Reminiscing About Legal Education – How Technology Changed Examinations, Course Materials, and Instruction

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Marquette Law School History, Public

[Editor’s Note: This month, we asked a few veteran faculty members to share their reflections on what has changed the most in legal education since they became law professors. This post is the second in the series.]

In 1983 when I became a law professor, no one had a personal computer.  Dictaphones were a common piece of office equipment.  Secretaries typed our syllabi, handouts, and examinations. Examinations had to be reproduced on the mimeograph machine and collated by hand. Of course, students handwrote exam answers in bluebooks.  The law school didn’t allow students to type their answers, even if they offered to provide their own portable typewriters.

Around 1985 faculty members received personal desktop computers for the first time, thanks to Dean Frank DeGuire’s advocacy and generous donations from the members of the Woolsack Society. Those computers changed our lives and made instruction so much more efficient, especially once we learned how to press “Escape,” “Transfer,” and “Save” to save a document to a 5 ½” floppy disk. (Lost documents were a constant problem for neophyte computer users.)  

Of course, we still didn’t have access to the Internet yet, so we couldn’t instantaneously upload a handout to our course page, or email it to our students.  Instead, we had to distribute handouts in class. Students had to avoid misplacing them and hope that if they lost their copy an extra would be available on a shelf in the professor’s office complex.

Email also didn’t exist when I starting teaching law. And, it was many years before we could actually communicate with students electronically.  “Back then,” students had to make appointments to ask their professors questions. They still do – or, they visit us during office hours. But now, students can ask questions any time, any day and we can respond within minutes.  Recently, I was talking with a student in my office and explaining how much I like being able to answer students’ questions by email, especially because of the detailed responses I can provide. The student said, “You probably don’t remember this, but a year and a half ago, I sent you an email late on Easter Sunday.” “And,” she continued, “you responded 20 minutes later.”  I can’t say that I can always answer a student’s question that fast, but there is no doubt that my “student contact hours” have increased now that I can meet with them personally or virtually. Sometimes I’m tempted to “tweet” my random thoughts about my courses, but that would probably be overkill. Would anyone “follow me”? Besides, lecturing has never been my preferred teaching style – I really prefer “questions and answers.” Usually, I’m asking the questions, but there’s nothing like a great student question to prevent complacency!

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