Law, Lectures, and Laptops

If recordings of law school classes were available after class, I would not attend class. In fact, I know of several students who never attend any of their classes and perform the same as everyone else on their exams and papers. In many cases, I am not even sure there would be much need to watch the class videos.

I think this is a reflection of the passive style of education practiced in most law school classes here. Sitting in a room listening to a lecture that attempts to hide, then slowly reveal the important parts of course reading does not seem to add much, and in many cases adds nothing, to what I have learned through the assigned reading and self-directed study.

Most attempts at socratic instruction seem to be aimed at ensuring a student has actually done the reading, and putting other students on notice that they may be called on to prove that they too have done the reading. This is in contrast to student engagement intended to draw out deeper analysis of the material. HLS is full of ex- tremely smart students, so why is so much of class participation simple recitation instead of reflective, analytic, or additive? And is one-at-a-time in a room of 80 really the best way for us to gain from being around other smart students?

I get the feeling that law professors fundamentally misunderstand the ways in which current students are engaging with our course materials. For example, I, and I imagine other students, google the important cases in the assigned reading in order to assess understanding and to help highlight the reasoning and legal results. Between Wikipedia, Oyez, CaseBriefs.com, and Lexis/Westlaw, a student can come to class with a pretty thorough grasp on the cases assigned, or even simply grab that understanding quickly when the professor calls on them. As cases come up in class, we use these same resources to easily follow along and answer questions. Even more, many students are part of individual and group chats in class, through which answers to the professor’s current hide-the-ball question are shared.

Overall, in my experience at HLS, the current method of class participation is mostly just monotonous, so we go on facebook, shop, watch tv, and chat with friends about other things during class instead. The lack of engagement in class is evident if you stand in the back and watch the computer screens of the students In response, professors simply prohibit computers in the classroom instead of modifying the classroom to involve the student. If students were involved, or at least more challenged in the classroom, there would be no need for professors to prohibit computer use.

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