Professor Derrick Bell, the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Pitt and Visiting Professor of Law at New York University, kicked off this year's faculty colloquium season recently with a talk on "participatory teaching." Professor Bell summarized his talk this way:
In brief, what I have tried to do in a number of evolving ways over my 36-year teaching career is to structure courses, mainly in the civil rights and constitutional law areas so that students teach one another. I move from the podium and become a director and place students in the spotlight. Rather than lecture on the changing interpretations of say the commerce clause, Art. 1, Sec. 8, I write a hypothetical case presenting the key issues and have students brief and argue the case to the class sitting as the Bell Court. A course web site enables students to write and post their views and then discuss them in a succeeding class. Through this process, I cover the major components of the course, injecting comments both short and lengthy. Every student handles one side of a case and posts a dozen essays totaling at least a thousand words. These writings along with class presence and participation provide adequate basis for a detailed, written evaluation that I provide in a four to six page grade memo – more interesting than grading final exams, but requiring much more time.
The tremendous amount of work involved is shared by student teaching assistants who both build on what they learned the year before, and work with the students to whom they are assigned, helping and monitoring their performance and drafting at their assigned students evaluations both at mid-term and at the course’s end. On request, I can provide a 50 page discussion of this teaching approach.