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January 22, 2008

Should Law Profs Require Student Blog Participation?

That's the question Adjunct Law Prof Blog editor Mitchell Rubinstein asked after noting that Barry Law School Adjunct Professor Marc John Randazza gives credit for student participation on his blog, The Legal Satyricon. The question has created a mini-dust storm in the blogosphere. Check out the comments to Rubinstein's original post and the following posts and their comments:

-- Joe Hodnicki

January 22, 2008 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink

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Who knew there was drama within the internet between blawgers? I would like to respond to the drama between adjuncts. First, why is there an arbitrary dichotomy between adjuncts and tenured professors? The line of reasoning stating an adjunct is lower on the academic hierarchy is as logical as the difference between an associate and a partner...at the end of the day both are concerned with the same goal: the former with educating future lawyer, judges, and academics; the latter with aiding clients. I suggest that without adjuncts the law would never change and ideas would never evolve. Tenured professors are fine for 1L classes: contracts, torts, fed. civ. pro, property, etc...The law in these areas never really change (though book editions do). So, a tenured professor, set in his understanding of the law, is perfectly suited for subjects that never change. However, I digress to address the "mandatory blawging" issue.

The first argument that the professor uses the grading criteria to generate traffic for the site should be dismissed without comment. No where on the site does a paid site or sponsored ad appear...if fact, the only links on the site link individuals to other blawgs (as far as I know unsolicited). If, arguendo, the professor wanted to generate traffic, what would he gain? Nothing. The gain is to the students. Personally, I was not really aware of the blawgs and the marketplace of ideas that exist in cyberspace. I was under the assumption that cyberspace was for crackpots that could not get published legitimately. This, however, is not the current state of internet publishing. The adjunct professor has "forced" his students to look and think outside the box. Perhaps the ridicule by the other professor was an avenue to generate traffic on HIS site...as the criticism was posted with an obvious solicitation for responses.

The second argument, posted by an anonymous student, regarding the "race to the internet" problem is also without merit. Nothing could be further from the truth. THe specific blawy in question comes with strings attached. The professor moderates each and every post on the blawg. Further, the professor has a class contract where students are made aware of the grading criteria. The blawgs are scrutinized for grammar, citation, and logical flow. As far as I know, students do not get credit for simply posting...the students receive credit for logic and well written posts. Thus, a student could receive full credit for a few well conceived written posts. In the alternative, a student could receved no credit for many posts of nominal value. The moderation allows the professor to filter the bad posts or the low value posts. He even allows students to retract their own posts without penatly. So the blawg does not become overrun with illogical posts. The "mandatory blawg" creates a forum for discussion. Hannah Arendt stated, the only way to uncover the truth is to allow for untruth to enter the public consciousness. Without cold, you never know warmth. So even "bad" posts have value. The half cocked criticism is ridiculous and petty.

The benefit of the mandatory blawg outweighs the illusory detriment. THe professor created an avenue to allow students to convey ideas and generate discussion. As every professor knows that in-class discussion is limited by class time. So the blawg provides a place to continue discussion. Further, it provides a forum for quiet and modest students to convey ideas through written word. Additionally, it "forces" that majority of students whould receive no critical thinking or writing training outside of LRW, an opportunity to write and think.

The modern marketplace of ideas lies in the internet. The interconnected tubes are the wave of the future. Professor Randazza has forced his students to enter the marketplace and shop around.

Posted by: Jonathon Blevins | Jan 23, 2008 1:42:52 PM

I was a student in Professor Randazza's class, and I thought using the blog to communicate was an excellent idea. Professor Randazza could post sites for us to visit, and we would discuss them in class. I never got the impression he was doing it to create traffic for his site. Actually, I think he was doing quite well before adding our class.

What I especially appreciated about Professor Randazza is that he gave us a chance outside his exam to get credit. We had writing assignments to complete throughout the session, and it was great to be able to read what my classmates posted because, let's face it, not everyone in law school likes to speak in public. (I see now that I am echoing another student from his class.) It also was fascinating to see the train of thought and argument development from my classmates.

The best thing was that Randazza read every one of our posts. He actually cares about what we have to say. That speaks volumes.

Overall, I think the blog was a valuable tool, and I wish more professors would follow his lead.

Martza Majstoravich

Posted by: Martza | Jan 23, 2008 6:20:07 PM

So... I have read the blogs, comments, and rebuttals by all parties on the subject of Prof. Randazza and his "requiring" students, taking his classes, to post on the class blog for participation credit. First and foremost, I am a current student of Prof. Randazza, this is not the first time I have taken one of his courses, and nor will it likely be the last. (Now that I've gotten that out of the way...) In my opinion, Mr. Rubinstein has effectively demonstrated a trait that I find personally disappointing, yet common, to most bloggers and blog commentators. Simply put, he commented on a subject and solicited a response from his blog's readers, without first completely researching the matter he commented on/questioned. This is a critical mistake to make! (Especially, in a day and age, when information is available at lightning speed, through the internet)

For example... let's say I want to comment on the "update" Mr. Rubinstein posted to his blog, on this very subject, dated Jan. 7th, 2008. Mr. Rubinstein said, "I have not been able to distinguish between the professors in class blog and his own blog, but I do take Professor Randazza at his word that he maintains a separate class blog." (http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/89778/24824354)... Now, there is a side of me that wants to reply to this, quickly, decisively and full of bravado... In my best radio-announcer voice I would begin to speak out the words I was typing, “Well, sir, Mr. Randazza's class blogs can easily be found by looking at...." Now this is wrong, let me explain why... by taking 2 min. to scroll down the page and reading the comments posted to the "update" I see that Mr. K. Wimberly has already spoken the very words I was about to type! Jumpin' Jiminy Cricket! He said, "If you scroll down and look on the right side of Prof. R's main blog, you will see links to the separate class blogs. A student could go the entire semester without looking at the main blog and still get credit for participation (and spare themselves "the gaze" from the banner)." See, by reading the whole page I successfully avoided making a statement which would haunt me for years-to-come (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration).

Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Rubinstein did this with his whole post... (See http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2008/01/adjunct-law-pro.html) He asks many questions, which are easily answered, by simply looking at the wording of Prof. Randazza's syllabus; for instance, "This raises some important issues. Is posting on a blog the same as class participation?" The answer is found 3 lines above the question, where Mr. Rubinstein posted a portion from Prof. Randazza's blog which states, "Overall Participation will be 10 points (out of 100) for class participation and 10 points for blog participation."

Now, someone could argue that Mr. Rubinstein was asking a theoretical question, as in, "Is typing a response, to a subject on the internet, the same as participating in class discussion?" To which I would reply, "Poppycock, that is ridiculous, considering that it says (in many less words) in the syllabus (and in the excerpt of said syllabus which Mr. Rubinstein posted) that class participation and blog participation are separate forms of evaluating student participation in the course, one, no more equal than the other, but both crucial to understanding the subject at hand and valuable in the quest to achieve a good grade in the course."

I could debate the issue and point out inaccuracies in Mr. Rubinstein's assumptions, along with emphasizing how wrong it is to ask questions which solicit debate and response to inaccurate facts and reporting, all day (I won't even mention Mr. Rubinstein's effort to imply that Prof. Randazza may be trying to somehow, boost his personal blog numbers by requiring students to post comments to class blogs, nor will I bring up the NYU law-student who apparently made them same mistake as Mr. Rubinstein, by reading only half of something and then commenting on it... wait, I just contradicted myself because I mentioned both of those things... oh, well). However, I have some reading to do for tomorrow’s line-up of stimulating classes and must retire to my studies. I will end on two notes:

1. In my own opinion, Professor Randazza, is a wonderful professor and caring person. His requirements for class are not only laid-out before the semester begins, but simple to comprehend and difficult (in a good way) to adhere to. I can personally say that I am a more creative out-of-the-box thinker, responsible speaker/blogger and better overall student, because of having taken some of Prof. Randazza's courses. This is, in no way, an attempt to kiss ass, I respect Prof. Randazza and many of his class policies and ideas, I also disagree with him on a variety of class subjects (grading is not on of them, read through the link posted below, his grading style may be unorthodox, but it is, most definitely fair). To summarize my jumbled thoughts, by requiring his students (me included) to comment on the class blog for participation points, he opens a pathway for those students who wouldn't traditionally speak in the classroom setting (because of shyness, fear of public speaking, etc.) allowing for everyones opinions to be shared equally. Grades, for blog participation, are based on content, grammar, length and research on the subject (among other things. A more informed commentator, who spends time correlating a response to a subject will fare better than one who rushes to the class blog, just to post some trivial thoughts on a subject (though the trivial words are still given points, just not as many, Professor Randazza has a great "map" of the grading scale on his class blogs, under the subject "grading" - http://entlaw.wordpress.com/about-class-participation/).

2. I meant no disrespect to anyone mentioned in my post, hopefully none was taken. I was merely trying to sarcastically point out that while blogging is fun; by posting a comment or question, on the vast realm that is the internet, many people will undoubtedly see it and if your wrong, there will always be people to call you out on your inaccuracies. Please, let this be a lesson to always double check what you say, before you say it (or type it, for that matter), because (as Uncle Ben Parker once said to Spider-man), "With great power, comes great responsibility." Blogging is a great power, because hundreds, thousands and maybe millions of other people will read your words, but with it, comes the responsibility to research what we blog about, so that others (who only read tag-lines and snippets of blogs) are not led astray by misinformation, whether accidental or purposeful.

Posted by: Zac Papantoniou | Jan 23, 2008 7:51:33 PM

I think the above comments do an excellent job of handling the specifics of Prof. Randazza's policies and procedures - i.e. "fluff" posts don't get much weight. I would hope that such posts - and Prof. Randazza's own comments on the subject - have put to rest the idea that the purpose of student blogging is to promote his own site.

I think this whole issue does raise interesting points regarding teaching methods. In the typical law school class where the professor still gets goosebumps from The Paper Chase, blogging and innovative methods to engage students must seem foreign. Why mess with success, right? Coming up with innovative ways to engage your students is work, and that's a four-letter word for many.

I guess I just don't understand the problem here. Prof. Rubinstein's follow-up posts contained specific issues:

"Is the Prof doing this to get more hits?"
No. Each class has a separate blog, and there's no need to visit the main blog. While there may be some added traffic from students interested in topics discussed on the main blog, the class blogs are independent. I think this "controversy" has driven more hits to Prof. Randazza's main blog than the next 3 years worth of classes will.

"Many Prof bloggers get paid from advertising."
Is that an inference that Prof. Randazza is getting paid? If so, I don't see any ads on the main blog. If we look outside of Prof. Randazza's blog, sure, there may be professors that advertise on their blogs for money. Some professors require their students to use West's TWEN service. Corporate sponsorship? Personally, I find the whoring out of law school campuses to Lexis and Westlaw much more offensive than if a professor's blog has keyword ads. I've seen whole wings of a campus building plastered with Westlaw and Lexis crap. Sure, we need to learn the research skills, but I could do without the mousepads, coffee mugs, pens, slinkys, staplers, and other junk.

"What about students who cannot afford internet access,"
That is why most law schools have computer labs. Legal Research and Writing classes require students to complete the Lexis Interactive Citation Workshops. If a student does not have internet access at home, then they can use the lab. Requiring blog posts is no different in this context.

"do not have computers"
See above.

"or have difficulty reading on line."
If that's the case, then there may be ADA provisions that the student would need to invoke, and Professor Randazza would need to comply. If a student has difficulty reading online, it would be very difficult to finish law school without specific arrangements being made with the Dean - regardless of any blogging requirement. Some classes require electronic copies of essays and other papers. If a student has difficulty reading online, then I would assume they would have difficulty reading anything they type on a computer, too.

Professor Rubinstein's last question is: "So, what do you think? Should Professors require students to post blog comments online?"

The answer? If the professor wants to require it, yes. Should all professors do it? No. I know professors that still hit the Enter key at the end of each row of text in Word. Please don't make them blog.

I have tried to look at the issue objectively, and I can only think of one problem that might come up in the future - anonymity. I see the potential for a student to object to putting their name on a publicly-available medium. Some students may have stalkers or other legitimate reasons for needing to keep their name off the Internet (or at least minimize the inevitable). In a narrow circumstance such as that, I imagine that Professor Randazza would allow the student to post under a different name.

Posted by: Kevin | Jan 25, 2008 4:30:20 PM

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