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August 02, 2012


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You need to see your students' faces while they are performing to teach effectively?

That may be possible in seminars with a dozen students, but how does that work in lecture settings?

Jim Gardner

Any professional speaker will tell you that a "room" has a "mood," and that an alert speaker can sense changes in the mood of the room without much difficulty (although of course interpreting what one is experiencing has its challenges). There is less anonymity in a large lecture class than you may think. I can see individual students, and I can certainly see any student I'm conversing with and the ones sitting nearby. I have often stopped my classes cold and asked the students as a group point blank to explain what they are feeling or thinking when I have trouble interpreting a change in their mood. One of the great disadvantages of computers in the classroom is that they badly disrupt the exchange of information between teacher and class. That's why I've banned them in my large classes for the last couple of years.

Orin Kerr


Interesting post as always, but I disagree. It seems to me that you're describing the process of learning from the teacher's perspective, focusing on what the teacher thinks and how the teacher acts and what the teacher experiences. But the proper concern here what the students experience, not what the teacher experiences.

Before computers, when a student tried to learn a subject area, about 90% of their time was self-service education: Reading the book on their own, studying the book, reviewing notes, etc. The teacher was never present for that. In those days, good luck trying to find a professor to answer a question out of class; most teachers were not particularly accessible to students. It seems to me that these days, learning is far more interactive for students. They can e-mail, chat, share notes more easily, go online and find good resources, e-mail their professors, etc. From the perspective of a student, the process on the whole seems to be less "self-service" than it was before computers.

It may be that the presence of computers makes it marginally harder for less successful teachers to feel like they "have the room." Professors know the students are surfing the web, whereas in the old days students who were daydreaming looked like maybe they were paying attention (although let's face it: they weren't). Thus the fear the relationship may be souring; maybe professors are not feeling as respected as before. But it seems to me that this is a question of how the professor feels, not what skills students have or need.

Michael Duff

My students very obviously interact less with live humans today than I was required to do. There is quite a literature on these "post moderns" (Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millennials)and it is clear to me that this group is different. But I think you've hit on the right question, Jim. The students are different because the world in which they live is different. The question is whether their strategies of fitting (strategies we might have thought of in the past as "not fitting") will fit whatever the profession will look like in the future better than what we can teach them of what the profession has been up to now. The fact is, we can't know; and I feel like I face dilemmas like this as a parent all the time. What we have to determine is whether there is some irreducible professional core that we can continue to teach. I think there is because the constant will be servicing clients with disputes (or near-disputes). Future lawyers will have to know the details of the disputes and they will have to know client objectives. I can't see how that will not continue to require some refined human interaction skills. So we have to keep trying, I think.

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