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?

Gab Goldenberg writes a search marketing blog for which he has plenty of good arguments for you to follow by RSS feed. He’s also getting ready to launch a WordPress membership plugin.

11 Comments

  • December 2, 2008

    Gab Goldenberg

    Err, Tamar, I made a typo on the Montessori link. The url reads montessorY instead of montessori . Sry bout that – would ya mind fixing it?

  • December 2, 2008

    Tamar Weinberg

    Seriously? Is that the only comment we’re going to get on this awesome guest post?

    (Gab, you could email me this kind of thing) ;)

  • December 3, 2008

    Dana Lookadoo

    This is an awesome post, and I was thrilled to see the link to Lori Bourne’s site!

    I LOVED the metaphor of comparing the styles of the classes with marketing. The professors’ styles feel like a comparison of LinkedIn and Facebook. One gets to know the people on Facebook better because of the depth of sharing. LinkedIn has its advantages for its target population, and with the business/profile approach, respect is a result. Interestingly, LinkedIn is developing more “community” features which draws people together.

    Individual vs. membership blogging? We are herd creatures and desire relationship. Membership blogging partially meets our needs for community. On the flip side, many desire to have their own voice heard and will continue one-person blogging. Also, if one is considering SEO as part of that strategy, they’ll need to blog on their own site. Caveat to membership and community participation is that one can spend so much time commenting and interacting that he/she doesn’t spend the time developing their own content (confession).

    Again, super post! You make me wish I was back in school!

  • December 3, 2008

    Lori

    Hi, Gab & Tamar! Thank you so much for the link, especially in such a great post.

    I tend to remember my college years as a series of (mostly) boring lectures, so re-defining them as blogs or forums is really, really helpful.

    Good to keep in mind that different teachers have different goals in mind, and different ways of achieving those goals. That applies to elementary ed too :)

  • December 3, 2008

    Gab Goldenberg

    Dana, that’s another interesting analogy you’ve brought up there with Li/Fb. What community features is Li developing?
    On a related note, I never visit Li unless it’s to add someone as a contact … seems like it has a competitive advantage in differentiating itself as the business/jobs network site, no?

    And you’re totally right about us wanting relationships – it’s boring just being on your own constantly. So thanks for making this more enjoyable :D.

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  • December 3, 2008

    Dana Lookadoo

    Gab, LinkedIn launched new apps at the end of October, including sharing of books through Amazon, WordPress blog feeds, etc. to help with collaboration and communication. Here is a link to their blog announcement: http://cli.gs/LWzrG6

    I haven’t used many, yet, but my initial thought was that they were trying to make it more of a community. I have, however, started reviewing LinkedIn Q&A sections for answers, when prior to the past few months, I would go to a forum.

    One final thought… We are herd creatures who like to be heard!

    I look forward to learning more about your WordPress Membership Plugin.

  • December 4, 2008

    Gab Goldenberg

    @Lori,

    That’s what i loved about these courses – they weren’t boring lectures :D. Interesting to hear your perspective w/ grammar school.

    @ Dana – I’m gonna check that stuff out over the weekend or smtg. It does seem like they want a ‘content sharing’ community to develop as you mentioned.

    I’ll let you know about the plugin :).

  • December 5, 2008

    Myrna

    You draw a great comparison. As social media moves into the common marketing vernacular, more people will start drawing these comparisons. Until then, you are on the cutting edge!

  • December 8, 2008

    Aleks Pionerov

    Interestingly…

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