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April 26, 2010


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I appreciated most the professors who would discuss issues in this period but only in such a way that the answers to questions were made universally available. Two strategies: 1) host a review session with open attendance and answer previously submitted questions or 2) answer only email questions, and do so by forwarding both the question and your answer to the entire class.


I hold a review session, with pre-submitted questions, so that many of the main questions are addressed to all. Then students during the gap period can email me additional questions, which I wil answer - up to a deadline a few days before the exam - but mention that I will email the entire class the response if needed (so that no one gets the advantage). That way you have accessability, most questions answered to all, and avoid the "unfair advantage" problem.

Of course, if I wanted the time to myself I am sure I could justify a blackout of information. I just choose not to do so.

David Levine

I call the review session a press conference, meaning students bring their questions and everyone can hear the answers. I organize the session by opening up syllabus topics sequentially.

I try to discourage e mails until the session because the same questions tend to come up anyway. After the session, I will answer e mails, making the answers available generally as necessary.

Howard Katz

I am one of the authors of the book, who had the gag rule recommended to me in the past and who used it, but who has now abandoned it.
We are happy whether folks agree with us or not; at least that means they've thought about the issue. One of the reasons we wrote the book is precisely because many profs don't think enough about the procedures they follow.
BTW, thanks for the mentions, and a reminder - the book is absolutely FREE from an Aspen rep.

Jeff Lipshaw

I hold a Q & A session which I advertise as NOT a review, but "Stump the Professor." I will meet with any student who has the gumption to come see me, but I will not answer questions that ask explicitly or implicitly "do we need to know..." I establish a TWEN forum in which student may pose questions, with the benefit that the question, as well as my response, are public, and that is open until late in the evening before the exam.

Shayna Crincoli

The need for a policy/limitation is really about 1Ls. Outside of 1Ls, you can make yourself available 24/7, and you won't find many students taking advantage of it or anyone complaining about the "fairness" of special access or treatment.

One method I've used is a sliding scale response period - I inform students that questions posted to TWEN will get answered faster by me than questions emailed privately, and I stick to it. I don't force everyone to post in public or have questions shared with everyone in the class, but I won't give priority to private inquiries. The private/email option is particularly important to preserve when not all students take the exam on the same day.

I have found that "review sessions" that are Q&As are generally terrible for everyone involved. A few students or study groups will have many questions, most of which go far beyond the scope of the course or on wild tangents. A handful of students will ask, "Can you repeat lesson x," and since they each pick a different subject, if you cater to this, you're being asked to re-teach the course. Most students, though, will not have anything at all to ask or contribute, but they will attend, fearing that if they don't show up, you will reveal the ANSWER to everything on the exam in their absence. It's a waste of time for almost everyone involved.

And it helps to let students know that all, "Do we need to know x..." questions can be answered with the exact same response: You need to know the materials that have been assigned and covered in the course, and you can assume that you will be tested on them ROUGHLY proportionally to the amount of time or importance we gave them.

Mary Dudziak

It's so interesting that some folks find review sessions useless. I tend to have very good review sessions. I handle them pretty much like the two anons -- I require students to email me questions in advance. Then I group the questions thematically. The questions help me to see what areas of the course students most want to go over. I do let them ask follow-up questions, though, as long as it doesn't keep me from covering submitted questions. We go for up to two hours, and I encourage them to leave whenever they want. I bring food. I tell them they will survive.

I find random Q&A review sessions to be unhelpful.

For a first-year class, I also hold extra office hours, and when I get private emails I post the question (w/o student name) and answer to Blackboard.

The only time I've had a real problem with student contact during exams was one year when it became clear that a student was emailing me questions *during* her take-home exam! Take-homes at my school can be taken at any time during the exam period. Now I encourage students to see me in office hours, and I make it especially clear that they can't communicate with anyone (including me) about the class once they download the take-home. But this problem is a bit harder to police.

I can't imagine having a gag rule.

Jay Wexler

I also can't imagine having a gag rule. I answer questions by email up until the time I have my first beer the night before the exam. If I did have a gag rule, however, my policy would be to allow the students to ask me questions with the caveat that I will yell LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA while they are speaking. It would be a "modified gag rule," I guess.


TWEN has a "Forum" feature that I use for this situation. On the last day of class, I open up an "ask questions about the exam" forum for each of my classes. I enable the forum such that students can post both main topics and replies. The forum remains open until the evening before the exam (kind of Jay's rule, but online), and every student can see both every question and every answer. I also encourage students who really know the answer to any question to go ahead and answer it (of course, I review these for correctness, but I haven't had any problems yet). I find that this method facilitates thoughtful, non-rushed questions, and it also keeps the class engaged with helping each other (not to mention that it allows me to prevent students from flooding my office with questions, thus eliminating demands on my schedule and any charges of favoritism). TWEN also allows you to enable RSS feeding, so students can see a question and its answer in their email inboxes without even having to log on to Westlaw.

Scott Boone

I generally hold an early question and answer review session during the last week of classes, frequently during the last class session, and then I hold a second question and answer review session closer to the actual exam, frequently the afternoon before the morning of the exam. Priority is given in both sessions to questions emailed to me beforehand.

If I receive emailed questions outside of the review session context, I like to post the question and my answer to the course's TWEN site forum.

I don't explicitly cut off questions after a certain point, but I rarely get emails or questions after the late review session.

Eric Fink

I use what might be called a modified gag rule (though I prefer to call it a moratorium, because gag rule just sounds icky): No questions (or at least no response from me) during the last 24 hours before the exam (same goes for any mid-term test). This is primarily to avoid the perception of favoritism or advantage; but also to discourage a flood of last-minute inquiries. But before that, it's open communication. I hold a review session (roughly in the "press conference" format my colleague Dave Levine mentions); I'll meet with students individually or in small groups; and I'll respond to emails -- all with the proviso that I will (if appropriate) share any information with the entire class via a group email.

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