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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Using a class blog instead of TWEN

For a variety of reasons, I have never been a big fan of propriety law-school-support technology like TWEN.   Though I did begrudgingly utilize the Lexis Blackboard for a few years, more recently I have begun developing a class blog to support and supplement each of my courses.  (My most successful class blog experience was with this death penalty course blog, and I have just created this shell for my first use of a blog with a required Fall 1L course.)

Because I have not used TWEN or Blackboard for a few years now, I am not in a great position to compare an contrast the current state of those technologies with the class blog experience.  But I am in a great position to request input from other law professors and/or from law students concerning their views on the pros/cons of TWEN and the pros/cons of blogs as a law school teaching technology.

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on July 26, 2008 at 03:19 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I don't *mind* either method, and I've certainly had more professors use TWEN than use general blogs, but if I could pick, I'd pick blogs (or even just dynamic Web pages).

For me, the thing that makes either effective is when a professor posts regularly, and expects the same from the class. (Even if it's just one or two students required to post each day, and the rest of the class can go read what they posted. We had to do this with our case briefs for Con. Law. and it was a great way to see others' takes on cases -- that is to say, when they put any effort into it and didn't just copy from Legalines.) Along with that, I will say that it's much easier to participate -- if it is not a requirement -- if you push people to the blog in other ways (time is through and you direct people to continue the discussion and ask questions through the blog/TWEN discussion, for example). I've had the Con. Law. professor described above, who really mandated posting and reading, but I've also had professors who posted their own power-point notes, which led to our going to TWEN, which led in turn to some great discussions on the boards. I've also had professors use TWEN as merely a static web page for posting the syllabus and a few other handouts; and I've had professors who ran their own blogs.

It's late and I fear I may be rambling, but here are some more random thoughts on the subject:

Another consideration is whether the system will send emails, if students request them, to let them know that a new post has been added. While this can get annoying when there are constant posts, it is helpful where posts are important, but more sporadic.

TWEN has some awkward and tedious functionality. For example: if you don't download posted files, they print in a jumbled mess of misplaced line breaks, awkward inserted carriage returns, and generally horrible spacing. You need to click through too many links, and disregard too many warnings and pop-ups, before Westlaw gets to the TWEN page or entry you want. And nevermind trying to go backwards.

As far as a student giving advice to a professor toying with both systems, I'd say to use the one YOU are most comfortable with, so that you use it regularly and well. A knowledgeable professor can make all the difference. I don't mean to offend you with this comment, since after all you are blogging here, but if you really prefer one platform to the other, it will likely make what you do with the platform that much better for the students.

Posted by: JM | Jul 28, 2008 11:22:47 PM

This sounds like a great idea for those of us who don't want to rely on TWEN or other proprietary tools. I used Google message boards to create a forum for students, but that required my students to each have (or create) a Gmail account, which itself became an administrative nightmare.

How do you handle the logistics? Do you vet all student blog entries, and then allow everyone to comment?

Posted by: Nathan Cortez | Jul 28, 2008 2:57:25 PM

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