Jun 19, 2013

Reflections on my first year of teaching

With my grades submitted, and evaluations received, I have now had (as promised) the opportunity to reflect on my first year of teaching. Here are the syllabus, examinations, and evaluations for the four classes I taught this year:

Fall 2012

Spring 2013

I post this personal information for several reasons. First, I am in favor of transparency (the evaluations have been posted on my CV for a few months now–I only now have the distance and clarity to write about them). Second, in the event that any of my  former or future students read this, it may help explain how I approach the class (I will give an overview on the first day of class). Third, if other new professors come across this post, and they have had similar experiences, perhaps they can learn from my mistakes, or (please!) give me advice to tell me what I’m doing wrong. But more importantly, I write this for myself. I view my teaching as an art. I want to get better. Posts like this, which I may make a yearly tradition, should help me keep track of my objectives, and hopefully accomplish them.

I have summarized my teaching evaluation scores in this graph, along the 14 dimensions recorded, for each of the 4 classes I taught: Fall 2012 Property II, Fall 2012 Property II, Spring 2013 Property I, Spring 2013 Property II.


Let me start by comparing my expectations at the beginning of the year, with my observations, and I will conclude with some thoughts on how to improve the class for next year.

First, this was my first time teaching a large lecture class (I had between 45 and 86 students in my 4 sections). Along with Judge Gibson, I had taught three small seminars (10-12 students). A large lecture class presents a very difficult dynamic. I wasn’t sure how my teaching style, which tends to be very informal and conversational, would translate well to the big class.

I adopted a method of class participation from my former professor, and current Texas Solicitor General, Jonathan Mitchell. In a small 12-person seminar on Habeas, Mitchell would start with a random person, and move around the room, asking each person one question, then moving on. It is the exact opposite of Socratic, which stays with one person indefinitely. I really like this approach, as it ensures that everyone can participate, and people must be aware of what’s going on. It also fits my personality, which tends to be very fast-paced. I employed this approach in my lecture classes. I would start with a student, and move up and down the rows, asking each person one question (and perhaps a follow-up). The next class, I would start with whoever was on deck in the previous class, but didn’t go (thankfully, students would readily volunteer that they were next). This approach has several pros and cons.

On the plus side, I can talk to, and hear from a lot of students every class. The conversation is always lively. On a good day, where I don’t lecture much (something I try to keep to a minium), I am able to call on all 80 students. Students know that they can be called on, and have an incentive to be prepared. (I keep the readings to a manageable 20-30 pages per class, so it is quite doable). Also, by hearing from many students, and not just the unlucky person on a call, I can get a better sense of what is confusing/not working, and readjust.

The negative side is that it avoids the developmental aspects of the Socratic method. By staying with one student, you watch her squirm and meander her way towards the right answer. I can accomplish this somewhat by asking one student after another follow-up questions, that are Socratic-esque, but it is harder when you break it up among multiple people. The flow is tough to maintain. Relatedly, with the approach I use, when a student gets an answer wrong, or the answer is incomplete, I don’t stay with the student, and move onto the next person. This allows a student who isn’t prepared to just bumble through an answer, knowing that I’ll move on–though I usually will come back to someone later who blows off the question.

This approach may leave behind the students who choose to come to class unprepared. Please note that I am not talking about students who did the readings, but have trouble answering a tough question. I know the difference (bringing your commercial outline to class is a good sign) But, at the same time, it more effectively stimulates the minds of the majority of the class who come prepared to learn. This is a tradeoff I’ve given much thought and I don’t know how I feel yet. Admittedly, the students who don’t prepare for class (I know who they are) will take the most time to grasp the material in class (assuming this is even possible). Holding their hand in class takes a lot of time and takes away the time from discussion and application for the rest of the class.

Also, it frustrates other students who want the right answer, and don’t like dwelling on wrong stuff. Though interestingly, students resent when their classmates are not prepared. I think this arises from some sort of jealously or resentment, that they didn’t have to do the same hard work, or perhaps a broader sense of fairness, in that it’s not fair that I did the work and they didn’t. Some professors find it an affront to them that a student didn’t prepare. I don’t care about that. No sweat off my back.

I will try to convey to the students early on, that when grading on a curve, they should celebrate their fellow students who don’t prepare for class. (This is something students at GMU seemed to internalize instinctively). On our bell curve, between 9% and 16% must get a C or below. I try to keep this closer to 10, but it may go as high as 15 (the more As I give out, the more Cs I have to give out to balance it to keep the average mean in the range). That means that 85% of the class is getting above a C.  There is an almost one-to-one relationship between students who perform poorly in class, and perform poorly on the exam. There are some outliers, but generally the pattern holds. When a student consistently bombs out in class, and doesn’t seek help to improve, that student is probably going to fall towards the bottom of the bell curve. Grading on a curve, I have no choice. Between 9 and 16% must get C or lower.

So what does this mean for class discussions? My initial instinct is to raise the level of the discourse to appeal to the 85% who are in the game, but I recognize that this leaves the bottom 15% in something of a lurch. But what should these students expect? It is (painfully) obvious many do not do the readings, skip class, and never bother asking questions or coming to office hours. If they can’t prepare, what should be done for them in a jam-packed 90 minute lecture?

For next semester, I will soften my approach from moving on from students who are unprepared or give a bad answer, and dwell on them a bit longer to help reinforce the ideas. This will address, in part, any feelings of fairness or jealously that students may have. . But I will still try to keep the pace up, and not make catering to the unprepared students a focus of the class.

A related issue is teaching black-letter law. I think 1Ls have this unhealthy hunger  for black letter law. I received some (but not a lot) of comments asking for more black-letter law in class. Property, unlike other first year classes, such as Torts (governed by a Restatement) or Contracts (governed by the UCC), or ConLaw (governed by the Constitution–wait, never mind), is almost entirely common law based. It is stultifying to try to reduce topics like future interests (in both the grantee and grantor) or the rule against perpetuities to some generally applicable rule. I can see the frustration on their faces when I tell them that they will just need to memorize certain concepts (such as pairings of future interests), and there is no good way of conceptualizing it.

This year I think I focused way too much on case law, and didn’t do enough explanatory questions (I saw this when grading exams, and certain topics were consistently missed–that’s on me). Next time I teach Property, I will try to walk through many more examples and hypotheticals in class. This will probably cut into the time talking about cases, which I will have to balance out.  I think these will be more helpful than reciting blackletter law from a hornbook (which tends to confuse me more than help).

One of my more bold experimentations involved technology in the classroom. The reception by the students was also mixed, though I was pleased with the results from my end.

First, I recorded all lectures, and posted them on youtube (Google+ Hangout is a great and easy way to accomplish this). Some students really appreciated it, as they could watch lectures they missed, or rewatch lectures before exams. Other students complained, and said that it wasn’t fair that students could miss classes and just watch them later online (similar sentiments towards students who come to class unprepared). Due to the magic of YouTube analytics, I am confident that this concern is not grounded in fact. The number of people actually watching the videos (in Texas) is not high. Further, very few, if any, actually make it through till the end of the video (yes, I can track minute-by-minute what you watch). There very well may be people who brag about skipping class and only watching the YouTube videos (law students tend to be cocky like that), but this is a very, very small number. And for those who watch it, I know they are not getting the full value of the in-class experience because my microphone does not pick up answers given by students. All you here is a one-side conversation. It is not a perfect substitute, and I think any student who bothered to watch the videos would know that.

I think, broadly stated, the fairness argument bothers people. How is it fair that I go to class and someone else can watch the videos. I think this concern could be largely muted. After the names on the exams are released, I match up the students who perform the worst with the students who missed the most class. There is almost a direct correlation. Students who skip class do poorly. This is the 15% I addressed above. So I am not too concerned if this 15% attempt to watch the videos. I know they don’t really watch all of them, and even if they do, it providing the full classroom experience. If I explain this to the students, it will likely address a lot of the unfairness claims. A bigger life lesson is that life isn’t fair. Most people who try to take shortcuts won’t succeed, and those that can take shortcuts and still succeed have a special gift. My thoughts on attendance in class are fully developed here.

Second, in class I leave a “live-chat” projected onto the screen. I described it in this post. Basically, it is a twitter-like chatroom that allows students to post comments. I use this for a number of purposes. Students can post questions, links to interesting news stories, or make comments while I am lecturing. It democratizes the 80-person lecture in a powerful way. At the podium, I have the discretion to discuss a comment when it fits into my lecture, or ignore it altogether. I find it really effective from my perspective.

The reception to this was also mixed. Some students really appreciate it, but others say it is distracting. (Fascinatingly, one class this semester consistently liked it, and the other class consistently did not like it–I think there are some cultural memes that circulate around the class that coalesce in many of these comments). The sense I got from those who did not like it was that it was distracting–what invariably happens is that students post jokes to the board. Personally, I like the jokes, and find that it adds levity to the class,  but I can see why people may not like it. There is an easy fix here. In the past, I allowed pseudonyms to encourage participation, and questions a person may be embarrassed to ask. Next semester, I will require students to sign their actual names, or at least first names (to avoid a google footprint) to comments. Signing names decreases participation, but gets rid of trolling (a lesson any blogger should know well). And, if I see that someone is putting up inappropriate comments, I will address it in class.

Next year I will be teaching Property I twice, Property II once, and in the spring I will teach Constitutional Law. A number of students highlighted the fact that I am a new teacher, but appreciated that I was trying to improve my craft. In my mind, these were some of the most important comments. I hope to improve the class even more in the future.

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May 10, 2013

The New Normal of Legal Education

My friends Dan Katz and Renee Knake are up to some cool stuff at ReInvent Law Labs at Michigan State. On the ABA Journal Legal Rebels blog, this dynamic duo explains how technology is shifting the “new normal” in legal education.

Greetings from ReInvent Law, our law laboratory devoted to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship at Michigan State University College of Law. You read that right. We are law professors with a laboratory where we teach technology, analytics, innovation, and entrepreneurship in legal services. We are law professors devoted to training lawyers for the law jobs of the 21st century. And yes, math will be on the exam. This is the New Normal in legal education.

The legal services and products industry is undergoing a significant transition. For many current and future legal jobs, understanding the law is a necessary but no longer sufficient condition for success. We believe that part of the solution to the crisis currently facing the law profession and legal education involves principles of technology, legal analytics, design thinking, and the advent of new, process-driven delivery models.

We do not purport to have solved all of the issues in legal education, but we are working thoughtfully and quickly to offer students the additional skills that employers have told us would make a difference in their respective hiring decisions. Most law students are not fully practice-ready at the moment of graduation. However, anyone can make meaningful contributions when they walk in the door, especially those trained in skills relevant to the growing use of technology and data analytics in legal services. To that end, we have launched a set of courses designed to equip a new crop of law students to add value immediately. These courses include: e-discovery, entrepreneurial lawyering, lawyer regulation and ethics in a technology-driven world, legal information engineering, quantitative methods for lawyers, and virtual law practice. Additional courses planned include topics such as project management, legal analytics, economics of the legal market, design thinking for lawyers, and artificial intelligence and law.

I spoke at ReInvent Law a few months ago at MSU, and will be giving a talk at ReInvent Law London in June. Dan and Renee are doing driving innovation. Keep an eye on this program.

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May 8, 2013

How to teach the smartphone generation?

Shailini George has an interesting pedagogical piece in the Maine Law Review about teaching the smartphone generation, titled, “Teaching the Smartphone Generation: How Cognitive Science Can Improve Learning in Law School.” Here is the abstract:

Today’s law student enters law school as a digital native, constantly “plugged in” and accessing information at a moment’s notice, often during class time itself. Yet scholars agree that these students are entering law school with weaker reading and reasoning skills than prior generations, due in large part to the way students multitask through life. This article aims to address the problems caused by the intersection of these two issues by applying cognitive learning theory to the law school environment. Part One examines the characteristics of our current students by describing their skills and learning styles upon arriving at law school. Part Two examines cognitive learning theory insofar as it can inform our teaching andragogy: specifically, how do today’s students learn, how can we help our students learn better, and what effect does their multitasking have on learning? The final section suggests ways for students and educators to better translate the information offered in class into knowledge. Ultimately, this article suggests teaching students about metacognition and effective study techniques while also encouraging professors to design and plan their courses by adopting cognitive learning theories and using more visual aids, visual exercises, and assessments to help students better learn the material.

As I’ve discussed at some length, today’s students learn differently than in previous generations. The students who are raised today on iPads will be in law schools in the very near future. Trying to teach these students (not too different from me) in the way students have been taught for a century won’t work. Rather than turning off this plugged-in nature, professors should learn to tailor lessons, and accomodate these attributes.

In my first year of teaching–which I just finished this past week!–I have experimented with a number of tools. I will blog about my experiences, and teaching evaluations, at some length after the semester is over (yes, I intentionally did not blog about my fall evaluations because I wanted a full year to receive feedback).

H/T ABA Journal (with a lengthy comment thread)

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Apr 13, 2013

Attendance in Class

I approach the classroom from the perspective that as a professor, I am the student’s agent. They are paying my salary to provide services–an education, guidance, mentorship, and other intangibles. I take that job very, very seriously. I consider it a privilege to teach the students. Not the other way around. In a recent post, Elie Mystal explains his take on this dynamic, which I largely agree with:

If class is just going to be a regurgitation of points made clear in the reading, then the professor has reduced class to a useless exercise. The students in that unfortunate situation, students who have already paid for the service of being taught, are well within their rights to skip out on the so-called “teaching.” Again, and I know this is hard for some professors to understand, but the students arepaying the professors to perform a task. The professors aren’t doing students a favor by standing in front of them for two hours.

With that understanding, I have a very lax policy towards attendance or punctuality. Students have busy schedules and lots of things going on. Sometimes, a student will have something before class that runs late, or have something after class that requires them to leave early. Who am I to say that my class is more important that whatever they choose to do. Even if they make every effort to be on time, sometimes its impossible. I teach a class at 9 a.m. Houston has some of the worst traffic in the country, and there is no viable public transportation. I completely understand it when some students trickle in late.

There are a few reasons that counsel in favor of enforcing attendance rules.

First, there are ABA requirements about attendance. I have addressed those here and here. One related thought about attendance. I would add, that to the extent we expect attorneys to keep honest billing records upon graduation, self-certifying attendance would seem to be a viable alternative to professor-maintained attendance rosters. To the extent that professors do not trust students to certify their own attendance, then what do we think of lawyers keeping honest billing?

Second, I’ve heard that it is distracting to the professor and the other students for someone to enter or leave class during the middle of a session. I never got this one. When I’m teaching, I’m in the zone. I frankly don’t even notice when students get up or leave. It doen’t even phase me. To the extent that I do notice, or perhaps other students notice, I think that presumes that the classroom setting should be some sort of monastic vacuum, where the only person in the foreground is the Professor, or those whom the Professor recognizes. I don’t run my class like that, at all. I try to democratize the experience, and even leave a livechat open during the class to allow anyone to contribute at any time. We live in a crowded, busy world. Attorneys at a court, in a law firm, or really anywhere else on earth, have to mind many things at once. I work with the students before me, and do the best I can. If a seat is empty, I move onto the next seat.

Third, perhaps the most compelling reason is that in a profession, lawyers must be punctual. Arriving to court late  is a big, big no-no. Leaving a court early is a bigger no-no. To the extent that imposing attendance requirements in class helps to inculcate punctuality, I think it is certainly a good thing. Though, I am doubtful. Notwithstanding strict attendance policies, students are still late. Perhaps at the margin it makes a difference, though I doubt it breeds good habits. And, it creates a bizarre perverse incentive where it is better to skip a class than arrive late and receive the wrath of the professor. This can’t possibly be right.

Two recent stories shed some light on attendance in class.

ATL profiled a law student at Fordham who stormed out of class because he thought the class was a waste of his time, and then sent an email to the professor explaining why the class was a waste of his time. The e-mail the student sent was totally inappropriate, but there were a few kernels of truth (Elie plucked those out). But the leaving-class-early stunt wouldn’t bother me. If my class is a waste of time, and the student can spend his time better elsewhere, that is a sign that I am not doing a good enough job. As Elie notes, “If [professors] can’t manage to be interesting for two hours a couple of times a week, that’s on them.”

A few days ago, another story bounced around the net about an NYU student who tried to enter a class an hour late, and the professor demanded that he leave. It seems the student was considering three different classes during the same time slot, and attended two other sections before entering the class at issue. This tells me that at least two other professors, also at the top-ranked MBA program, likely didn’t care that a student entered late and left early.

The Professor wrote back a very snarky email telling him to get his “*hit together.”

For the record, we also have no stated policy against bursting into show tunes in the middle of class, urinating on desks or taking that revolutionary hair removal system for a spin. However, xxxx, there is a baseline level of decorum (i.e., manners) that we expect of grown men and women who the admissions department have deemed tomorrow’s business leaders.

xxxx, let me be more serious for a moment. I do not know you, will not know you and have no real affinity or animosity for you. You are an anonymous student who is now regretting the send button on his laptop. It’s with this context I hope you register pause…REAL pause xxxx and take to heart what I am about to tell you:

xxxx, get your shit together.

Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…

I gather Professor Galloway takes himself really, really, really seriously, and thinks he’s (pardon the pun) the shit. It seems that he has previously told students to get their shit together.

Get your shit together,” Scott Gallowayreprimanded the second-year M.B.A. students in his brand-strategy class at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business on Wednesday. “If you just skim the case I assign you, it hurts my feelings.”

It was only the second class of the semester, but the professor was already living up to his reputation. “He’s a jackass,” one student had heard before signing up for the class anyway. “He’s not afraid to call you out if he thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about. But it works.”

In my mind, it would seem to be a good thing for a student, on the first day of class, to sample a few different sections to figure out which professor he should settle down with for a year. If a student told me that he’ll stop by my section for a few minutes, I would have gladly said yes. Indeed, I’ve invited many nonstudents into my class to see what law school is like. I have no expectation that they’ll stay seated the entire section.

I understand that professor can take the success of their students seriously, but I wonder if in the case of Galloway, if the interest takes the form of some sort of pompous aggrandizement rather than concern for the student’s well-being. This, and not the student’s punctuality or future success, may lie at the heart of Galloway’s policy towards attendance.

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Mar 24, 2013

Primary Schools Encouraging Students To Bring Their Own Technology To Class

Fascinating report from the Times.

Educators and policy makers continue to debate whether computers are a good teaching tool. But a growing number of schools are adopting a new, even more controversial approach: asking students to bring their own smartphones, tablets, laptops and even their video game players to class.

Officials at the schools say the students’ own devices are the simplest way to use a new generation of learning apps that can, for example, teach them math, test them with quizzes and enable them to share and comment on each other’s essays.

Advocates of this new trend, called B.Y.O.T. for bring your own technology, say there is another advantage: it saves money for schools short of cash.

For instance, a recent assignment entailed learning about fractions by using an app called “Factor Samurai.” A number appears on the screen, and the student is supposed to cut it with a finger — as if slicing with a Samurai sword — so that it gets cut into smaller values. But students lose points if they try to slice through prime numbers.

Ms. Zacharko will also start class discussion on a reading assignment by asking students to use their devices to write comments in an online forum. “Their typing is amazing on these devices,” she said.

The fact that students in the same classroom can use many different devices is not a handicap because they are all using the same lessons on the Internet, said Lenny Schad, former chief information officer in the Katy Independent School District near Houston, which started a program with a different moniker: B.Y.O.D., for Bring Your Own Device.

“The Internet is the great equalizer,” Mr. Schad said.

He added that students’ devices were not meant to be a substitute for teachers, but could be used as tools for assignments. He noted that the concept was catching on; he said he had given dozens of presentations to other districts and educators about his district’s initiative.


This article should serve as a sign for how law students in the very near future will expect to learn. Banning technology in the classroom may be productive enough, but will become tougher as more and more of these students, who were bred on smart devices, make their way into the classroom.

Today, I was having lunch with my agent, and we were talking about the shift from selling hard-cover books to ebooks. He related a fascinating anecdote. He saw a young child, maybe a year old in a park, looking at a book. The child was poking at the book with his fingers, as if he was playing with an iPad, and upset nothing happened. He didn’t understand that to turn the page of a book you can’t swipe. Another friend recently told me that his 2-year old child can type on an iPad, but lacks the physical dexterity to hold a pen. Imagine that. A toddler can learn to write earlier than he could otherwise because of an iPad.

This is our future–whether you like it or not.

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Mar 7, 2013

Thomas Friedman on Flipping The Classroom

Therefore, we have to get beyond the current system of information and delivery — the professorial “sage on the stage” and students taking notes, followed by a superficial assessment, to one in which students are asked and empowered to master more basic material online at their own pace, and the classroom becomes a place where the application of that knowledge can be honed through lab experiments and discussions with the professor. There seemed to be a strong consensus that this “blended model” combining online lectures with a teacher-led classroom experience was the ideal.

This is something I am working on for my own classroom. I’ve blogged before about the need to shift away from the Socratic stage of the stage, and move towards the professorial facilitator.

I haven’t quite figured out the dynamics, but shifting the lecturing to before class is a must. Already, my YouTube library has nearly a hundred of my lectures recorded. These will serve as the basis of the flipped classroom, at some point.

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Feb 21, 2013

Tweeting From The Podium

RRXTWEET18-CThe Philadelphia Inquirer reports about a Temple University instructor who engages his students with Twitter during class.

Jordan Shapiro’s class last week delved into a weighty discussion of Plato’s allegory of the cave and shifting perceptions of reality. Front and center on the classroom wall behind him flashed a constantly shifting series of posts on Twitter, all under the class hashtag of #Mosaic1. With her Nook and phone at hand, sophomore Kaylyn Christian, 20, tweeted: “Are you really happy if you live a successful life in the shadows?” Shapiro’s Temple University classroom is definitely not the norm in academia, but it could be a harbinger of the future. While many professors at Temple and beyond ban tweeting and texting in class, Shapiro, a full-time instructor who started last year, encourages it. Even more so – he counts it as classroom participation. He often tweets back. “Please tweet. Please do it,” Shapiro, 35, tells students at the start of the semester. Christian, a psychology major from Princeton, is happy to comply. “I always like to look up at the screen,” she said, “and see what others are saying, too.”

In Forbes, Shapiro writes:

As I prepare my syllabi for the upcoming semester, I take a different approach. I encourage tweeting in my classes. I offer hashtags that correspond to the name of the course at the beginning of the semester (#mosaic1 & #mosaic2). Students are asked to tweet their thoughts and reactions both during class and while doing readings at home.  I see it like a modern day version of the reading journals that my professors always assigned.

I sometimes use the smart classroom technology to project the class related tweet stream onto the screen behind me during session.  This is pretty exciting when it works well. Like every tech industry conference I’ve ever attended, two levels of dialogue are going on at once. Imagine: students are not just engaged with the material, they’re engaged twice. I’m facilitating a live conversation and they are facilitating the tweet stream.

I have been using a live-chat in class now for some time (here are some of my early posts). I do not use Twitter, as I do not require students to sign up. Rather, I use a program called Today’s Meet, which allows me to create quick, easy, anonymous chats. Students are able to ask questions, send me links to relevant articles, tell me when I’m wrong anonymously (it happens!), and even injet some humor into the discussion (something I appreciate).  Students are already on their computers, chatting away. How many professors wish they knew what was going on in their student’s minds (in class, at least)? With the live-chat, I can see what they are thinking, and become a better teacher for it.

life-estate-chatFor example, here are some of the tweets from when I covered life estates the other day.

When a question is posted online, I see it on my screen, and decide when and how I want to address it. But it allows me to better control the pacing of the class.

I also allow students to provide feedback to me, anonymously, at various points throughout the semester so I know how I am doing. This is a quick and easy way to make improvements on the fly.

This is not easy. It requires me to juggle a lot of balls at once. First, I have to teach the class. Second, I have to type up the notes in real-time (something I do using Google docs). Third, I have to keep the students engaged. I do not do Socratic. Rather, I go up and down each row and ask everyone one question. I can call on about 80-90 people per class, so everyone is called on every day. Sometimes twice. Fourth, I monitor the livechat to see if there is anything else to bring up.

You can view the home pages for my Property 1 class here, and my Property 2 class here.




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Feb 13, 2013

The Housing Bubble and the Higher Education Bubble

Duke LawProf Paul Carrington offered some interesting history lessons about law school reform in the 1970s, including some thoughts from then-White House staffer, and future Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

The third year of legal education is a waste of time that raises the cost of legal services. Better to cut the third year, according to the study, and to shorten the path to law school with the admission of students who have completed only three years of college. That way, only five years of higher education would be needed to become a lawyer.

“I still think those are pretty good ideas,” Carrington said Saturday during a public hearing sponsored by the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. Proposals for a two-year legal education are back in the news today amid calls to reduce the cost of law school to reduce the burden for graduates struggling to find jobs. The task force, created last summer, heard from more than a dozen speakers during the ABA Midyear Meeting in Dallas. Its aim is to issue a report by the fall and bring its recommendations to the policy-making ABA House of Delegates in February 2014.

Soon after his study was completed, Carrington told the task force, he had a chance encounter at O’Hare International Airport with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a White House staffer. Moynihan observed that the guaranteed student loan program was “a national disaster” that would drive tuition through the roof, causing higher education to get drunk on borrowed student money.

Last week in property class I covered mortgages, and offered a discussion on the subprime mortgage crisis. I took some time to explain to the students the similarities between the housing bubble and the higher education bubble (grossly oversimplifying).

Fannie Mae sought to give home mortgages to anyone, regardless of how poor their credit was. This led to subprime lending (what some dubbed predatory) where people who had no prospect of paying back the mortgage were given lots of money. This guaranteed lending led to increases in the price of what properties were worth. This market could only sustain itself so long as the prices of housing continued to increase, and interest rates were kept low. Once the housing prices plummeted, and the interests rates were increased, the bubble burst, and the entire market imploded. People walked away from home mortgages, because it was cheaper to default. The federal government had to bail out Fannie Mae, and countless houses were left abandoned on the market for foreclosure.

This is a forecast of what will happen with student loans.

As Moynihan wisely observed decades ago, Sallie Mae (Fannie’s student-loan-lending sister) will guarantee mortgages to anyone, regardless of whether or not they will be able to pay it back (measuring likelihood to repay a home mortgage is substantially easier than measuring likelihood to repay a student loan). Similarly, guaranteed lending, as Moynihan remarked, drives tuition through the roof.  This market can only sustain itself so long as graduates can continue to obtain jobs that allow them to make ends meets with their debts. My friend Jim Chen observed that “Law graduates need an annual salary equal to two thirds of their law school debt to make law school viable.” However, if this trend ends (and signs are, that is is probably on its way out), and graduates can no longer pay off their debts, the entire market will fall apart.

However, unlike defaulting mortgages, graduates can’t walk away from the loans because the debts are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. This loan continues after death.

The reactions from my students were interesting. A number of the students were quite aware of the situation, and one cited recent articles in the New York Times. This was reassuring. Many other students had absolutely no idea. This was troubling.

I explained to them that student loan debt was not dischargeable in bankruptcy, a thought that many of them had never considered. I also told them that if they need extra money during the year, that it was better to go into credit card debt (which can be discharged in bankruptcy) than take unsubsidized student loans (that cannot be discharged, and collect interest during law school).

This will not end well for students and schools.

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Oct 29, 2012

Teaching Without Teachers

The WSJ has an interesting piece how the internet is changing the way students learn how to play a guitar. More and more music students are learning how to be musicians without actually interacting with a musician.

“I don’t know if in-person classes are really necessary,” says Thomas Sundboom, a 62-year-old guitar student in Balsam Lake, Wis., who is learning to play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. He pays $40 a month for access to Mr. Andreas’ site, less than half the $100 a month he paid for conventional lessons. “That should put a downward pressure on prices, for sure.”

“Traditional guitar teachers may find that the online approach will impact them significantly,” says Gary Ingle, executive director of the 22,000-member Music Teachers National Association. “Right now there is a great sorting out period.”

But can an online instructor encourage a lazy student to practice?

Motivation and discipline still lie at the heart of becoming a good musician. And it is here that technology still falls short of a traditional teacher’s care and attention.

In fact, technology in some ways makes the problem worse. Devices have made it so “kids can’t focus,” says Albany, N.Y., guitar teacher Jason Ladanye. “They don’t make kids the same way anymore. They don’t see the value in doing the work.”

Mr. Hutter, the venture capitalist, says that problem is solvable. He cites new studies that show social-network interplay—wisecracking banter among students—unlocks a greater ability to retain knowledge. “If you’re learning and engaging in a social community, that lights up the brain. That is the magic of this moment.”

Over time, perhaps, the traditional guitar teacher may become less of a gate keeper of knowledge and more of a motivator of the distracted student.

Teachers will be coaches, not priests.

I like viewing teachers as coaches, or mentors, rather than a sage on the stage.

My father is a musician, and tried for years to teach me how to play the guitar, clarinet, and a host of other instruments. I never liked it, and I didn’t care to practice. I doubt this technology would have made me more likely to practice.

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Aug 28, 2012

Want to learn about the Legal Academic Job Market Works?

Sign up for my webinar through KosmosOnline on Tuesday, October 23, at 7:00 p.m. EST.

During the webinar, I will walk you through,  step-by-step, how to apply to be a law professor.

This webinar will be targeted for people considering going on the market in the future, but will also be relevant for anyone who would have attended the 2012 AALS Faculty Recruitment Conference (the “Meat Market”), and is waiting for call backs.

I hope to see you there!

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Jul 31, 2012

Is Self-Service Education Entirely A Bad Thing?

At The Faculty Lounge, Jim Gardner writes about his concerns with what he sees as the current generation of law students desire for “self-service education.”

    But I also worry that many of our students not only would prefer to acquire as much of their legal education as possible without human interaction, but that many of them are flummoxed by in-person contact with other humans, especially ones they don’t know well.  Our director of university counseling services told me a striking story about an increasingly common kind of problem in the dorms (mainly among undergraduates, so far).  Two roommates get into a dispute.  They are unable to resolve it face to face; indeed, the dispute only becomes more acute as resolution eludes them.  Each storms into his own bedroom.  An exchange of texts or IMs ensues.  They emerge with resolution.  Nothing more is said about the incident in person, ever.

All this for me points to two problems.  First, educators have done a poor job explaining to today’s consumers of education why in-person contact is an important part of the enterprise.  It seems self-evident to us, but that is no longer the case for many of our students.  (Indeed, it is no longer the case for many educational policy makers.)  Second, I find this trend worrisome as it relates to training future lawyers to function proficiently in professional environments.  I’ll address these issues in my next post.

I posted this comment:

Do you think that future generations of clients, who were also brought up with the self-service style of learning, may wish to interact with similarly-inclined attorneys? That is, clients desirous of legal services may seek to obtain them through alternate channels, with much less face-to-face interaction (for early signs, look no further than products like LegalZoom or Rocket Lawyer).

The nostalgic tone of this post picks up on a burgeoning trend, and accepts the fact that students are evolving, but takes for granted that clients also evolve. The very same generation of law students who like to do things “self-service” are also the MBA students who will want to obtain legal services in that fashion. The law students of today should not  necessarily strive in all respects to be the law students of decades ago.

Done correctly, training students in the ways of self-service can help differentiate them in their roles as attorneys, and meet a certain demand.

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers. Instalanche!

Update 2: Gardner supplied these comments to the ABA Journal:

Gardner says he fears students who don’t interact with humans in law school will have difficulties forming relationships after graduation with clients, judges and colleagues. Or maybe interactions will take on less importance as the new generation assumes leadership, he tells the ABA Journal.

Update 3: Gardner wrote a follow-up post, which I don’t think adds too much. But I would like to draw attention to two comments.

The first from Orin Kerr


Interesting post as always, but I disagree. It seems to me that you’re describing the process of learning from the teacher’s perspective, focusing on what the teacher thinks and how the teacher acts and what the teacher experiences. But the proper concern here what the students experience, not what the teacher experiences.

Before computers, when a student tried to learn a subject area, about 90% of their time was self-service education: Reading the book on their own, studying the book, reviewing notes, etc. The teacher was never present for that. In those days, good luck trying to find a professor to answer a question out of class; most teachers were not particularly accessible to students. It seems to me that these days, learning is far more interactive for students. They can e-mail, chat, share notes more easily, go online and find good resources, e-mail their professors, etc. From the perspective of a student, the process on the whole seems to be less “self-service” than it was before computers.

It may be that the presence of computers makes it marginally harder for less successful teachers to feel like they “have the room.” Professors know the students are surfing the web, whereas in the old days students who were daydreaming looked like maybe they were paying attention (although let’s face it: they weren’t). Thus the fear the relationship may be souring; maybe professors are not feeling as respected as before. But it seems to me that this is a question of how the professor feels, not what skills students have or need.

The second from Michael Duff:

My students very obviously interact less with live humans today than I was required to do. There is quite a literature on these “post moderns” (Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millennials)and it is clear to me that this group is different. But I think you’ve hit on the right question, Jim. The students are different because the world in which they live is different. The question is whether their strategies of fitting (strategies we might have thought of in the past as “not fitting”) will fit whatever the profession will look like in the future better than what we can teach them of what the profession has been up to now. The fact is, we can’t know; and I feel like I face dilemmas like this as a parent all the time. What we have to determine is whether there is some irreducible professional core that we can continue to teach. I think there is because the constant will be servicing clients with disputes (or near-disputes). Future lawyers will have to know the details of the disputes and they will have to know client objectives. I can’t see how that will not continue to require some refined human interaction skills. So we have to keep trying, I think.

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Jul 11, 2012

By offering a Ph.D. in Law Aimed At Aspiring Academics, Yale Just Made It Harder to Aspire to Academia

Oh Yale. It is really, really tough to get a teaching job at a law school. In recent years, it has become even more difficult because schools have started to (kinda) require that students have, in addition to  JD, additional qualifications, such as a VAP, Fellowship, or advanced degree–usually an LLM, which takes one year, or a Ph.D. in some other discipline (economics, political science, etc.). All of these requirements raise the bar, and make it tougher for aspiring academics to land a job. All of these requirements are costly both in terms of tuition (going to school isn’t free, even with a tuition waiver and stipend) and opportunity cost (pursuing these options which will *only* help you get an academic job may not be worth it if you don’t get the job).

Now Yale has upped the ante. They offer a Ph.D. Program in law. Other schools will no doubt offer these as well. And now, this will be the new required standard to be a law prof.

Now, you may say shouldn’t law professors have a Ph.D.? Well, this certainly helps to train in theoretical aspects of law, but such degrees will make it all but impossible for practicing attorneys to teach. Taking three years off to get a degree? I don’t think so. This move will, ultimately, further the gap between practice and the academy. (Yes, I realize that I didn’t practice. I don’t view myself as an ideal candidate for academia).

I wonder what percentage of profs will have a Ph.D. in law in 20 years?

Update: Yikes, Brian Leiter asks if this is the “worst idea in the history of legal education?”

 So what this new program will really be is some combination of resume polishing and an opportunity for people interested in law teaching to have an opportunity to write–in the latter regard, it will be a somewhat longer Fellowship than the two-year ones which are now quite common. A Ph.D. it won’t be, however, and it’s inconceivable, given the lack of an actual Wissenschaft the program is meant to instill, that it will confer the advantages that JD/PhDs in cognate subjects have as scholars and on the teaching market.  But as a three-year writing Fellowship, fully funded by Yale at this point, it will no doubt be attractive for those who want to go into law teaching but don’t want to earn a real PhD.

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Jun 11, 2012

Which grades essays more accurately–Humans or Algorithms?

It’s a close call.

The standardized tests administered by the states at the end of the school year typically have an essay-writing component, requiring the hiring of humans to grade them one by one. This spring, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a competition to see how well algorithms submitted by professional data scientists and amateur statistics wizards could predict the scores assigned by human graders. The winners were announced last month — and the predictive algorithms were eerily accurate. . . .

If the thought of an algorithm replacing a human causes queasiness, consider this: In states’ standardized tests, each essay is typically scored by two human graders; machine scoring replaces only one of the two. And humans are not necessarily ideal graders: they provide an average of only three minutes of attention per essay, Ms. Chow says.

We are talking here about providing a very rough kind of measurement, the assignment of a single summary score on, say, a seventh grader’s essay, not commentary on the use of metaphor in a college senior’s creative writing seminar.

Software sharply lowers the cost of scoring those essays — a matter of great importance because states have begun to toss essay evaluation to the wayside.

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Jun 10, 2012

“Law professors are among the best paid in the academy, with sparkling credentials, and are sought after not just as leading academic and legal figures but also as public intellectuals, as consultants, and for important state and federal government positions.”

Yet law schools are failing abjectly in multiple ways.

Kindle just auto-delivered Brian Tamanaha’s new book, “Failing Law Schools.”

These parts will be of some interest to me:

In part 1, I reveal how legal educators have utilized regulatory mechanisms time and again to further their own interests. I go on, in part 2, to describe what law professors do and how much we get paid and explain why the practicing bar and judges complain that law professors are out of touch and do a poor job of training lawyers.

What I write in these pages will affront many of my fellow legal educators. I reveal the ways in which we have repeatedly worked our self-interest into accreditation standards, from unnecessarily requiring three years of law school to writing special provisions to boost our compensation. We teach less and get paid more than other professors, and we earn more than most lawyers, yet we still complain about being underpaid relative to lawyers. I question the amount of money that goes into academic research. I challenge the efforts of clinicians to use accreditation standards to get job protection, and I question the economic efficiency of clinical programs. I identify schools that have dismal rates of success among graduates in landing jobs as lawyers, and I identify schools that publish highly unreliable salary numbers. I specify a set of characteristics of law schools that prospective students should be wary of attending. I argue that law schools extract as much money as they can by hiking tuition and enrollment, while leaving students to bear the risk, in the first instance, and taxpayers thereafter. And I propose changes to accreditation standards and the federal loan system that, if enacted, would drastically alter the situation of law schools.

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May 31, 2012

I, for one, welcome our new mind-reading robotic teaching overlords

So what happens when you can build a robotic teacher that discerns when students are distracted or not paying attention?

The pair programmed a Wakamaru humanoid robot to tell students a story in a one-on-one situation and then tested them afterwards to see how much they had remembered. Engagement levels were monitored using a $200 EEG sensor to monitor the FP1 area of the brain, which manages learning and concentration. When a significant decrease in certain brain signals indicated that the student’s attention level had fallen, the system sent a signal to the robot to trigger a cue. “We can’t do it just at any given moment, we have to try and do it like human teachers do,” says Mutlu.

The robot teacher first told a short story about the animals that make up the Chinese zodiac, in order to get a baseline EEG reading. Next, the robot told a longer 10-minute story based on a little-known Japanese folk tale called My Lord Bag of Rice, which the student was unlikely to have heard before.

During this story the robot raised its voice or used arm gestures to regain the student’s attention if the EEG levels dipped. These included pointing at itself or towards the listener – or using its arms to indicate a high mountain, for example. Two other groups were tested but the robot either gave no cues, or sprinkled them randomly throughout the storytelling. Afterwards, the students were asked a few questions about the Chinese zodiac to distract them before being asked a series of questions about the folk tale.

As the team had expected, the students who were given a cue by the robot when their attention was waning were much better at recalling the story than the other two groups, answering an average of 9 out of 14 questions correctly, as compared with just 6.3 when the robot gave no cues at all. The results were presented at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Austin, Texas, earlier this month.

Maybe I could wire my students up to EEG meters? Or better yet, monitor their chatter to see what’s going on. Oh wait.

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May 22, 2012

I, for one, welcome our new robotic teaching overlords

This study shows that “machine-guided learning” software is just as effective as “human-guided learning” (also known as teachers):

In experiments at six public universities, students assigned randomly to statistics courses that relied heavily on “machine-guided learning” software — with reduced face time with instructors — did just as well, in less time, as their counterparts in traditional, instructor-centric versions of the courses. This largely held true regardless of the race, gender, age, enrollment status and family background of the students.

The study comes at a time when “smart” teaching software is being increasingly included in conversations about redrawing the economics of higher education. Recent investments by high-profile universities in “massively open online courses,” or MOOCs, has elevated the notion that technology has reached a tipping point: with the right design, an online education platform, under the direction of a single professor, might be capable of delivering meaningful education to hundreds of thousands of students at once.

The new research from the nonprofit organization Ithaka was seeking to prove the viability of a less expansive application of “machine-guided learning” than the new MOOCs are attempting — though one that nevertheless could have real implications for the costs of higher education.

The study, called “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities,” involved students taking introductory statistics courses at six (unnamed) public universities. A total of 605 students were randomly assigned to take the course in a “hybrid” format: they met in person with their instructors for one hour a week; otherwise, they worked through lessons and exercises using an artificially intelligent learning platform developed by learning scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative.

Researchers compared these students against their peers in the traditional-format courses, for which students met with a live instructor for three hours per week, using several measuring sticks: whether they passed the course, their performance on a standardized test (the Comprehensive Assessment of Statistics), and the final exam for the course, which was the same for both sections of the course at each of the universities.

The results will provoke science-fiction doomsayers, and perhaps some higher-ed traditionalists. “Our results indicate that hybrid-format students took about one-quarter less time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional-format students,” report the Ithaka researchers.

The robotic software did have disadvantages, the researchers found. For one, students found it duller than listening to a live instructor. Some felt as though they had learned less, even if they scored just as well on tests. Engaging students, such as professors might by sprinkling their lectures with personal anecdotes and entertaining asides, remains one area where humans have the upper hand.

But on straight teaching the machines were judged to be as effective, and more efficient, than their personality-having counterparts.

Some, are not so welcoming:

In terms of instructor compensation, the researchers estimated, a machine-guided course featuring weekly face-to-face sessions with part-time instructors would cost between 36 and 57 percent less than a traditional course in which a full professor presides over each 40-student section; and it would cost 19 percent less than if a single full professor gave one lecture to all sections before breaking them into smaller discussion groups led by teaching assistants.

The perennial fear among faculty is that the growing credibility of automated teaching software could tempt administrators to replace instructors with robots. But Bowen and company make the case that automated teaching software could enable colleges to save money without firing tenured professors.

A hybrid teaching model could shift a great to deal of the teaching burden from tenured professors to teaching assistants and support staff, they explain. That could allow institutions to enroll more students without hiring an equal proportion of expensive tenured faculty. “Recruitment costs may thereby be reduced along with compensation costs per student, and debates over maintaining commitments to existing faculty are avoided,” the authors write.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/05/22/report-robots-stack-human-professors-teaching-intro-stats#ixzz1vdnGXjJ4
Inside Higher Ed

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May 22, 2012

“Don’t pay attention in class, and you eventually will become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”

Before there was Facebook, there was doodling. Note to profs, students never payed attention in class. Kyle Graham went through Chief Justice Rehnquist’s law school notebooks, and found plenty of doodling in the margins:

 It also appears that Rehnquist liked to doodle, and in particular, that he enjoyed drawing portraits of now-obscure individuals in the margins of his notebooks. So, here’s a word of advice to you kids out there: Don’t pay attention in class, and you eventually will become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

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May 15, 2012

Why do we give time-crunched exams?

This post on the topic of giving more time to test-takers with disabilities makes sense to me:

But my sense, from having practiced law and seen a lot of law school exams, is that our exams vastly overvalue the skill of thinking quickly on your feet relative to the importance of that skill in practice.  For many issues in most practice settings, time is, within reason, on your side.  Most briefs don’t have to be written in a couple of hours, most research and discovery projects don’t require the sort of speedy processing that our exams tend to test for, and virtually nothing in legal practice much resembles the act of writing a memo in an hour and a half identifying issues in a complex fact pattern.  The skills of thinking through different and conflicting lines of precedent and developing legal theories and litigation strategies are often quite important in legal practice, but the ability to do those things in a three-hour period is far less so.  Yet on our exams we highly value the ability to think through these issues quickly — even though in most practice settings you would never rely on a synthesis of precedents or legal strategy developed in only three hours, and the people who can come up with the best synthesis of precedents or legal strategy in a three-hour period are not necessarily the same people as those who would come up with the best answers over a few days of thinking about the problem.  (Obviously there are differences across subjects here.  I would think that an evidence class should value speed more than a jurisprudence class, to take an extreme comparison.)

If, as I think is often true, our examinations overvalue processing speed in relation to the importance of that skill in legal practice, I believe that the solution is to give all students more time.  For this reason, I give take-home exams wherever possible.  Particularly with 48-hour take-home exams, I believe that every student will have an ample amount of time to demonstrate his or her skills, and no student will need extra time.  This avoids overvaluing speedy processing and avoids any potential unfairness of giving some students, but not others, extra time.

I hope to give some sort of take-home exam where students will have 24 hours to finish it–more than enough time.

And you know, I was wondering what Scott Greenfield would thank. Thankfully, his comment is right there:

Attorney: Objection, Your Honor.
Judge: Huh? What are you objecting to?
Attorney: The question my learned adversary asked yesterday, just after lunch.
Judge: I think you’re a bit late on your objection, counselor.
Attorney: Well, Your Honor, perhaps you aren’t aware of this, but even though I was first in my law school class, I’m a slow processor.
Judge: And I care about this why?
Attorney: I am allowed extra time, Your Honor. I was at Harvard, and certainly this Court doesn’t consider itself more worthy of my processing than Harvard.
Judge: Overruled.
Defendant: Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!!!

As long as you can provide an absolute assurance that no student who receives extra time because of slow processing ever steps foot in a courtroom or other place where he could compromise a client’s interest, since all lawyers are admitted as generalists and otherwise have the license to do so, it’s good with me.

Otherwise, neither your concern nor that of your slow processing student trumps the interest of the client whose life, fortune or rights are lost in the name of accommodation. We don’t practice law for our own benefit, but for the benefit of our clients.

If you walk into court totally unaware of any possible evidentiary issues, and have to take hours to think about it, you failed already. If stuff comes up that you didn’t anticipate, then you have to think on your feet. I gather questioning in class and other activities can prepare a students for that. A single examination, not so much.

Sam’s response to Scott seems right:

First, it seems to me silly to say that because lawyers in court will be forced to make evidentiary objections quickly we should give great weight in *all* of our testing on *all* of the major subjects in law school on the skills that correlate with the ability to make evidentiary objections quickly. (The point holds true even if we say *most* of our testing on *most* of the major subjects, I think.) Someone who is really quick on her feet in making evidentiary objections may nonetheless quite poorly serve her clients if she cannot engage in the more deliberative process of developing a theory of the case and an investigation, discovery, and litigation strategy. The attorney who does well at those more deliberative tasks may be more valuable to clients than the attorney who does well at the more on-the-fly tasks. This is especially true given the very high proportion of litigation that does not culminate in a trial. (And that’s just in litigation. Lots of lawyers aren’t litigators.)

Second, even in the field of evidence, lots of the law of evidence is applied not in objections made on the fly, but in motions in limine, which often (but not always) involve a reasonably long gestation period. Indeed, as you know, the law of evidence is very important outside of court, when a lawyer is figuring out what evidence to try to obtain in investigation and discovery — decisions that again are more deliberative.

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May 9, 2012

Stanford Medical School Professors Abandon Lectures and Flips The Classroom

So, last week, two Stanford professors made a courageous proposal to ditch lectures in the medical school. “For most of the 20th century, lectures provided an efficient way to transfer knowledge, But in an era with a perfect video-delivery platform — one that serves up billions of YouTube views and millions of TED Talks on such things as technology, entertainment, and design — why would anyone waste precious class time on a lecture?,” write Associate Medical School dean, Charles Prober and business professor, Chip Heath, in The New England Journal of Medicine. Instead, they call for an embrace of the “flipped” classroom, where students review Khan Academy’s YouTube lectures at home and solve problems alongside professors in the classroom. Students seem to love the idea: when Stanford piloted the flipped classroom in a Biochemistry course, attendance ballooned from roughly 30% to 80%.

Skeptical readers may argue that Khan Academy can’t compete with lectures from the world’s great thinkers. In response, Prober and Heath point to a recent one-week study that compared the outcomes of two classes, a control class that received a lecture from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and an experimental section where students worked with graduate assistants to solve physics problems. Test scores for the experimental group (non-lecture) was nearly double that of the control section (41% to 74%).

“Students are being taught roughly the same way they were taught when the Wright brothers were tinkering at Kitty Hawk,” they explain. After a revolution, an organization should bear little resemblance to its former self. Harvard and MIT have merely placed the 20th century education model online. Stanford, on the other hand, is completely doing away with the old model of the “sage on the stage” and embracing a learning environment that mirrors life forever connected to the world’s information.

I hope to do this, soon, in my class.

From the article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That’s the vision that we want to chase: education that wrings more value out of the unyielding asset of time. There are limits to the amount we can lengthen class periods and the additional homework we can assign, but we can use our limited time in ways that boost engagement and retention. Imagine first-year medical students learning critical biochemical pathways by watching short videos as many times as necessary in the comfort of their personal learning space. Knowledge acquisition is verified by repeated low-stakes quizzes. Then, in class, the students participate in a discussion that includes a child with a metabolic disease, his or her parents, the treating clinician, and the biochemistry professor. The relevant biochemistry — so dry on the page of a textbook — comes to life. The lesson sticks

Lectures are a waste of time. I hope to have all my lectures on YouTube in Khan-Academy style online weeks before class, so students can review it at their own leisure. Class will be for solving problems and applying the knowledge (you know, the stuff most students see for the very first time on an exam).

Oh, and I just received my schedule. In the fall I will be teaching two sections of Property II–MW from 2:00-3:30 and 7:45-9:15. I am really looking forward to having an evening section!

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May 4, 2012

A Professor On The Con-Law List Serves Opines On The “Wikipedia Version” Of Law Students

I’ve noticed in the past two years that the students seem less able to dig out details from cases and the problem is exacerbated in a code course like copyright.  There have always been some who could not do it and it is one of the things we teach them to do, but there seems to be more difficulty with the last two classes on this attention to detail and close reading.  It is as though sound-bite law or at best the wikipedia version (summary of key points, no attention to nuance or fine (and sometimes even coarse) distinctions) satisfies them and they think that is good enough. Even those who start to “get it” have more trouble than in past years.

The part of class that I always disliked the most was going through the monotonous recitation of facts. The worst was when a professor would call on student after student after student to glean one small fact from the case that no one noticed, using so much class time, and losing everyone’s attention. And finally, when that fact was discussed (either by the professor, or one student who re-read the case and found it during the cold-calling), the payoff was slight. I tend to prefer discussing the facts myself, and then analyzing or applying the materials with the students.

I recognize remembering facts is important, but I don’t know if it is as nearly as important as it once was. For example, if I can’t remember the facts about that case with the wheat and the commerce clause, with about 2 seconds of searching I can find the facts. You could not do that in the past. I would rather focus on stuff you can’t find with 2 seconds of searching.

I am positive that I am in the vast minority of profs here.

Update: Another prof writes in:

Superficiality does not work for law, generally, including the topics discussed on this list, yet current cultural practices prize the 140-character tweet, the sound bite, the one-sentence retort, and other forms of shallow thinking. Today’s law students have been immersed in that sort of environment for enough time that their brains are far more comfortable dealing with generalities than with the sort of precise analytical digging that law faculty are trying to teach them to do . . . A generation of which rigorousness has not been demanded is coming of age. It’s not pretty. And it causes me (and, I suppose, others) to worry about the future of law.

I suppose this all assumes that the way law has been practiced for decades is the way it should be practiced in the future. I suspect that is not the case.

I suspect this thread will be lively.

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