Monday, January 30, 2012

Why a whiteboard?

[Posted by Andy Morriss]

I need to return the favor and talk about why I let Bill talk me into this project. First, a key way to improve a class was to have Bill Henderson as a student. He was in the front row of one of the first undergraduate classes I taught. He came up to me before class started to tell me "I hope you don't mind, but I'll be asking a lot of questions since I'm paying for this class myself." I've tried to keep that statement at the front of my thinking about teaching ever since - we should be offering students value added because they are paying (if only with their time) for what we're delivering.

Bill quickly proved he was not content just to sit through classes - he had the entire class organized into a study group, which greatly improved classroom discussion. He not only did the reading, he found other relevant things and read them too, and then told the class about what he'd learned. It lifted the entire class to a higher level of engagement. I was pretty impressed with myself as a teacher, until I taught the class again without Bill in it and the level of engagement was not quite as high.

As we've collaborated on projects over the years since Bill became a law professor, I've learned an enormous amount from him. Since the teaching market has not put us in the same place physically, this is an opportunity to do something together intellectually. 

I'm going to focus on a couple of things here, at least initially. First, I'm slowly working my way through bits of the considerable body of literature on teaching from outside the legal academy. There's a lot of good stuff out there - some of it based on data! - and I'll try to spur some conversation about that. Second, as Bill noted, there's a lot of interesting data out there that the legal academy is not yet using. I'll try to help that conversation along as well.

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