April 30, 2004

Do passive students need more toys? Prof. Maule has some thoughts on that classroom clicker device that I wrote about yesterday. I came out for student autonomy both because I saw the devices as coercive and intrusive and because I think students should need to take on the responsibilities of autonomy. Prof. Maule writes:
The typical post-modern student wants to be passive, to be fed information, and to regurgitate it. That's been the educational experience of most of these students. (Too) many of the teachers that these students have encountered, eager for high rankings on student evaluations, prefer to play to the crowd, placate the desires of students weaned on television, and refrain from pushing students to become active participants in their own education. …

If indeed post-modern culture prevents a return to the days of holding students responsible by putting them on the spot, de-valuing their baseless complaints on student evaluations about work load and academic expectations, and failing those who fail, then perhaps getting them involved by "making the work fun" is worth the effort. The clickers are toy-like, they are almost identical to the TV remote with which the student is deeply familiar, they are snazzy and exciting, and they equalize the participation level at something other than zero. Faculty using the clickers claim that the students are enthusiastic about them. That's not a surprise. So surely it's worth a try.

Hmmm.... which side is he really on? When did we cave to "post-modernism"? Do young people today really see themselves in these terms or are they tired of being characterized as the MTV generation and so forth? Aren't we post-9/11 now, so that it's not too late to talk about a serious world of real values and consequences?

I've never seen a personal statement in an admissions file that was all about how the applicant has been spending his life so far playing video games and is hoping to find some snazzy, exciting, familiar devices to play with in the classroom. Nearly every file portrays an individual who is serious about taking on the challenges of learning how to be a lawyer and who has a strong record of independent, responsible academic achievement. No one writes, I'm looking for a place where the teachers will hover over me and feed me information and expect to see me glazed and numb unless they excite me the way TV excites me! On paper, every applicant is hot for a big challenge. I want to hold them to their own representations, not shrug and view these idealized self-portraits as a post-modern joke. Let the joke run the other way: we take these things seriously, we believe you are adults, we think the practice of law is challenging and serious and important, and we are going to treat you like the person you claimed to be when you applied to this school and made us believe you deserved to sit in that seat you are slumping back in right now!

UPDATE: Prof. Maule has a long response to this. What can be done about lack of class participation? I have no special new solution--other than blogging about it. Maybe that will change things. Basically, I favor the traditional law school model. Prof. Maule has something good to say about PowerPoint in the classroom. I detest PowerPoint. If those clickers are helpful the way PowerPoint is helpful that's another reason to be against the clickers. Signed, Cranky Old Retro Lawprof.

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