Choice of Form: Two Legal Seminars As Social Media
This is a guest post by search engine optimization expert Gab Goldenberg, who actually spends a good chunk of his time in a classroom: he’s a law student!
I’m taking two seminar courses at school this term, and they each resemble a particular form of social media. A seminar is different from a regular course in that it necessarily involves interaction with the students — a seminar is to a regular lecture course as web 2.0 is to web 1.0. What is interesting about these two seminars I’m taking is the difference in the teaching styles and the relationships that result.
Professor Daniel Jutras’ classes begin with him and/or students covering some current events relating to the seminar’s topic. Then, Professor Jutras lectures for about an hour, covering the principal ideas in the week’s readings. We pause for 10 minutes, and when we return, the class asks questions or makes comments, to which Professor Jutras responds.
I see this seminar as a blog. The blogger (Professor Jutras) posts his ideas, occasionally throws in some editorial and takes some light, widget-fed microblogging (the current events some students share). As an aside, Professor Jutras makes it obvious when he’s editorializing, which makes it easy to take it for what it’s worth: an informed opinion, but not necessarily fact.
Then the comments come in, and a conversation takes place. But it’s only ever got two participants: the original commenter and the blogger. Sometimes a commenter will reply to what another commenter said, but the response is not “threaded” — it’s addressed to the blogger and answered by him.
Rod Macdonald’s seminar is more dynamic, and the format changes every week. In part, this is due to the fact that we students frequently teach it, based on the readings Professor Macdonald has assigned. Typically, a fair portion of the class involves group work and some interactive elements — we’ve had discussions, card games, Jeopardy, chart-making, a range of Montessori activities, videos, song-writing and much more.
I see this seminar as a forum. The admin (Professor Macdonald) / moderator (students teaching the class on a given day) create categories of conversation, which are analogous to deciding on forum names/topics and sticky threads. (In a forum, some threads get “stuck” to the top and are thus afforded more visibility. Non-sticky threads can be pushed down by threads with newer comments.)
Then it’s up to the members to direct the specifics of the conversations. Members start a thread and then it’s a multi-directional conversation, with members addressing each other directly in the thread.
What concrete results have these differences in pedagogy made? At the end of the semester, I only know a couple more people from the blog than I did at the beginning. I don’t feel particularly close to any of them in particular, though I gained additional respect for some of the members whose comments were particularly insightful. Having known and respected most of those commentators beforehand, however, I can’t say the seminar did much for me in terms of expanding my social experience at school. As to Professor Jutras, we maintained a cordial but arm’s length relationship, which distance I suspect he prefers.
On the other hand, I know the names of every member of the forum. I also know a fair amount of personal stuff about them, since the seminar often encouraged sharing that sort of thing. And I feel a certain solidarity/friendship towards them — including towards Professor Macdonald — as fellow travelers who’ve experienced something in common. And that’s also shaped my attitude towards the course in a positive way, since I associate it with new friendships and some really fun experiences. (Gasp! Fun? At law school! Stop the presses!)
In fairness, Professor Macdonald’s seminar was 1 hour longer per week. That said, I doubt another 2 hours per week in Professor Jutras’ class would have brought the class any closer together.
It should also be noted that the two professors’ goals were different. Professor Jutras aimed to impart a professionally oriented knowledge of class action lawsuits, so that we might comfortably join a litigation firm/team upon graduation. Professor Macdonald wanted us to become better people and enrich us emotionally as much as he wanted us to become better teachers. By these standards, both professors were quite successful.
I wish that I could segue from here into a “10 lessons to gather from this,” but I’d rather leave it up the comments. In any case, I can’t see any obvious lessons.
How do you think this knowledge applies to site development and marketing? What functionalities do you think WordPress, vBulletin, and other common platforms need to be able to better develop communities? What annoys you about WordPress, vBulletin, and these platforms? Beyond the core of people who want to demonstrate their expertise in a niche by blogging, will blogging continue to grow, or will community-oriented sites become more popular? What tasks are more important to developing a popular community versus developing a popular blog?