Next term, I’m adopting a new casebook in corporations: Klein/Ramseyer/Bainbridge (7th edition). As a part of the new prep, I’ve decided to try using powerpoint more in class. I’m already second-guessing myself about the choice. I realize that socratic teaching (even when done well) has huge costs. Among them: it distorts students’ views of how to be a good lawyer; it’s very slow; it makes women feel worse than men; it’s not oriented towards transactions and thus it’s hard to use it to lead a drafting session; and it’s a power-trip for the instructor, and thus is susceptible to abuse. But socratic teaching is interactive; it motivates students to be prepared and increases the value of being in class; and (most importantly) it helps students to learn judgment by confronting their bad arguments. Those are tremendous virtues, and up to this point in my career, have outweighed the method’s costs.
Why then the switch in Corporations? Well, for one, the course contains tons of vocabulary that students need to understand. I’ve had mixed success in the past in teaching this crucial foundational material. (My general approach: assign reading which explains the vocabulary and expect students to know it.) Second, understanding corporate cases sometimes requires the professor to sketch out the transactional structure. In the past, I’ve used the white board, but my handwriting is terrible and it’s never as clear as it ought to be. Third, I want to see if I can connect with some of the visual learners in the class, and improve overall performance on the exam. Fourth, the casebook authors provide a set of model powerpoint slides which are very useful — I’m not going to adopt most of them, but I can certainly copy some nice graphics! Fifth, these comments by Steve Bainbridge have been eating at me for a while. Finally, I’d want to make the course more economically sophisticated: to talk in depth about agency costs; to explore the incentives of various corporate stakeholders; to bring in material from history, political science, and psychology. It’s just not possible to do this when the students lead the discussion. So, I’m going to use the class as an experiment. If it works, great, maybe I’ll consider adding more visual aids into the first-year contracts course. If it doesn’t, I can always change gears during the semester.
Obviously, I'm biased here. But I think Klein, Ramseyer, and I offer an outstanding product. We're lean (less than 1000 pages), but comprehensive. Our teachers' manual is (IMHO) the best in the business. Adopters tell us that the pages in which the three of us bicker about the best way to teach the cases are incredibly useful, because we present multiple ways of covering the material and provoke adopters to figure out how they want to cover it. And, as the author of the PowerPoint slides that accompany the casebook, I'm especially biased in their favor.
I think our casebook can be used by faculty who use the Socratic method. We have very little explanatory text, which lets the cases speak for themselves, while offering up analysis questions and problems that can be used for a rich classroom discussion. In particular, we try to come up with problems that lend themselves to a discussion not only of the cases but also of their transactional planning implications.
Having said all that, however, I believe the Socratic method is horrible pedagogy. I believe that's true of both hard Socratic (increasingly rare in these kum-by-yah times) and soft Socratic (which seems increasingly dominant). In my essay, Reflections on Twenty Years of Law Teaching, to which Dave was kind enough to cite in his fifth point above, I confess to having gone entirely to the lecture side of law teaching.
That choice was not easy nor free from controversy. At times, I felt like a Jedi Knight who had gone over to the dark side. Sometimes I still do. Yet, I have found the dark side to be incredibly liberating. I think I'm a better teacher as a lecturer and I think my students learn more.
Because YMMV, however, I can promise you that our case book will always be designed to let you pretend you're Kingsfield if that's how you want to teach. We want everybody to feel they can use our casebook, regardless of their pedagogical style.
But I encourage you to try the dark side. Come on in, the water's fine.