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December 08, 2004

Suggestion for law professors

I'm off to 2L Final Numero Uno and I just re-read an email I got from the Prof. in response to a question I'd asked. It strikes me that professors would do well to announce the following policy: If you want to ask any questions of the professor about the class via email, you must CC the entire class. The professor will then CC the entire class on the reply. This would have two potential benefits. First, it might reduce frivolous emails to professors for silly questions students can figure out for themselves. If you know the whole class will see your email, you might be more careful about what you ask and only ask questions you're really stuck on. Second, everyone in the class could benefit from the professor's response, rather than anyone getting an unfair advantage. I imagine some would say this is unnecessary b/c if you are a gunner (or just a good student) who wants to have a lot of interaction with a professor, you should reap the rewards of your efforts in asking legitimate questions and you should not have to share those rewards w/everyone else. This makes sense if you see law school as a competition. However, if you see law school as a series of learning opportunities, the “everyone shares alike” policy above seems more likely to produce more of those opportunities, generally.

Posted December 8, 2004 12:50 PM | 2L law school

Good point, I like this.

I remember in my first semester, I was in Crim Law class and we had a prof that would just let people go on and on with their stupid questions. "It says here that it's murder if you kill another person, but what if an alien came down and you killed them?" The professor never once said, ok, enough stupid questions, let's move on.

Then one day we had a guest lecturer. Some lawyer that did capital cases came in to talk about the death penalty. Someone raised their hand, as always, to ask a stupid question, and the attorney responded, "I'll put my email address on the board, why don't you put that question in an email?"

Who knows whether or not the kid ever sent the email, but I think from that point on our professor saw that when you rob the gunners of their 2 minutes of attention, they'll stop pretty quickly. After that the "put it in an email" response became pretty common in our class. And, soon after that, the stupid questions stopped.

It was fantastic. But, had they really sent those questions in emails, I'm sure we would've all loved to receive them!

Posted by: blonde justice at December 8, 2004 10:18 PM

My policy is that if a student sends me a substantive e-mail and I think others may be interested in (or should be interested in) the response, I post the question and my answer in the online forum that all students enrolled in the class can access via their web portals. That way, everybody learns, and everyone can comment if they have additional questions. Also, if multiple students at my office hours have the same question, I assume that lots of people are confused on the point and post an explanation on the online forum. No reason to keep everyone in the dark.

In the beginning of the semester, I always strip off identifying information to anonymize the question; I want students to speak up if they're confused. Around the last 2 weeks before the exam, I switch the policy and start retaining the identifying information to try to deter questions of the "I could figure this out on my own in 60 seconds but it's actually quicker to just e-mail my professor" variety.

Posted by: Orin Kerr at December 8, 2004 11:37 PM

I'm just a lowly TA, but stupid email questions from lazy students are the bane of my existence.

"Hi. Our final project is due in a couple of days, and I know that we spent several weeks of class time learning how to do it, but I can't seem to find my notes. I guess the basic thing I'm confused about is: what's an argument?"

Posted by: zwichenzug at December 8, 2004 11:57 PM

In 1L, several of my profs had TWEN websites or Forums where we could post questions not only throughout the class but also for the final. Other classmates would chime in and the prof could answer them all in one fell swoop (or ignore the idiotic ones).

Curious why none of my upper division profs (even the ones who did it in 1L) have this option for us?

Posted by: Cinnamon at December 9, 2004 02:13 AM

Prof. Kerr: Sounds like a great policy, plus you actually make use of the class discussion board provided by GW. That's the first I've heard of that. Sad that the school provides the good resource but so few faculty make good use of it. Have you considered a course blog?

I still think posting every single question and answer in a public forum (and not just the important or frequently-asked ones) could be worthwhile b/c it would show everyone in the class where everyone else is at as far as absorbing the material, engaging with it, etc. And making the process anonymous in the beginning, then switiching to identifying the participants, is kind of nice. It seems like that would nicely get discussion going early on, then make it a little more serious and high stakes toward the end when people should be held more responsible for wht they do or don't know.

I just wish more faculty would consider stuff like this. When faculty ignore opportunities like email lists, web discussion boards, or blogs -- all of whch have great potential for stimulting student thought, learning, and engagement with the material -- it kind of makes me wonder how much they care about what their students actually learn.

Posted by: ambimb at December 9, 2004 09:32 AM

I think a class blog is a bit too public. The forum software isn't ideal, but it does an okay job.

More broadly, underuse of technology by law profs to communicate with students is partly generational. It's new, and professors never experienced anything like it when they were students. Also, GW hasn't done a great job until recently explaining the options to its profs. We had a faculty forum a few weeks ago devoted entirely to different ways of using technology in and out of the classroom, including the online forum and TWEN, and I think that may lead to greater use of these options in the future. Finally, adding a forum, blog, or other out of class resource takes up time. Some people are just less inclined than others to spend the time it takes to do it.

Posted by: Orin Kerr at December 9, 2004 12:33 PM

But then there are those of us faculty who make use of things like web discussion boards, only to have their students completely ignore them. The time spent to keep it updated (though minimal, really) wasn't worth it for me this term. (Granted, I'm dealing with mostly adults at the community college level, not law students. :) )

Posted by: raquel at December 10, 2004 09:04 AM

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