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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Want to Improve Your Teaching?: Watch This

This video of a lecture by Dr. Robert Duke explains many precepts of good teaching that too many law professors are unfamiliar with or ignore.  ‎Here's one of my favorite quotes from the video:  "If you're teaching something that has to do with change, it is probably interesting. If you're teaching something static, it is probably not."  Another is:  "Testing teaches [whether it means to or not.]." 

On a related note, I would argue that the relevant research suggests that it is pedagogically unsound to administer one exam per semester to evaluate students, and yet almost all law professors continue to do it anyway, in part because we can't withstand the pressure to do otherwise.  I am not claiming any moral superiority in this regard.  Though I've begun administering a series of quizzes in Torts, I still only administer one final exam in my upper-level courses.  But I have a growing sense that it is very wrong, and I expect to change it soon.

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 10, 2010 at 09:27 PM in Lyrissa Lidsky, Things You Oughta Know if You Teach X | Permalink


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Sorry if I came across as flip. My reality is that this has been a personal choice -- rather than a feature of a resource-enabled school (we aren't) or a dean and a faculty that has made this a priority (they haven't). We all have to make difficult choices about how to spend our time, and I can't second-guess yours. No reallocation of teaching/personal/writing/other time is easy. That's precisely the real point: Undertaking a different approach is a difficult *personal* decision. Institutional culture plays a role, inevitably, but at the end of the day each teacher (law school, otherwise in the university, beyond the university) has to decide what kind of teacher to be.

Posted by: Mike Madison | Aug 11, 2010 12:57:48 PM

I agree that assessments and feedback are important. I have crafted this in many of my courses.

However, with all due respect, the "I just sleep less" response is a bit flip and insulting to everyone else who struggles with the lack of importance that most law schools give to adding extra testing or feedback opportunities for students in traditional courses.

Some schools have small faculties, which means the burden of committee work and administrating is significant.

In this budget-crunching age, not all of us are at the luxury of teaching a research-friendly load, no matter how you define it. Those teaching 3 classes of 8 credits per year may have a different perspective than those teaching 4 classes of 13 credits total per year.

Faculty members obtaining tenure are expected to publish more than ever before, no matter at what tier school or whether it considers itself more research or teaching centric.

I don't mean to suggest that Professor Madison's efforts aren't impressive or even the ideal or that he doesn't have other important responsibilities that he fulfills. But it's not particularly helpful to dismiss the fact that law schools themselves - the dean and the faculty - have decided not to make this a resource priority and that there are different costs or practicalities in this choice. It really isn't just about professors choosing to sleep less in the name of better pedagogy.

Posted by: Anon Prof | Aug 11, 2010 11:36:02 AM

Great post and great link. Several years ago I gave up end-of-the-semester exams in favor of multiple writing (memo) assignments. I do all of the grading myself. I have used the method in open enrollment courses as large as 80 students. I now have the luxury of capping enrollment at 50 students per term. (For anyone interested, email me for details.) @ Anon Prof: This increases my teaching/grading time considerably. To keep my family in balance and my writing on track, I sleep less during the term. But I have a far, far better sense of whether my students are learning things that I want them to learn, and I don't complain about how grading is the worst part of the job. Evaluating is the most important part of the job.

Posted by: Mike Madison | Aug 11, 2010 10:43:14 AM

It isn't pressure holding us back. It's a lack of resources, and a decision that accuracy in grading is not a high institutional priority (because mistakes in grading are often zero-sum).

Unless you are relying solely on multiple choice testing mid-semester, how are you supposed to test and give feedback with a large section and no grading support?

Posted by: Anon Prof | Aug 11, 2010 9:20:21 AM

I'd love to see research that compares different methods of evaluating professional students -- most of what I've seen looks only at college students, which is an entirely different kettle of fish. Which studies did you have in mind?

Also, do you really mean "unsound," as in "you can't learn this way"? Because it was my experience that I learned much, much, more in law school, especially the first year, than I did in college.

Posted by: dave hoffman | Aug 11, 2010 12:07:45 AM

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