Today I asked my students to tweet me their questions and live feedback during class. It was an experiment that I'm willing to repeat. Here's how it unfolded.
My Wills, Trusts & Estates class has 90 students. It meets at 9:00 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. The class size and time slot make for lower levels of voluntary class participation that I have experienced in teaching in the 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. slots. I do cold-call students; many students volunteer and ask questions. Still I have not been satisfied with my ability to elicit more participation in this particular class.
Today I decided to ask students who were so inclined to tweet clarifying questions, feedback or comments during class. Our topic was the mental capacity required to execute a will. Subtopics included a comparison of the mental capacity required to execute a contract versus a will, and the effect of a testator's mistaken beliefs about the nature of her own property.
Here are four representative tweets I received during class:
@ProfBCrawford Do we have to know how the mental capacity is different to enter a contract or an intervivos gift v capacity for a will
@ProfBCrawford what if the [testator's property] was worthless, but person never attached importance to actual money (i.e.had inherited and never used 10m)
@ProfBCrawford how many states is the minority rule in effect?
My Wills/Trusts professor @ProfBCrawford wants us to communicate with her via twitter during class ... this is def a first.
I received only 8 tweets during a 80 minute class session. My guess is that the number would have been higher if I had announced in advance that I was going to experiment with Twitter. I had my computer open at the podium, and glanced at and refreshed my Twitter page every few minutes.
Instead of stopping class the flow to say, "Ok, now let's turn to the Twitter questions," I tried to integrate answers into the discussion as it was unfolding. I think that part worked fairly well -- perhaps too well for one particularly distracted student who approached me after class and revealed himself as a particular pseudonymous tweeter. He said, "I'm the one who asked...and I don't think you answered it." When I reminded him of a hypo we had done, and explained how it responded to his question, a light bulb did seem to go off. Perhaps this student should not multi-task again in the near future.
I don't think that Twitter can substitute for live class participation, but it may be a promising supplement.