Paul L. Caron

Friday, July 17, 2020

Blackman: Law Professors Should Not Waste Their Time Creating Online Class Content

Josh Blackman (South Texas), Caution for Law Professors Who Plan To Generate Their Own Content:

In March, schools around the globe went online in a manner of days. Professors, who had never used distance learning, were suddenly forced to take a crash-course in Zoom and other similar tools. Students, for the most part, were understanding. But I think everyone would agree that the pedagogy from the Spring 2020 semester was not ideal.

The Fall 2020 semester will be better. Professors will have now had a full semester of Zooming under their belts. And, they can spend the summer adapting their classes to an online environment–either synchronous or asynchronous. Some professors may decide to generate their own content.

I define the word content very broadly. That word can refer to videos, where the professor is on the screen. It can refer to "narrated" powerpoints, where the professor narrates slides. It can refer to a recorded podcast, where there is only audio, and the professor is speaking. In my mind,"content" refers to anything more than the printed word: either spoken audio or recorded video.

Professors should be very cautious before developing their own content. And I offer this advice after having spent nearly two years and $100,000 on developing my own content for constitutional law. Developing high-quality content is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. No content may be better for students than weak content. And professors would better spend their time preparing assessments (both summative and formative), and scheduling one-on-one visits with students, than generating content.

Let me explain.

The central element of being a professor is writing. That is what we do. We can write articles. We can prepare powerpoint slides (a form of writing). We can compile examinations. The other central element of being a professors is speaking. We present papers. We lecture. We engage in Socratic dialogues. We engage in respectful, pithy discourse during faculty meetings. (Or at least we should). And so on.

Generating content is completely divorced from how professors usually write and speak. It is not enough to write a script and read it aloud, the same way you would read from lecture notes. You have to generate a script that is geared towards the format of a student listening to a podcast or watching a video. ...

So far I have offered only caution. What should professors do? Do what you do best. Focus on written material. Distribute written summaries that students can read. Write sample questions and model answers. Give frequent assessments. And go over those assessments. Schedule one-on-one sessions with students. Provide a benefit that cannot be given over Zoom or other asynchronous measures.

Professors have limited time. Generating content is not a prudent use of that time.

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Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good...Professor Damodaran just sort of plops everything on his university-provided page and seems to be the most famous and actually *discussed* among tax practitioners, by far :)

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jul 17, 2020 8:47:56 PM

I don't get it. in my field of economics, preparing online content is not much different from preparing regulare content. You get ready for lectures, and you deliver them; you just have the camera on. You use slides if appropriate, either way exactly the same. You do problem sets the same as usual. So the advice puzzles me.

Posted by: Eric B Rasmusen | Jul 18, 2020 6:16:44 PM

@Anand, thanks for the reference, but I didn't see much about tax.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jul 19, 2020 5:10:42 AM