SOCRATIC DIALOGUE AND CIRCUMVENTING THE RISK OF SHAME
Chapman University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Conference name: 3rd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2011
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Abstract:Law schools can generally be counted on to pull together entering classes packed with magna cum laudes and summa cum laudes from around the nation. The group is highly confident, for the most part, but in the law school classroom, even the smartest student recoils at the prospect of being declared “wrong” in front of 100 peers; with a single word (or perhaps a choice few), seasoned and skilled law professors can unwittingly bruise an overachiever’s ego. And yet, meaningful Socratic dialogue is key to truly effective legal education. Why? Students must learn to think very quickly in a tense environment, and they must gradually get comfortable before a live audience. At the same time, the professor must assure that students develop the habit of preparing thoroughly and that they understand the importance of thinking carefully about the assigned material before being required to discuss it. Equally important is the grave need to ensure that the student not leave the class without a true and thorough understanding of certain basics (without which professional incompetence may result). How can one skin the cat? Given their aversion to shame, students would benefit most from private feedback, but with large student groups, such an approach is highly inefficient. I argue that creative use of technology can effectively bridge the gap. I have relied on Microsoft’s TurningPoint technology and believe that it has considerable pedagogical value in the law school classroom. Among other things, TurningPoint allows a professor to design multiple choice questions prior to class. As each question is presented, students are given an opportunity to respond using hand-held devices. The software automatically and immediately generates a graph depicting response percentages on completion of polling. The technology can be used to review or test the comprehension of material. The instructor is able to see instantly what percentage of students understand basic concepts and, to the extent some percentage of students lack understanding, the gravity of the problem; the graph itself signals the need for a quick recap or a more extensive review. Professors can also use the technology to teach as an initial matter. Students often comprehend a concept only after multiple/alternative forms of presentation (i.e., when a neural pathway is reignited and thereby strengthened). The professor can also seize the opportunity to teach in a more subtle manner by ostensibly reviewing material but designing questions that students are likely to miss; in that instant, students are motivated and, indeed, primed to learn.
Unfortunately, the use of TurningPoint is rare in the law school arena. Some professors resist change and take comfort in familiar routines. Some prefer to avoid technology, and others simply lack the passion to learn something new. Law school, however, is a great place to introduce this pedagogical tool. Students may miss a fleeting learning opportunity because they wish to avoid the shame of providing a wrong answer or asking a “stupid” question. Use of the technology in no way overcomes issues of shame, but the various pedagogical benefits outweigh the limitations. Students learn the basics and enhance knowledge depth with the safety of anonymity, and the professor adds true value by making every effort to reach all learners.
Keywords: Socratic dialogue, shame, technology, student anonymity, TurningPoint, innovative teaching.