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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What teaching issues are you thinking about this summer?

Our faculty is having a lunch discussion this week about teaching.  I simply love to teach.  And, as a newly tenured professor who recently went through the tenure process, I have been reflecting a lot on  my teaching.  There are many areas where I could improve.  In particular, this summer I have been thinking about the following three issues.  While these matters have been previously discussed, I am interested in your current thoughts on each (and any other teaching issues on your mind this summer):

1.  Unprepared Students:  To this day, every time I call on a student, my heart skips a beat in hopes that the student is prepared.  Sometimes I think I am as nervous as the students before I call out a name.  I do feel that it is essential students learn that they must be prepared.  I have heard of different ways to deal with unprepared students.  Some professors wait for the student to read the case during class.  Others assign reading panels for the week.  Others call on students in alphabetical order.  I am old school - I randomly cold call.  If I do call on a student who is unprepared, I require them to call on another student to cover for them (like a life line).  My hope is that the fear of being forced to put another student in the hot seat is scarier than coming to class unprepared.  I have had moderate success with this approach.  I have also toyed with counting unprepared students absent for the day.  I would be interested to hear what others do.

2.  Internet Use During Class:  I think I may have somewhat given up on this.  I try to call on students who are obviously surfing the web during class discussion.  But, to be honest, when I was a law student I attempted to multitask in class too - I just didn't have the internet, but I did have crossword puzzles, letters and notes to write, readings for other classes to catch up on, etc.  So, sometimes I feel a little hypocritical when I make too big of a deal about surfing the web during class.  In one small seminar class, I didn't allow computers, and for that small class it worked very well.  I had the most engaging student discussions when laptops were closed.  I haven't tried the no computer rule with a big class yet.  I am hesitant to do so because I often use the web during class discussion to look up statutes and other materials.  Also, students have case briefs and other prepared materials on their computers and need access to them.   But, I have toyed with the idea of a "no computer week."  Has anyone done this and was it successful?

3.  Taking Too Many Notes:  This point is somewhat tied to #2 above.  Recently, there was an interesting study that determined that students do better when they handwrite lecture notes rather than typing them.  Basically, the study pointed out that people tend to type faster than write, so they are less judicious in what they type than what they write.  Until I read this study, I hadn't given this matter a lot of thought.  Perhaps I should be encouraging students to handwrite class notes.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 10, 2014 at 12:07 PM in Culture, Current Affairs, Teaching Law, Things You Oughta Know if You Teach X | Permalink


I've toyed with the idea of giving students the following choice on the first day of class:
(1) No cold calling; no laptops.
(2) Cold calling and laptops.

I pretty strongly believe that (1) would be the better choice. Maybe teach for a week and *then* give them the choice? If they have agency over the decision not to have laptops, I'm thinking that they'll buy into it more.

Posted by: Katie | Jun 13, 2014 1:53:29 PM

#1 would depend a lot on how much your students dislike being cold-called. If they do dislike it, it seems cruel to make student A select student B for punishment; more than simply enhancing student A's incentive, it opens student A to social sanction, beyond mere embarrassment (hence your view that it is "scarier"). It's reminiscent of the kind of thing that might be used at a British public school.

On the other hand, if students (at least an adequate number of them) don't mind being called on (at least when they are tagged by a friend), it's not cruel, but it also doesn't exactly stimulate prior preparation.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 10, 2014 6:57:06 PM

As I've discussed here many times, I banned laptops from the classroom in 2009 and it remains the best teaching decision I've made. It takes care of both ## 2 and 3, although my motivation was always about # 3 than about # 2 (I agree there always have been distractions).

I really like the idea of making the students pick their own "co-counsel" to help them out. I'm trying to think of how to incorporate that in the one class in which I cold call.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 10, 2014 3:12:37 PM

"If I do call on a student who is unprepared, I require them to call on another student to cover for them (like a life line). My hope is that the fear of being forced to put another student in the hot seat is scarier than coming to class unprepared. I have had moderate success with this approach."

I love this idea. I'm going to try it in my large legal ethics class.

Posted by: Jim Milles | Jun 10, 2014 12:54:41 PM

On #1, I've moved to a system in my larger classes where I send an email to a student 30-60 minutes before class notifying the student that he or she will be "on call" for a given case or class. This is a compromise between a pure cold-call system and a planned calling system. I've found that it works well and students for the most part seem to prefer it over either of the alternatives.

Posted by: Jason Rantanen | Jun 10, 2014 12:54:38 PM

Here's a good book to read on teaching: Susan A. Ambrose et. al., How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (Jossey-Bass 2010).

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jun 10, 2014 12:18:57 PM

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