Saturday, January 05, 2008

From AALS in NY

Proof that law professors were once law students:
  1. They can't sit still for an entire 90 minutes. They must get up for water, a bathroom break, to stretch their legs, or because they suddenly remember a pressing engagement elsewhere.
  2. If there are seats in the back of the room, they will sit in the back of the room. If there are only seats in the front of the room, they may sit and they may not.
  3. They know they have cell phones. They know cell phones ring. Yet they can't remember to turn off their cell phones before a session begins. Once the phone is ringing, they can't figure out how to turn it off.
  4. If you let them have a laptop with them in class they are certain to use them for non-germane purposes.


Blogger Jeff Lipshaw said...

Sam, I think your observation is correct, but probably understated, since professors as audience have more power vis a vis the speakers. I know I don't have ADHD, but I generally find sitting in the audience of the "power classroom" set-up (all of the seats lined up rectangularly or even in semi-circles facing the teacher or the speaker) to be moderately unbearable after 45 minutes or so, unless the speaker is transfixing, which unfortunately is rare. Hence, I'd be sympathetic to a student squirming at the end of a 90 minute class.

We have 75 and 100 minutes classes. I'm teaching in the 100 minute format this coming term, and I would love to see comments on pedagogical techniques in law classes of that length.

1/05/2008 2:58 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Great post Sam but like Jeff I think you have understated the case. Your forget talking loudly just outside the door, chatting to each other, etc.

Here is the my take on the 100 minute class. Unless it is very interactive or necessary because of the material (clinic, problem solving) I see no pedagogical defense. We have them at our school in regular first year classes but that is only to accommodate professors who demand a short work week.

As Jeff suggests, the learning in a class takes a steep turn downward after a period of time. Really, if teaching is about what the students take away, 100 minutes without a great deal of interation or group problems solving is hard to understand.

1/05/2008 9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach courses of 75 and 110 minutes. I prefer the 110 minute course because I can justify a five minute break necessary to break away from deadening pace of a mix of lecturing and question-and-answer techniques. In a 75 minute course, it is more difficult to justify a break. When I used to teach philosophy, all classes except seminars were 50 minutes long. That is ideal. But it requires more classes per week and therefore fewer days for research. When I was an undergraduate, graduate student, and then law student, I had teachers who were excellent scholars but poor teachers. Part of the reason involved droning on for X number of minutes which made the courses a chore. Talking to these same teachers in their offices was a different ball game. To avoid my own classes from becoming tedious I tried power point, but couldn't keep it up at that time due to my own illiteracy in that technique. I switched to a Smart Board which worked much better. Although people differ in this, often times continual talking becomes boring. We now know that people learn differently with only one form of cognitively processing suited to the standard form of lecturing, questioning, and answering questions. That together with the visual and auditory racket to which our students have been raised makes one less than sanguine about teaching law students. Moreover, few law (or philosophy) professors, if any, have any “formal” education in teaching.

1/06/2008 10:28 AM  
Blogger alan chen said...

I want to note that Sam self-validated observation number 4, as he blogged this while sitting in a room at AALS where I happened to be giving a paper at the time (for the record, Sam sat on the side and his cell phone was one of the few that didn't ring during my talk).

On the more serious question, I have heard (but never seen) that there is literature on adult learning that suggests that 50 minutes is about the longest time the average adult can stay focused in a classroom setting. As one anecdote (for what it's worth), for several years I taught my large required class in three 50 minute blocks instead of two 75 minute blocks. I received an incredible amount of positive feedback from students about the format even though they had to show up for an extra class period every week. Also, to be honest, I was also able to stay better focused teaching in shorter time blocks.

Oh, and btw, Sam, my AALS paper was only 20 minutes long. What's your excuse? Oh wait.

1/11/2008 1:41 PM  

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