Consider this scenario of a law school classroom, which makes use of blog posts, live chats, and social media interaction, before, during, and after class. This is something I intend on incorporating into my liveblogged article on the future of legal education. Let me know what you think?
On the syllabus I would indicate that a certain percentage of a student’s grade will be based on writing blog posts, and commenting on other posts (Students who are not comfortable with this format would be advised not to take the class). At the beginning of the semester I will allow students to sign up (electronically of course) for a specific number of case (or equivalent non-case reading, such as squib cases, or law review article) covered during the semester. (Ideally I will be using some electronic textbook, rather than a conventional textbook).
Two days before the class, the blog post will be due. The blog post should succinctly summarize the facts of the case, identify the issues, explain the holding, and provide some brief background. Students will be encouraged to use block quotes, and analyze the text of the case. This is a surprisingly effective way of parsing a case, and focusing on the key language. Students will also link to an electronic version of the case, so it can easily be accessed for further exploration. The length of the blog post will be keyed to the length of the reading–longer cases deserve longer blog posts; 50 words on the blog post per page, for example.
One day before the class, the rest of the class should have finished the reading, and will be responsible for reading their classmate’s blog posts, and adding comments to the comment threat. No doubt students have questions for the reading. By posting questions on the comment threads, their colleagues, as well as the professor, can address the issues. No longer will professors have to reply to questions one-by-one in an e-mail, or even worse, in a TWEN forum that no one actually reads. Ideally, outsiders who follow the blog (perhaps envious students in other sections or even other profs) can comment as well.
Now, before the class, the students *should* have read at least the blog summaries of the case, and read about the key issues in the comment threads. Even if a student skips the reading, he or she will at least be somewhat prepared to engage in class. Also, by answering many obvious questions in the comment thread, there is more time available in class for me to torture the students with questions they could not have possibly thought of, and really make it fun.
During class, I would keep open a backchannel, perhaps using a tool like Cover It LIve (the program SCOTUSBlog uses to live blog Court announcements), or maybe Twitter with an appropriate #hashtag. Additionally, I would livestream the video of each class, and feed it into the liveblog.
Through the backchannel, students will be able to contribute questions and comments during the class, which I can answer at my discretion. Students can even chat with one another offline, so to speak, and I can interject if I see the need.
When discussing a case, I would bring up the blog post, and if needed, call on its author. Now, rather than a student googling a case, or looking it up in Wikipedia, they can read the blog post their student wrote. If the blog post is lacking, through the comments thread or even by editing the post itself, we can update the post, collectively as a class. This reinforces critical thinking skills on the fly, teamwork, and allows the students to perfect their writing skills under a time crunch.
Beyond the blog posts, I would interject new materials into the live chat that the students would not be familiar with (perhaps other law review articles on point) and ask them questions, and maybe tweet about it. A 140 character answer is a blessing to the loquacious law student.
By creating blog posts for all of the cases, by the end of the term, the students have created a wonderful study aid for the final exam (which I would certainly permit access to). Everything a student needs to know about a case is available in one place–the blog post, comments in class, the liveblog, etc. Students would be able to watch the video, along with the liveblog to review for the exam.
The cases will be tagged and categorized so the students can focus on one topic at a time. Plus, all of the comments in the thread will be available to remind students of the insightful points made by their colleagues.
This study aid will accurately reflect what was actually discussed in class. As a Professor, this provides ample grounds to create test questions. This ensures that students paid attention to the discussion in class; simply reading the comments will not be sufficient to answer the exams. Now, students will not be able to complain that “the exam was nothing like the class.”
Summarizing a case in a 300 word blog post is really, really tough. It is a skill I have honed for some time, and I can say it has really improved my ability to concisely explain legal principles, especially during a time crunch. In many respects, this is more useful than learning to IRAQ or write a 25 page summary judgment motion. It combines the theoretical aspects of doctrinal textbooks with the practical aspect of writing something short, sweet, and effective. Additionally, it forces the students to collaborate and share ideas through the comment threads.
Some students study in study groups. Others study alone. This nudges students to collaborate, virtually, with the entire class. Students can still study in study groups, but now will have access to an entire range of thoughts, at low cost (no need to make friends and study with people you don’t want to study with in person). Additionally, these are the collaborative skills that legal jobs of tomorrow (and really today) demand.
Further, a student’s grade will no longer be determined entirely by a single exam. Especially for 1Ls, I found this system draconian. I don’t like the idea of midterms, but this slow, gradual, and progressive development of skills over the semester will help show the Professor who is really a top student, and who can just cram for an exam.
I will develop this further, but I can really see a model like this working with students.