduced subjects’ IQ scores by only four points. The logical conclusion? Multi-tasking makes you stupider than smoking pot.

Even if you earned good grades in college doing your homework while texting, surfing the web, and updating your status on Facebook, success in law school requires mastering new subjects and concepts far more complex than what most students had to learn in college.

Mastering a new, complex subject requires extended periods of undistracted, focused concentration. Glancing up from the pages of a book to a computer screen, even for a split-second, causes your brain to make several instantaneous decisions: Is that new? Should I read that? Should I respond to that? Those involuntary decisions interrupt the deep reading process required for your brain to take new information and convert it from its active, working memory, to its long-term, retentive memory where comprehension of new subjects is formed.

As one law student - not from Loyola! - recently noted on Twitter:
Lazy, distracted, Twitterhead law student
Yes, law cases can be long. If she would stop tweeting for a while (she had at least a dozen tweets posted for the previous two hours), she could maybe finish reading that opinion.

Twitter, Facebook, and other applications are all revolutionary communication tools that can be put to great use. But, like your mother always said, there’s a time and place for everything. And the time to check your friends’ Facebook statuses, Tweet what you’re doing to your followers, or check your e-mail again, is not while you’re trying to read fifty pages of Constitutional Law for tomorrow’s class.

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