ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Minimester and Student Evaluations

One of the oddities of our new minimester system is that we have two, seven-week contracts courses back-to-back.  All of my students from Contracts I and back for Contracts II.  And I'm happy to see them.  But because my students (well about 3/4 of them) filled out evaluations at the end of the first minimester, I know that not all of them are happy to see me.  Ironically, one of the questions on the evaluation form asks students if they would be interested in taking other courses from the instructor.  Bummer for those who answered no, given that first year law students don't generally get a choice.  

JesseBut that little awkwardness aside, getting evaluations at this point is very valuable, and based on the constructive criticism contained in the evaluations, I have made some changes to Contracts II, which otherwise is structured similarly to Contracts I.  These changes are as follows:

  • As I have mentioned in this space before here, rather than having a casebook and statutory supplment, my colleague Mark Adams and I have edited the cases that we teach, and our Digital Services Librarian, Jesse Bowman (pictured) has put together a LibGuide that features our edited cases, links to the R.2d and UCC and lots other goodies.  Many students complained that without a casebook to place the cases in context, they really didn't know what to look for in the readings.  I think students are wrong if they think that a casebook would guide them through the cases, since that's not really the pedagogical model in law school.  Nor should it be, really.  However, given that many students are relying on supplements, I decided to abandon my usual disclaimers about supplements, and I recommended one particular supplement (Blum's Examples and Explanations for Contracts).  Students can read the introductory material on each topic before reading the cases to get a sense of what to look for.  They can also do the problems at the end of each chapter, which I think are excellent.
  • Although I think most of my students understand why I ban laptops and other electronic devices from my classrooms, some students complained of their inability to take notes while also listening to class discussion and viewing the PowerPoint slides.  Stealing an idea (which she neglected to copyright) from my co-blogger Nancy Kim, I have appointed three official note takers in each section of contracts.  While students are still encouraged to do their own note-taking, the hope is that that official note-takers' work (which I put up on the LibGuide without reviewing them) will serve as a helpful backstop.  Students do not need to obsess about getting everything down in their notes.  If they miss something, they can rely on the official note-takers to cover it.
  • In general, I try to discourage students from obsessing over careful in-class note-taking in any case.  I tell them the course is mostly just a friendly discussion about the law -- a party to which everyone is invited.  They should just relax and ride the waves, and they can do so, within reason, because at the end of the semeser I hold a comprehensive review session in which I deliver (orally) an outline of the course material at the level of detail for which they will be responsible on the exam.  If they have been keeping up with the readings, following class discussion and outlining on their own, that review session should pull it all together for the students (which is why I usually do not recommend supplementary materials).  However, I now give short in-class quizzes to my students every two weeks, and that limits their ability to remain carefree until the review session.  So, I added a mid-semester (mid-minimester) review session that covers the first half of the course.

So, we'll see.  I try wherever possible to adjust my course in response to serious student criticisms.  Even if I don't entirely agree with the criticisms, there is no point in persisting with a pedagogy that students actively resist.  Still, there are some bedrock principles on which I won't compromise, and so the adjustments I have made are an attempt to improve the delivery of the curriculum in a manner consistent with my ideas about optimal teaching methods.


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