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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blogging as a teaching medium for law professors

Last week, this post about blogs as a scholarly medium for law professors generated an interesting dialogue on PrawfsBlawg and elsewhere.  (I summarized some of the reactions in this follow-up post.)  Though a lot more can and surely will be said on this topic, I now want to start exploring the possible role of blogs as a teaching medium for law professors.

ASIDE: Before turning to blogging and teaching, I must first note some recent doings of some prominent bloggers who seemed most critical of the idea of improving blogs as a scholarly medium. Despite Christine Hurt's negative response to the idea, she is now part of an uber-academic-dialogue about the recent Disney opinion over at The Conglomerate.  And though Stephen Bainbridge wants to keep blogging a "fun" as a "hobby", he is experimenting with using his blog to place his scholarly work (see posts here and here and here), and now says "Maybe blogs have an academic function after all!".

Last Fall, when I taught both a sentencing course and a Blakely seminar, I found my Sentencing Law and Policy blog to be a terrific additional resource.  In my course, I had the benefit of a "smart" classroom which allowed me to use materials from the blog in class on ocassion, and class discussions often seemed more informed and sophisticated because some students were regular blog readers.  (I made the blog optional reading.)  In my seminar, I could point students seeking paper ideas to the blog, and I also felt confident they could find on the blog a wealth of materials to aid their research.

This Fall, I am back to teaching Criminal Law to 1Ls, and I am not sure my sentencing blog will be helpful in the classroom or to my students.  On the course description, I am listing my sentencing blog and also CrimProf Blog and White Collar Crime Prof Blog as optional reading.  But I fear that the content on these blogs may prove to be distracting or confusing as I work with first-year students through the basics of actus reus and mens rea.  I have thought about starting a simple little blog just for my Criminal Law class, but I am just not sure if a blog is an effective (or efficient) supplement to my teaching if I am not developing the content for other reasons.

So, to wrap up with a query: What are law profs (and law students) experiences and thoughts about blogs as a teaching medium?

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on August 10, 2005 at 05:10 PM in Blogging | Permalink


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As a 1L, I wouldn't have found much use for blogs. I was too busy getting my sea legs. But as an upper-divison student, I found blogs to be very helpful, especially blogs that point out how lower courts apply Supreme Court doctrine. I think blog reading or posting should be mandatory.

In a course on sentencing and corrections, e.g., a student should be required to brief and blog one lower-court case applyling SCt substantive doctrine. Even if each student is only assigned one case, by the end of the term, they'll be an impressive collection of cases and commentary.

It'd be valuable by teaching students to a) step away from the Supreme Court for a minute (since the action in the lower courts is usually more interesting and almost always more important) and b) learn to put his or her ideas in public (where they can be scrutinized). Plus, it should lead to some cooperative learning; and it would teach social skills. (Do you really want to ridicule your classmate's post when you will soon be in the hot seat?)

Posted by: Mike | Aug 10, 2005 8:55:43 PM

Hi Douglas -- I'm planning to set up a blog for my seminar this fall on executive compensation. Still trying to figure out if it should be open or closed to the public, and if open, whether I should allow or encourage the studenst to post pseudonymosly. I do think having the students write short blog posts on the reading every week will be more productive and useful than writing short reaction papers, esp. since they will get some feedback from each other and not just me. Vic

Posted by: Vic Fleischer | Aug 10, 2005 11:44:44 PM

Hello again! First, our uber-academic-conference on Disney is fun because it is a conference of academics, but not necessarily an academic conference. We're posting willy nilly with nary a Bluebook among us! It's crazy!
On topic, I have used a blog for my Publicly Held Corporations class twice now. I will say that it worked better for a class of 20 than a class of 12. I'm not sure that the students really enjoyed it as much as I thought they would, but that might change with each semester. Blogs and blog reading are gaining popularity exponentially, so a mandatory blog this Fall may be completely different than a mandatory blog last Fall. I liked it a lot better than a threaded discussion.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Aug 11, 2005 12:14:03 AM

I've had no experience with blogs, but a couple of times (one large class, one seminar) have used the Harvard's Berkman Center's H20 to expand the classroom setting. And in the past I've often used threaded discussion groups focussed on supplementary readings to what seemed good effect. If I were running the show, I might prefer H2O over blogging -- one starts the ball rolling; then everyone (who wants to) posts within a framed time interval; their inputs are both revealed to all for possible comment AND distributed to five randomly distributed participants with specific requests for comment (and evaluation if you choose); this can continue for as many rounds as you like, and it quickly becomes apparent which are the threads to follow.

But the main point is, this is a medium outside "if I were running the show." Shouldn't we expect/encourage student blogging ... across courses, across law school community lines? In a flattened world, the controls and hierarchical structures of the classroom are, if not surplusage, readily avoided. We may want to work to shape some issues about their use -- while class is going on? for example -- but control is beyond ready possibility.

IM-ing in class presents similar, shorter time-frame possibilities and challenges, don't you think?

Posted by: Peter Strauss | Aug 11, 2005 7:28:16 AM


My I respectfully suggest that if you were teach sentencing again (::chuckle::) you make blogging one or two jurisdictions sentencing opinions mandatory. What it woudl give the students is an opportunity to see how sentencing works in practice & what it would give us in the rest of the world a chance to see what is happening out there. Oh yeah, for extra credit, could you suggest they also cover all federal habeas opinions from a circuit or two, again, ....

Posted by: anon | Aug 11, 2005 10:31:20 PM

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