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Illegal 21st Century Research Skills

posted: 4.13.09 by Traci Gardner

Sure, you probably knew “There’s Something Terribly Rude About Texting on a PDA During Conversation.” But did you know that there were times that picking up that Blackberry was actually illegal?

In a number of recent cases, jurors have caused legal problems by consulting digital resources during trials. It’s not that they are checking on their own email messages that’s the problem. Instead, they hear or notice something in the course of the trial and decided to look for more information, either on their cell phone there in the courtroom or later at home on their computers.

Unfortunately, it’s not legal. Juries are expected to make their decisions based solely on the information presented at trial. Increasingly, however, that’s not what’s happening. Consider these stories, which tell of jurors who took things into their own hands:

So here’s the conundrum: We know that students need to develop digital research skills, but how do we help them understand when not to use them? Once people learn to search out answers on their own, how do we convince them to turn that kind of thinking off?

I don’t have any easy answers. What I do know is that these so-called “Google mistrials” could yield some great classroom discussions:

  • Ask students to read some of the articles and then debate what seems reasonable behavior and what does not. Get the issues out in the open. The articles could lead to great conversations that might culminate in a persuasive paper assignment or a letter to the editor assignment.
  • Brainstorm and discuss similar situations when digital research or discussion might be illegal or ill-advised. You might start with questions like these:
    • Is it okay to Twitter during an exam? Consider the difference between posting the answer to question 42 on your biology exam and posting a message that says the exam is hard and you wish you studied more.
    • Can you use your cell phone during a test? How will the teacher know if you’re checking the time or checking a cheat sheet in your notepad?
  • Consider the difference that digital access makes in these legal cases. Is digital technology a scapegoat? What if people looked up information in an encyclopedia at the library or a college textbook that they had on hand? Is “Google mistrial” more interesting than “Encyclopedia Britannica mistrial”?
  • Supplement your discussion of the drama 12 Angry Men with some of these articles. Does everything that the jurors do seem strictly legal? I keep thinking of the scene in the movie where the Henry Fonda character throws the duplicate knife onto the table. Was searching for that knife conducting research?

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Discussion, Document Design, Research, Teaching with Technology
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