Thursday, December 10, 2015
A few days ago, co-blogger Steve Bradford posted on law professor complaints about grading under the title Warning: Law Professor Whine Season. OK. I typically am one of those whiners. But today, rather than noting that grading is the only part of the semester I actually need to be paid for (and all that yada yada), I want to briefly extoll one virtue of exam season: the positive things one sees in students as they consciously and appropriately struggle to synthesize the material in a 14-week jam-packed semester.
My Business Associations final exam was administered on Tuesday. Like many other law professors, I gave my students sample questions (with the answers), held a review session, and responded to questions posted to the discussion board on our class course management site. Sometimes, I dread any and all of that post-class madness. This year, I admit that there were few of the thinly veiled (and, by me, expressly discouraged and disdained) "is this on the exam?" or "please re-teach this part of the course . . ." types of questions or requests in any of the forums that I offered for post-class review and learning. That was a relief.
The students' final work product for my Corporate Finance planning and drafting seminar was due Monday. I met with a number of students in the course about that drafting assignment and about the predecessor project in the final weeks before each was due. I watched them work through issues and begin to make decisions, uncomfortable as they might be in doing so, that solve real client problems. Satisfying times . . . .
In fact, there have been a number of moments over the past week in which I was exceedingly proud of the learning that had gone on and was continuing to go on during the post-class exam-and-project-preparation phase of the semester. I offer a few examples here to illustrate my point. They come from both my Business Associations course, for which students take a comprehensive written final examination, and my Corporate Finance planning and drafting seminar, for which students solve a corporate finance problem through planning and drafting and write a review of a fellow student's planning and drafting project.
First, two examples from my Business Aasociations course. One from before the exam and one from after. I just love both.
A course website posting from a student before the exam asked a question about my chosen correct answer to the following practice multiple-choice question:
Assume one corporation (Animus) desires to acquire the entire business of another corporation (Terramax). Animus owns no interest in Terramax before the business combination. Which of the following ways of accomplishing the business combination would not require a vote of the shareholders of Terramax?
A sale of all of Terramax’s assets to Animus
A sale of all of Terramax’s stock to Animus
A direct merger of Terramax into Animus
A statutory share exchange transaction under the Model Business Corporation Act through which Animus becomes the sole shareholder of Terramax
My answer was, of course, that the sale of stock does not require a shareholder vote; rather, the Terramax shareholders determine individually whether to sell their shares to Animus. But the student asked on the website why the answer could not also be that a sale of assets would not require a vote, noting and inquiring as follows: "[i]t seems that 12.01 of MBCA does NOT require shareholder approval for the sale of all of the assets in the regular course of business. Is it not the answer here because this sale is not in the regular course of business? If so, how are we to deduce that from the facts given?" Of course, my practice question (a new one) is flawed, and I admitted as much in my response to the student, while also explaining why my chosen answer still was the best answer among the lot. But I appreciated the question and the statutory understanding it showed.
Then, after the exam, a student wrote to ask me about an essay question on the exam in which I posited the formation of a specific new business venture as a corporation or a limited liability company and asked questions about each alternative. The student's message was not about the questions asked on the exam, but rather about whether a limited liability partnership might be a better alternative for the venture, offering some ideas in that regard. Wow. A student continuing to process the course material right through the exam. Amazing. (Of course, I had a different view than the student had on the limited liability partnership idea. So, in the ensuing email exchange, the student learned even more. Good for him for asking.) I love it when summative exams turn out to be formative assessment!
The last example I share today comes from my Corporate Finance course. I met with a student from that course yesterday. The student came to me to ask if I would serve as his faculty sponsor for an expository writing project. (We have an expository writing requirement as part of our degree requirements at UT Law.) Although I teach three courses in the spring semester, I told him to come by anyway to share his idea, which he asserted was in my field of expertise and experience. Once he told me about the nature of the expository writing project he wanted to undertake (and also with knowledge that he is an excellent researcher and writer who already has had several works published), I ended up agreeing to sponsor the project. It's truly, however, the nature of the expository writing project, as opposed to my knowledge of the student's performance record on similar projects, that "got me." Why? What he wanted to do was extend the work he did on dividends and repurchases in his Corporate Finance planning and drafting project because he wasn't satisfied that the work he had done on that earlier project fully resolved all of the issues he had seen, and he wanted to research the area in more depth and wrestle with it further. We talked about those unresolved issues and some possible directions for the expository paper. I was smiling all over inside after that meeting. I may regret taking on the extra work involved in sponsoring his research and writing, but I know the moment of teaching joy he gave me will stay with me for a long time.
So, as I grade 18-20 more papers and 71 more exams, I will be thinking of these "bright lights" in this post-class part of the semester. Even when the inevitable happens and (as Steve notes in his post) some students "waste their promise," I will try to hang on to these small bits of teaching and learning triumph. Like Steve, I wish my students well in finishing out the semester. I know we all do.