Law in the Internet Society

Becoming Computer Literate

-- By AngeloAngelino - 11 Oct 2019

Angelo vs. the Registrar

It took 3 months for the law school to allow me to cross-register for an introductory coding course. I received countless dismissive, unsatisfying, and unhelpful emails. As I never got a straight answer as to why I couldn’t initially even enroll in the course and later why it wouldn’t count for academic credit, I kept asking, and eventually I got an email with a single line without any context:

You are registered for COMS W 1002 Computing in Context I for three (3) law point.

Why was the process so difficult? To enroll in a French course with the undergraduate language department or to enroll in a Capital Markets course with the Business School, all that is required is the completion of an online form.

How is an intro to python course different from Capital Markets? According to the registrar, the academic rigor involved in an undergraduate course is not comparable to that provided by a graduate level course. Although not always accurate (I have certainly taken ‘easier’ courses in law school than my intro to python course), I can understand the law school’s strained need to protect the perceived elite-ness of the education they provide and therefore the perceived elite-ness of the graduating class it produces each May.

But if we can only cross-register for graduate level courses, why can we take an undergraduate language course? According to the registrar, the intensity and practicality of a language course makes it acceptable for the enrollment of an ever-great law student. Perhaps computational thinking and communication is considered less productive or less necessary than facilitating new forms of face-to-face interaction by learning a new language. More effort should be put into understanding the intellectual desires of individual students as everyone’s understanding of practicality and intensity is surely not consistent with that of the registrar. From my own perspective, going into my own practice, I want to be a lawyer that can truly understand my client, their product, and their mission. Working with startups, fostering a more comfortable and open dynamic by actually being understand the content of the conversation will be invaluable. In this context I also think it’s entertaining to point out that many junior big-law attorneys I’ve spoken with don’t even have the chance to send an email to clients in their native English for the first few years of their career let alone being allowed to talk to a client in a non-native language – so how practical really is learning a new language as a 3rd year law student?

Becoming Computer Literate

Choosing Computer Science

I hope to understand how computers work functionally as well as to begin to understand the implications of their use. So much value is placed on the ability to communicate and understand computers largely due to the great value that can be added to society with these skills. As we talked about in class, it isn’t that shocking to think that as someone who has been using computers since I was a child, I still don’t know how they work as I’ve only ever used them. I was told by friends and mentors to take a course taught in python as it is ‘the most practical’, and after a semester although I certainly have a greater understanding of how to translate my thoughts into a language that the computer can process to create some desired program, I still don’t know how to apply any of these programs functionally for personal or general use. Even more than that, my understanding of how a computer works has barely increased, as more often than not the class erred on the side of blazing through functions for practical application without a discussion of what the process does or even more basically where it comes from, how it is read by the computer, and how the program is processed. I went into the course with the hope/desire that I’d come out understanding how computers work (whatever that means), but I’ve come to realize that what I thought I needed to learn to achieve that goal isn’t even a small part of what is necessary to do so.

What next?

From my intro to python course, I learned my first computer language and have been introduced to computational logic. Next semester, I am taking (hopefully) a UI Design course to (again, hopefully) begin to understand the process for understanding how these programs are used to create consumer facing platforms, the challenges/limitations involved, and how consumer preferences/tendencies impact the platform's development. From first the course description and then meeting with the professor, it is the practical comprehension that made me want to put in the effort to take these courses in the first place. Unfortunately, I don’t think the effort that I expended will work to benefit more than myself. I think my request was ultimately approved simply so I would stop bothering the registrar and not because they truly understood my desire to learn and were hoping to facilitate that process. I did, however, have a few encouraging conversations with my Computer Science professor. As a part of the course, there is already a biology sub-section targeted at MPH students where they cover bioinformatics and an international affairs sub-section targeted at SIPA students where they cover similarly relevant topics at the intersection of the disciplines. After speaking with my professor, he discussed potentially adding a section targeted at law students. Perhaps it was his hubris as a computer science professor thinking that his field could and should be learned by all, but either way after feeling doubted and discouraged by the registrar it was encouraging to hear someone validate my excitement and encourage the development of myself and others.


Webs Webs

r3 - 15 Jan 2020 - 04:13:53 - AngeloAngelino
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