« "Hot News" Misappropriation: Implications for Bloggers? for Bloomberg News? | Main | Why Tax Cheats Love the AG Suits Challenging Health Care Reform »

Friday, April 02, 2010

Nobody Knows Anything, Socratic Edition: How My Expectations Did Not Align With Reality

William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride, etc.) famously said of Hollywood that "Nobody Knows Anything." I wouldn't be surprised if Goldman was a fan of Socrates, who himself famously stated "I am wiser than this man; neither of us really knows anything worth knowing, but he thinks he knows something when in fact he does not, whereas I, knowing nothing at all, make no pretence of doing so.” I find this statement by Socrates appropriate to my guest posts over the course of this month, many of them questioning aspects of the Socratic Method, because those posts have revealed that I know nothing about the way that the majority of law professors conduct their classes (or at least a majority of the law professors responding to the polls on my posts). In other words, like Tom Hansen in (500) Days of Summer, my expectations did not align with reality.

In my first post with a poll, I asked whether law professors docked students' grades based upon insufficient class participation. I expected a significant majority to respond "Yes," but the results were 23 "Yes," 30 "No," and 10 "It depends on the class." In my second post of this type, I asked whether law professors allow students to "opt out" of class participation for given class sessions. I expected most professors to be pretty strict and preclude such opting out, but 24 respondents allow students to opt out while only 8 categorically preclude opting out (5 answered that "It depends on the class").

In my third such post, I asked whether law professors boosted students' grade based upon exceptional class participation. My inclination was that fewer professors boosted grades than docked grades, but I was wrong again. 29 respondents answered "Yes," only 10 answered "No," and 3 answered "It depends on the class." In my fourth such post, I asked whether law professors are given too much latitude in docking and boosting student grades based upon class participation. I expected most respondents to answer "No," but I thought that there would be a significant number of "Yeses." Nope. The results: 28 answering "No" and only 9 answering "Yes."

In my fifth such post, I asked whether law schools should have a designated midterm week. I expected the vast majority of law professors to be against such an idea, but it was 20 "Yeses" against 20 "Nos" with 9 respondents being ambivalent on such a midterm week. In my sixth such post, I asked about law professors using the Problem Method, which I thought was the redheaded stepchild of law teaching. Nope. 10 respondents use it as a significant part of their courses, 4 use it as a minor part of their classes, and 2 use it as their exclusive teaching method (meanwhile, 3 respondents have never used the method but are considering doing so, 1 used to use the method but no longer does, and only 1 respondent never used the method and is not considering doing so).

In my seventh such post, I asked whether law student grades should be subject to change. And I actually got this one right. I figured that most respondents would support the current scheme, under which many law schools allow such changes for computational errors but not qualitative errors, and that was the answer of 34 respondents. Meanwhile, 16 respondents thought that grades should be subject to change for computational and qualitative errors while many fewer respondents supported other options.  

So, are readers surprised by any of the results of these polls? Was I way off base in my expectations, or are the respondents to my posts unrepresentative of the majority of law professors? Either way, I think that I have learned a valuable lesson over the course of the month: When it comes to law teaching, nobody knows anything. Thanks again to Dan Markel and the folks at PrawfsBlawg for inviting me back to guest blogs, and thanks to all of the readers who read my posts, left comments on my posts, answered my polls, and sent me e-mails.

-Colin Miller

Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on April 2, 2010 at 06:29 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Nobody Knows Anything, Socratic Edition: How My Expectations Did Not Align With Reality:


The comments to this entry are closed.