Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ditching the Seating Chart

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

First class blues are the order of the day across the law prof blawgosphere; we start tomorrow.  I'm teaching the same class for the fourth semester in a row, and last spring I wrote the teachers' manual for the book (Ribstein & Lipshaw, Unincorporated Business Entities, 4th Edition - get it while it's hot), so getting prepped substantively isn't a big deal.  Instead, I've been mostly fiddling with the logistics of the class.  For example, I like to have my 250px-Horse_riding_in_coca_cola_arena_-_melbourne_show_2005 class outline written out in front of the class, and I'm willing to use PowerPoint for that limited purpose, but heretofore I've always been in classrooms in which the screen blocks the whiteboard, which is my preferred graphic medium.  This year, I have side whiteboards, so I can dispense with the laborious pre-class writing out of the outline on the board.

FWIW, here's the (slightly redacted) text on the TWEN home page for the course:

Feel free to stop by or call to set up an appointment at any time. I tend to be around a lot. My cell phone is ***-***-****, and I trust your good judgment as to where and when to call it.

I taught this course in the Spring, 2009 semester, and you can expect a lot of similarities. The main difference is that we used a course pack version of the casebook manuscript of Ribstein & Lipshaw, Unincorporated Business Entities, 4th, and now the book is available. We incorporate the statutes into the book itself, so you don't have to buy a separate supplement. As to my measly portion of the measly royalty on the price of the book (about $5 per book after taxes), I will make a contribution in that amount to some worthy cause, and let you know what it is during the semester.

This is often the first encounter many students have with the business world. Much of what the cases say can be difficult without an understanding of the context. We will spend part of the first day's class into a class exercise that deals with the business motivations that underlie using the doctrine we will spend the rest of the term exploring. During the case discussions themselves, we will spend a lot of time, therefore, unpeeling the facts, and understanding context. If you are ever struggling with that (or anything else), please do not be shy about letting me know.

I have decided this semester to experiment with the logistics of the class in two ways:

(a) I am having the IT department record and make ALL classes available via an MP3 posted on TWEN. I think there's still a significant value to you, me, and others in coming to class (particularly if you are on call), but I want to remove some of the note-taking (particularly the "transcription" kind) pressure. If you take notes, concentrate on engaging with what's important - you can always go back and pick up details later. (Note: I mentioned this to a former student the other day, and she posed the natural question - "will it mean people don't come to class?" That, of course, like all decisions in your life is yours to make. I asked if she would have come to class, to which her response was "I wouldn't want to miss the show.")

(b) I've decided to do away with one of the hallmarks of "teacher power," the seating chart, and instead go with tent cards (I think Professor Glannon does this in his Civ Pro classes) so we all know each other's names. I recognize that in a typical day you have more on your minds than bringing the tent cards to class, so I will collect them and keep them in a box that I bring with me. Also, one of my quirks is that I have, in the past, had everybody fill out an index card with some basic information. I'm going to ask you to do it instead on the inside of the tent card. I'm also thinking that I would like to take ten minutes to go around the room and have people introduce themselves (likely on the third day of class, once drop/add is over).

Finally, I'm not sure what it is about law students, or students in general, that often causes them not to avail themselves of all the resources that might enhance the odds of great success, but keeping track of what I put here on TWEN is one of those resources. Near the beginning of class on Monday, August 24, I'm going to ask the question, "What is the secret word?" If you immediately shout out "equestrian," (that's random, but I took up horse riding this summer), you will know that you already have a leg up on your less assiduous classmates who didn't read down to the very bottom of this message.

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"I am having the IT department record and make ALL classes available via an MP3 ... " This will be more useful than you know. It is one of the things the students are clamoring for at our institution now.

Students will most certainly still come to class but it will allow for more engagement, subsequent re-listening of the material and a greater depth of knowledge and understanding of the subject. And hopefully most of the sick people will stay at home which may actually help prevent a few of the seasonal plagues that go around most law schools.

Good job.

Posted by: S. David Brown | Aug 24, 2009 8:42:23 AM

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