Law prof sparks debate over class ‘cold calling’

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By Thomas Connelly on


Selecting students at random to answer questions — good or bad thing?

A law lecturer in the US has sparked a debate online over whether it’s acceptable to select students at random to answer questions during class.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter), Chicago Law School lecturer Adam K. Mortara explains how he recently discovered another law school was operating a traffic light system in order to help lecturers identify which students were willing to answer questions.

“On my two law school tour last week I saw something that genuinely surprised me,” Mortara writes. “A student had a tri-folded cardboard name tag in front of him. No big deal, I thought, in a big class professors might need those and while I don’t use first names many of my colleagues do.”

The student subsequently explained how the system worked. “Green for willing to talk, yellow for being on the cusp of being willing to talk, and red for not being prepared,” Mortara recalls.

Mortara, who is also a qualified lawyer, was less than impressed. “I was stunned — the idea of a law school class where students could opt out of being called on!” he writes. “Judges don’t let you put up the red light when you don’t want to answer.”

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The post, which has attracted over 2,000 likes and hundreds of comments, continues:

“I can’t quite put my finger on the causation. Do law students demand to be treated like fragile children or do law faculty start treating them that way? Either way what a joke — in practice the vast majority of the class stays on yellow. This innovation will never find its way to my classroom at Chicago. But it is ok for the romper room that is Yale Law School.”

Many fellow X-users agreed with Mortara. “College used to be where kids went to learn about being grown up,” one person wrote. “Today it seems it’s where they learn to become toddlers again. Mind blowing.”

“Being shamed because one isn’t prepared will help one grow or else be weeded out for another more serious student,” another added.

But some were in support of the traffic light system. “As someone presently on an LLM who is always eager to answer questions and where it seems others aren’t (fair enough), I would love this system because it would mean there would be sections where the professor would call only on me,” a student wrote. “That would be excellent.”

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