The Un-Classroom

I have been interviewing faculty for the past couple of days whowere involved in the Legal Education Podcasting Project and one of thequestions that I put to each of them is ….

As technologyimproves to deliver even more high fidelity digital lectures – audioand video, do you think that this medium will come to replace theinstructor in the classroom?

So far, no one has answered in the affirmative, but the answer was not always an unqualified ‘YES’.

Mostof the faculty I have interviewed abjured that there are certainportions of teaching that can be replaced with a recording and thatthis can free up time for more substantive discussion or interactioninside the classroom. So, one side effect of podcasting isthat law faculty are manipulating the medium of teachingdepending on the message. This is not a universal finding by any means,just an observational anecdote at this point, but it makes some sense.

Today, I ran across this article with this sub-title…

"…A lecturer at a West Yorkshire university has abolished traditional lectures in favour of podcasts…"

This instructor teaches biochemistry to English undergraduates, butthe point is that other educational podcasters are seeing similarthings. The money quote from the article is….

"…Some lecture classes have 250 students, so I question the effectiveness of a didactic lecture for an hour..".

Emphasis mine.

Currently, I am also thick in the finalplanning for the 2006 CALI Conference and I had recently been readingabout un-conferences. Wikipedia says that un-conferences are…

"….An unconference is a term that arose in the geek community todescribe a conference where the content of the meeting is driven andcreated by the participants rather than by a single organizer…"

The inestimable Dave Winer (inventor of blogging and RSS) gets some credit for this … uhmmmm … innovation.

"…Winer’s unconference is a discussionleader with a topic moving a microphone amongst a large audience of 50to 200 people…."

…which to me sounds like the classroom discussion that podcasting makesmore possible. Once there is a history of widely available podcastsfrom a critical mass of instructors, students may have already heard all the lectures(including all the jokes) that an instructor has to give. They may cometo class more prepared than any past students ever have.


Imagine having your students over-prepared for class. I may be dreaming, but bear with me on this for a moment.

This dream classroom would also be a big challenge to the instructor. The solution is the Un-Classroomwhere the instructor is the discussion leader and the students "teach"the class. The instructor is part Guide and part Sage since she bothguides the discussion and corrects student misunderstandings andprovides clarifications or injects further chaos to challenge. Perhaps more importantly, the instructor teaches the students how to evaluate information and how to think critically. Isn’t this the point of legal education?

I think this is what Mark Prensky was talking about in his writing when he opined that today’s teachers cannot possibly keep up with today’s Digital Natives.

"…the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language…."

(Note: I have previously linked to a podcast by Marc Prensky here)

Iagree (so far) with the podcasting faculty that live instructors are not in near-term danger of obsolescence. Ido think that podcasting will have second-order effects that we are just beginning glimpse in this first experiment. I will be posting interviews with about a dozen faculty over the next couple of weeks from law schools all over the US who have taught all kinds of courses. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say.

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