What’s better than the Socratic Method to engage all students in a course? On-line discussion boards.
One of the challenges in creating the virtual classroom is to strive for students to substitute time that would have been spent sitting in a seat in an actual classroom for time spent engaged in the discussion on-line. In addition to viewing short slide presentations with audio, and participating in occasional other on-line instruction (for example, this week the students were registered for and participated in a 45 minute on-line ethics training program developed by the NYS Commission on Public Integrity; and they were registered for a one hour ALI-ABA teleconference on the attorney-client privilege), the remainder of our instruction hours for the week are spent on the discussion boards.
So far I have opted to post three questions per week, and I have required the students to respond to at least two of the three questions, and then post replies to at two postings made by their colleagues (requiring 4 postings in total). With 22 students enrolled in the course, it would be near impossible in a seminar of this size to actively engage every student in every class hour. With the on-line discussion board, however, each and every student is an engaged learner who must participate in the class discussion. In other words, no one gets a “bye” for the weekly class reading, and everyone must learn to be reflective, analytical and articulate in the written postings they make to the discussion boards. Not only do I read the postings, but every class member reads the postings as well. By week two, I realized the power of the discussion boards.
The two discussions I opened were:
1) Based on Chapter 2, it is fair to conclude that defining exactly “who” is the client of the government lawyer is a difficult and challenging task, yet one that it is extremely important (at least in terms of confidentiality of communications which we will discuss in another posting). Please respond for making a case that one of the following should be appropriately viewed as the client of the General Counsel to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and explain why: 1) The Governor; 2) The Commissioner of DEC; 3) The Counsel to the Governor; 4) A high ranking official within the agency other than the Commissioner; 5) Anyone in the Agency who sits down for a conversation with the Agency Counsel; 6) The public; or 7) Other (be specific). Is your answer the same if the attorney is not the DEC General Counsel, but rather an Assistant Counsel who reports to a deputy counsel who reports to the general counsel? What if you work in the attorney general’s office and your job, according to the New York Executive Law, is to represent the State?
2) From reading both Chapter 12 and the article in the folder for week 2, it is apparent that the federal courts are in conflict as to whether a government attorney-client privilege exists. This is an issue that will likely get before the U.S. Supreme Court some day. Please explain why you believe there should or should not be an attorney-client privilege. Your answer may consider the following: Does it matter whether the underlying conversations and litigation involve civil or criminal matters? If a privilege exists, does it belong to the government official or some other office/agency in government? What type of legal and regulatory arguments can you make to support your policy position?
These questions were directed, yet open ended enough to allow students to craft carefully thought-out responses and to challenge and engage students with differing perspectives and interpretations. In the classroom, students may have responded with short answers in a sentence or two and full explanations may have had to be painstakingly extracted. Using the on-line forum, however, I received outstanding responses that demonstrated students did the reading, applied the applicable laws and policies, and considered the legal and policy challenges in reaching conclusions. Their responses ranged from one full paragraph to four or five paragraphs.
In short, the discussion boards are proving to be an excellent teaching tool.
Patty Salkin, Albany Law School