ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Sales: A Quandary

Devil AngelSo, here's an interesting problem I'm facing.  I taught sales for the first time this semester.  I would say I devoted about 2/3 of class time to going over problems.  In order to maximize active learning, I had the students hand in written answers to three of the problems each week, and that homework counted cumulatively for 40% of the grade).  

My students were amazingly diligent, often looking up cases referenced in the questions and reading through the comments to Article 2 of the UCC.  I don't know what all the students thought about the assessment system, but a few have told me that they appreciated the fact that they had no choice but to keep up with the material, even if answering the questions was time-consuming and often frustrating because of either ambiguities in the Code or tensions between the Code and the caselaw.  

But here's the problem.  I wasn't born yesterday.  Now that there has been a group of students that has taken the course with me, their notes, including their answers to the homework problems, will circulate.  I think it is unrealistic to expect students (especially 3Ls) to refrain from consulting such excellent authority when answering the questions.  Unfortunately, the mystic chords of memory will swell when touched not by the better angels of our nature (as represented at left), but by a consultation with last year's students' answers, leading to idle minds with which devils (represented at right) are just as happy to play as with idle hands.

So how can I re-create this year's experience without coming up with my own original questions every time I teach the course?  

Any suggestions -- from any perspective: law prof, student, interested practitioner -- would be most welcome.


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I've had a similar experience with a problem-focused approach, both as a law-school adjunct and, in an earlier life, when I was in charge of shipboard training for some 400 nuclear propulsion-plant operators on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Two thoughts:

1. It might not be as big a problem as you think. It's my impression that it's the diligent students who consult their "elders" in search of old homework assignments, etc. (This assumes facts not in evidence, namely that the elders kept copies.) They're the ones who tend to read the materials, work the problems, etc. The lazy ones don't bother, and in any case tweaking the hypotheticals a bit from year to year can go a long way toward stymying them.

2. I post my problem sets on my Web site, and I also encourage students to work on the problem sets in groups. My theory is that the final exam will weed out those who didn't really do the work.

Posted by: D. C. Toedt | May 3, 2013 4:12:13 PM

Sorry ... no answers here. I have the same problem in my sales course and I come up with new fact patterns each year (although I don't have one every week). I've been teaching for four years now and it's really starting to get difficult and time-consuming. If anyone has a suggestion I'd love to hear it.

Posted by: Joshua Karton | May 3, 2013 4:20:19 PM

Thanks, D.C. and Joshua for chiming in. One solution might be to share questions (and model answers) over the Listserv. D.C., I can't afford to let the exam weed out students who don't do the work. I think of sales as a bar prep course, and so the strategy is to devise a system that gives them no choice but to do the work.

Tweaking hypos is certainly a solution, but I have just been using the problems in my casebook, which I think are quite intelligently designed to illustrate the boundaries of the rules. As Joshua notes, It is a lot of work to re-create the magic of a well-designed sequence of problems for all of Article 2.

Posted by: Jeremy Telman | May 4, 2013 6:13:22 AM

I suggest you reach an agreement with the *authors* of the materials in question. In consideration for e.g., a nice recommendation letter, they *tweak* the answers. This way, the new students that really do their homework will notice the *flaws* in the materials and give the truly correct answer while the freeloaders will be caught redhanded.

I know this approach may raise a number of ethical and even legal flags, but I know you'll enjoy sorting them out.

Posted by: quim | May 6, 2013 1:05:41 AM

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