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August 11, 2013


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I am inclined to suggest that, well, if you felt that law school was a scam (with some justification), the vast majority of MFA programs make law schools sound like paragons of virtue...


Dude -- I'm in a creative writing program, so I can't speak to what happens in a dance program. But, you are correct that different subjects will tend to require different amounts of note taking (though I'll point out that a lawyer similarly doesn't take many notes during his own examination of a witness).

Notes are generally useful when you're dealing with a lot of facts that need to be recalled later on. On the other hand, a student doesn't need to take many notes when the subject of a class is more about ideas. For instance, how much note taking do you think you'd need to do in a lecture on the Prisoner's Dilemma? I bet you could understand it without taking any notes -- and not just understand it until the exam and then forget it, but understand the concept for the rest of your life with little risk of ever losing that comprehension.

If you look at what law schools are trying to do, much of it is conceptual. Would a contracts professor rather have their students leave the class having memorized the facts of Hamer v. Sidway, or with an understanding of consideration and promissory estoppel? Some subjects will require more factual learning, such as learning the elements of various crimes in crim law, but the culture in law school class rooms (or at least many of them) is to furiously transcribe the entire lecture, and that pressure to write everything down gets in the way of engaging with the material and gaining a conceptual understanding.

As for people who dance well without an MFA in dance, if law were a hobby of 10 year olds, and an elective in high school, and a major in specialized colleges, and law school wasn't a barrier to practice, then I imagine you'd see a lot of very fine lawyers who never got a JD.

MacK -- I don't think I've ever said I felt that law school was a scam. But, if I did feel that way, I don't think law school would look less scammy than an MFA. The vast majority of students at the top 50 MFA programs not only go for free, but receive stipends on top of their full ride; at most law schools the number of students receiving a similar deal is around 1-2%. I also suspect that prospective arts students are well aware of their career prospects. You can argue that it's a bad deal, but that's different from a scam.



Fair enough - but outside those MFA programs hard questions could be asked - and law professors might ask them but for "the mote iin their own eye"

Mitch Winick

I certainly intended no disrespect of your teaching or observations, and in fact, I was responding primarily to "anon's" overgeneralizations. I am certain that all of us in the academy are experiencing the challenges of dealing with a 24/7 wired environment that runs like an uninterrupted river right through our classrooms. The response can be a blockade . . . a temporary "fix" at best . . . or to seriously discuss how this new environment needs to be integrated into teaching and the classroom. For example, we recently pilot tested a program called GoClass in which all students log in when they enter the classroom. By doing so, they are identified as being in attendance (note: we have mandatory attendance rules). Once they are logged in, they can track on their laptop or tablet any presentations being made at the front of the class by the professor or other classmates, whiteboard notes at the front of the class are captured, as well as any illustration using Lexis, WestLaw or any other on-line source. Students can also type and organize their notes in the program. Although they can open a separate web browser, limits can be set on what is accessable, ie. you could limit facebook or other social media sites during class without needing university IT intervention. If the student leaves and/or re-enters the program during class, the professor is notified. If readings are posted for homework, the program notes how long a student spent logged in to the reading materials. Tests and quizzes for in-class and at-home can be added.

We haven't adopted the program yet, but it certainly opened our eyes to a wide variety of options for managing technology in the classroom.

Bob Strassfeld


Thanks. I'm sorry I misread you. GoClass is new to me, and you have piqued my interest, since there are times (though not many) when I want my students to have access to online material. It seems like a powerful instrument that could be very useful. The surveillance potential seems a bit frightening. Somehow several years ago I stumbled into national security law as a subject area, and have an interest in surveillance. In fact, a few years ago our Institute for Global Security Law and Policy put on a symposium on surveillance, which is archived on the CWRU Law website, and which I recommend to anyone who finds this plug buried in my comment. I found that I could monitor whether or not my students accessed documents that I posted on the Blackboard course site. I also quickly decided that it was a bit creepy for me to check on them, so I leave that function turned off.


Mitch writes:
I certainly intended no disrespect of your teaching or observations, and in fact, I was responding primarily to "anon's" overgeneralizations."
So, your notion of an "apology" is to wrongly and gratuitously insult someone else?
You refer to "anon's overgenalizations" and then you say:
"I am certain that all of us in the academy are experiencing the challenges of dealing with a 24/7 wired environment that runs like an uninterrupted river right through our classrooms. "
Mitch, you are a very certain(ly) very certain and hardly prone to overgeneralizations.

Mitch Winick

No question that there is a certain (and very important) cautionary aspect to surveilling student activity outside of the classroom. Obviously we would need to think through notice, but as you have made me think about it, it makes me wonder if it doesn't give rise to the similar concern regarding "contracts of adhesion" (I just love that I still remember that term from three decades ago - I must have been taking notes that day). Even with clear and proper notice . . . if it is a required class, and it is the only section offered, a student is not really provided any real choice. Take the class or don't graduate.

On the flip side . . . what a potentially fantastic diagnostic tool. When a student is underperforming, and their perspective is that they are "doing all of the necessary preparatory work", with this system you could review their time spent with the material and possibly counsel them on their allocation of study time. It would also allow faculty to assess how long on average certain assignments were taking for the entire class and possibly allow adjustments to better allocate precious study time to the most fundamental and important content.

Just some thoughts.

Bob Strassfeld


I know the embers are dying out on this thread, and I have a lot to distract me from blog reading right now (hence my delay in responding). I think you aptly describe any agreement that a student entered into as an adhesion contract. I also agree with you that this could be a powerful and useful diagnostic tool. I'm still quite concerned about the invasion of privacy. Consequently, I would not turn on this feature. Alternatively, in the spirit of the NSA, perhaps it is possible to collect the data with strict rules about when a law professor would access it. I can see a student who has not performed well asking for diagnostic help and happily giving permission to look at saved information. Perhaps that is what you had in mind. Anything beyond that I would find troubling, and I still find the collection of information worrisome just because of the high potential for misuse.


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