Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Of Pedagogical Epiphanies and the "On Call" List - Will the Deontological Prevail Over the Consequential in Class Participation?

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

As previously noted, I ditched the seating chart in favor of tent cards with students' names.  I am also having classes recorded and posted as MP3s on TWEN.  The quality of the discussion yesterday on a normally discussion-proof topic - the establishment of the agency relationship - was the best in the four consecutive semesters I've now taught the class.  This is notwithstanding my extreme laissez-faire attitude about laptops in the classroom.  Could it be students are backing off transcription-style note-taking because of the MP3 backup?  I do not perceive any fall-off in attendance (given my laissez-faire attitude toward attendance-taking, I can't be sure of that either).  This is not an apples to apples comparison as I have taught the class alternately at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and the 10 a.m. class seems to have more energy generally, merely on account of time of day.  But hope springs eternal.

Normally, by the third class, I've circulated an "on-call" list.  This has its own history.  My first experience teaching upper-level students was a three-credit class on Sales at Wake Forest in the fall of 2005.  I'm willing to go public and say that it was (euphemistically) a learning experience, or more honestly, a disaster.  Among other things (like coming to grips with how much you have to learn to teach a subject you thought you already knew!), I was still struggling with my own resistance to calling on people, particularly in the upper-levels, as an artifact of Socratic-style power relationships within the classroom.  The result, however, was that most students weren't prepared, and my attempt to elicit dialogue (still my preferred method) by way of guilt-inducing doleful puppy-dog stares out at the assembled multitude only spurred on a few, and always the same, volunteers, leading to some comments in the evaluations to the effect that I seemed to favor just a few students.  So I went to the "on-call" list as a compromise, first with a threat of grade-dinging if the students were absent or unprepared, and evolving into a kind of early-warning system to the students that I might call on them, but without either carrot or stick because (a) I didn't keep track of attendance, (b) I don't really do Socratic - I just pose questions and move on quickly if nobody knows the answer, and (c) I never punished anybody.

Yesterday, before class, I was trying to decide if the "on-call" list was now inconsistent with the other laissez-faire methodologies, and, as I explained to the class, I decided that the form into which it had evolved was not inconsistent, but the name was.  That is, I know a lot more than the students do, but the class is more interesting if we have other voices than mine doing the teaching.  I'm the director in a way; the students, if well-directed, help me teach, making it kind of a shared experience, rather than either lecture or Socratic brain teaser.  So I've decided to rename it the "Co-Teaching List," which I think more aptly reflects the voluntary, team-oriented spirit of what I'm trying to do.  In short, will students contribute to the success of the class as a matter of duty or obligation versus fear of adverse consequence?  Or is my idealism once again getting the best of me?


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Technical question: how do you do recording? Is there a classroom recording system, or do you use a portable digital recorder? The idea that recording will reduce transcribing is an intriguing one.

Posted by: dave hoffman | Sep 2, 2009 5:26:14 PM

I am only too happy to be paternalistic in the classroom -- one of the things that students should receive with their tuition money, in my view, is the benefit of my experience and knowledge with respect to the skills they must develop to succeed in the practice of law. One of those skills, in turns out, is learning to prepare effectively for any important meeting, and another is the ability to present one's ideas to a group. In virtually every area of legal practice, effective preparation and effective oral communication are required. Law school insist that students develop those skills -- after all, we have little reason to believe that students will appreciate how important it is to consistently and effectively prepare and to express themselves effectively in a profession that they have not yet entered. For all these reasons, I am only to happy to require students to prepare for class, and to participate when called on (caveat -- my students are permitted to skip or pass in class in to five classes per semester without penalty as long as they indicate in advance that they are not prepared).

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Sep 2, 2009 6:24:58 PM

I started recording classes last year and really like the idea, as do students. I use a recording app on my iPhone, which can produce an mp3 or wav file. I combined it with a ban on laptops (that was the quid pro quo), so I am not sure if there is a causal connection to a reduction in transcription-style note taking.

On the seating chart v. tent cards: What are the differences and what are the relative benefits? Are you able to read the cards in the back of the room?

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Sep 3, 2009 7:32:56 AM

Howard, re tent cards. Yes, but it's not a big room. It has room for 60 and I have 57 students. And I made the tent cards on a Avery template with 80 point type (or 60 if a long name), so I'm assured of being able to see. I can certainly see them better than my old-style fumbling with the seating chart.

Larry - reasonable people can differ. At some point, most students enter a non-paternalistic environment. It's merely a question when. I wonder if the paternalism is enabling behavior - it simply continues co-dependence rather than making a clear statement to students that THIS is the moment when we start training you to be responsible for your own life. I suppose that where grad students fit on this continuum from childhood to adulthood is a gray area, and like different approaches to parenting, there are different views and approaches on pedagogical paternalism. Vive la difference!

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Sep 3, 2009 10:04:21 AM

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