Thursday, January 25, 2007

Picker on Teaching Antitrust at the University of Chicago

One of the changes to the blog for 2007 is to add guest commentary from other academics on substantive antitrust/competition policy issues and on antitrust pedagogy. On the latter issue, we hope to have a number professors guest blog about their classes both large and small and to share their innovations in teaching. We begin with guest blogging from the home of antitrust innovation—the University of Chicago Law School. The Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog is pleased to introduce guest blogger Randal C. Picker. Randy is the Paul and Theo Leffmann Professor of Commercial Law at The University of Chicago Law School and Senior Fellow, The Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. 

Posted by Guest Blogger Randal C. Picker

Teaching Antitrust at Chicago

Danny was nice enough to ask me to do a post on how I teach Antitrust at the University of Chicago. This year, I am teaching three classes—Antitrust, Network Industries and Copyright—and one seminar, Antitrust and IP Policy. I think of Antitrust and Network Industries as a nice, somewhat integrated two-quarter—we do quarters at Chicago—sequence: Antitrust, a class on the regulation of artificial monopoly, and Network Industries, a class on the regulation of natural monopoly. (We also have a separate Telecommunications Law class and there is some overlap between that class and Network Industries.) The name of the seminar really should be Whatever Randy Wants to Read Right Now; last year, it was classics in the secondary copyright literature; this year it is recently published articles or draft articles on antitrust.

The Antitrust class is by far the largest of the courses, taught in our large auditorium-style classroom. (That was 115 students this year.) I think that the course is a pretty conventional if economically-driven antitrust course. I don’t use a casebook and instead use an edited set of materials (here and here). That gives me great flexibility, so I can easily make last-minute changes, but is also obviously something of a burden to update the materials each year.

As you will see on the syllabus, the course works off of the standard Supreme Court antitrust canon. Blasts from the past, such as Trans-Missouri, which I just can’t prevent myself from teaching given its historic role (Dennis Carlton and I explore that, among other things, in a paper forthcoming in an NBER volume on antitrust and regulation). I often teach cases that the Court has granted cert on—this year Twombly and Weyerhaeuser—or should have taken—like the Hatch-Waxman generic settlement cases (Valley Drug and Cardizem). The course also has a bit of an Antitrust/IP focus, which reflects the field itself but also my research interests (papers on Microsoft (here and here); Intel; and copyright and competition policy (here and here)).

From a teaching standpoint, the class is a mix of Socratic discussion and some lecturing on core economic concepts. I use PowerPoint to lay out the economics and the hypos for discussion and post different pre- and post-class slides (think with and without answers). I don’t intend the slides to be used by the students to prepare for class but instead expect them to form the basis for what we do in class. That means that I can, guilt-free, post the slides right before class starts and students can download them using the network connections in the classroom. Students like having a set of slides to work with in class, both for note-taking and to be able to look at a concept mid-class that I covered earlier that day. But I don’t want the “answers” available before class, as I do think that it is important to explore blind alleys. (Whether students pass the slides on from year to year I do not know, but I do take the slides down before each quarter starts.) On the last day of class, I do a review session and post an integrated set of slides for the quarter (a very fat file).

The Network Industries course is usually roughly 30-35 students. It is a toolkit course, meaning a course about different legal tools used to approach the regulation of natural monopoly. These days that usually has some sort of network, such as the grid for transmitting electricity, at its core, though I pick up other forms of interconnection as well. Again, no casebook, so edited materials, and the same pre- and post-class slide setup. The only teaching wrinkle this quarter is that I am using a class blog and am requiring my students to make five posts across the course of the quarter (and two comments per week). The blog will make up 25% of the grade. The idea behind the blog is to push students to explore ideas in the course outside of the crossfire of the classroom. It also means that we can add to the topics covered in the course. I try to pick up on the posts in class (since I am using PowerPoint, I have the laptop and projector anyhow, so all I need to add the blog to class is a live Internet connection (most days that works)).

That gets us to the Antitrust and IP seminar (20 students or so this year and links to the readings here). Usually seminars meet for weekly for one quarter; we are meeting instead every other week for two quarters. In contrast to Network Industries, where the blog is, if all goes well, a pleasant addition to the course, the blog in the seminar is central to the course. I used to have the students write relatively short reaction papers to the readings and used those papers as the basis for class discussion. I would slice and dice those papers into PowerPoint slides, pull up the paper in quotes in class, and have students talk about their papers. But the key problem with that is that the students didn’t have a good chance to read papers by other students in the class, and I thought that they would benefit from that.

Now we do all of that through the blog. The class is divided into four groups, each group is assigned a posting/commenting window, and groups rotate through the slots week by week. We then discuss the posts in our class meeting time, again doing so using a laptop projector and a live Internet connection to pull up the blog.

All of this content is open to the public and isn’t hidden behind a university password requirement. The blogs often replicate the Annie Hall/Woody Allen/Marshall McLuhan moment. In our first blog session in the seminar, we were reading a paper by Ken Heyer at the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice. Ken jumped in with his two cents in the comments (and I think offered to hire each of the students at DOJ). Not a bad day’s work.

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This is a very informative and helpful post. I want to add that it is a particular pleasure for us to host Randy on the blog as he taught me antitrust in the Fall 2000 quarter at the University of Chicago.

It also seems like Ken Heyer of DOJ has a busy schedule this semester. In addition to participating via posts on Randy's class blog, Ken will be guest lecturing in my comparative and international antitrust seminar in a few weeks.

Posted by: D. Daniel Sokol | Jan 25, 2007 2:28:31 PM

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