Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Jeff posed the question of what pedagogical purpose might be served or thwarted by recording law school lectures and making the recordings available to students for later viewing. I too am concerned that such a policy would turn a technological tool into an impediment for learning, despite our good intentions.

The tradition of teaching law through live, interactive, collective, classroom-based meetings is not merely a vestige of old technology. The low-tech way we teach and learn law has survived because it contributes powerfully to the development of a skill that lawyers sell and clients buy in the market. I name this skill listenthink.

In class, law teachers lead students through a jungle of ideas. Most law students quickly discover they cannot take notes in the undergraduate style. Discussion among actively thinking people rarely takes an outline form. A law school classroom is live theater and anything can happen. Students learn to sort through the information that appears in class to find the thread that draws it together. For law students engaged in listenthink, notes become a roadmap through the jungle, not a compliation of information to be memorized.

Lawyers use listenthink every day. The ability to hyperfocus, to listen to a client explain a problem, translate the client's expression into legal terms, analyze the problem against the known universe of legal doctrine, and propose as solution-- this is the defining legal skill. The ability to do this at lightning speed and with reliable accuracy is the mark of a great lawyer.

Some argue that making taped classroom sessions available to students for later viewing can improve student learning. This is no doubt an important goal. The price for this possible improvement will be a diminshed incentive for students and their professors to invest in the cultivation of listenthink. We may have the technology to permit students to replay a classroom session. But, I doubt our clients will wait for us to postpone our advice while we replay their questions.


Kelly J. Bozanic said...

Our first year, a professor did record every lecture and make them available to us online. I think I made use of that availability once in preparation for exams. Each student learns differently, for me, the recorded video was a nice safety-net. I knew it was there if I missed something, but I also knew that it would be a lot of time to go back and listen to hours and hours of lectures, so I should make sure to get it the first time around. Some of my classmates spent their entire spring break re-listening to the lectures, maybe it was helpful.

The concern about students substituting class attendance for recorded lectures is valid, but maybe not critical. We are responsible for the depth of our learning, and while the University should do its best to provide a quality education, the best professors in the world will still not reach the student with no initiative. Pedagogy matters, tools matter, environment and support matter, but the measure of the education received from any institution will be in proportion to the curiosity, drive and focus of the individual student. In the real world, answers are not handed to us.

Jim Chen said...

I agree with the underlying sentiment of Kelly's comment. Students are ultimately responsible for attending class. There is real and irreplaceable value in attending classes, for which an after-the-fact audio or even video recording simply cannot serve as a substitute. What I said in Then face to face applies with equal force in classroom settings. Now we see through a glass, darkly, then face to face.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

The problem with audio is that students who could be engaged in class discussion instead check out, knowing that they can listen to the lecture later. They are physically there to get the check on the chart for attendance, but they are not mentally there in the moment.

Those students may do just fine on exams and preform as impressively as those who show up physically and mentally. However, the loss is that class discussion deteriorates and law school becomes one big lecture. Even when profs try to engage students in discussion the reponse is so lame that the prof gets discouraged and defaults back to lecture.

I will say though that those professors who demand participation of students, who press past the frustration and deliver a solid, semester-long message that discussion is required, those professors get participation. And class is fun.

Zak Kramer said...

At Arkansas-Little Rock, we had a lecture capture system that enabled professors to record their classes and put them online for students to review the lectures (or watch them for the first time). I was pretty skeptical of the benefits of the system, so I only used it to record review sessions and makeup classes. But many professors used the system regularly, and the students sure liked it--though I'm not sure all of them were using it properly, e.g. drifting off during class and watching the lectures later.

I've experimented a lot with the structure of class discussion to maximize discussion and class participation. One method that worked quite well was calling on every student in every class period. It was hard to get the rhythm down at first, but I got the hang of it after a couple classes. And the students, though resistant at first, came to really like the format.

Anonymous said...

Concurring with other commentors, and less this be a "Things ain't the way they used to be" rant, I'd like to affirm that the dialogue learned in class is critical to the study and practice of law.

I'm a firm believer in the Socratic method and think it should be more aggressively utilized. It isn't, and I attribute that to a certain reticence on the part of professors, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, if all law school was and is can be summed up in a lecture, a significant something has been lost in recent decades. The point of class isn't to rehash and explain cases, it is to use the principles and concepts already learned from cases, law reviews, articles, etc. to develop analytical and argumentative skills (at least to my mind). This can only be done in real time interaction and cannot be done by videotaped classes any more than you could carry on a true conversation with a recording.