A low-tech solution to teaching: the book club as an educational tool

by Paul Maharg on 16/04/2014

Andrew Murray, LSE, on NOT using technology — Book Club.  Why?  Community building and the need for that, between students who have little in common — 360 students from over 140 countries on the LLM he teaches.  Shared texts such as Orwell and Kafka are points in common.  Also teaches interpretive skills, esp for students for whom English is a second language.  And it introduces new and complex concepts in a familiar way. Discussion of issues dealt with by Lessig, Wu, Goldsmith, Kerr etc, can be daunting for students in weeks one and two — the same concepts resulting from Kafka or Orwell are more comfortable.

Why book club, not mooc club?  Student-centred reasons…  The new arrivals are already battling environmental and tech issues..  They’re a shared cultural experience.  It’s a physical artefact connection.  And there are faculty reasons.  It involves physical meetings, builds community in the way digital cannot.  Informality and passing of mantle of academic leadership to the group.

Andragogy over cow dung Adults respond badly to simply hearing the Conventional Wisdom of the Dominant Group (cow dung) as adults need more of an internally reflective experience of education.  Book club reinforces all these things (and more) in that it draws on experience, makes the student responsible, encourages interaction and allows framing of relevance.

There were four books: Kafka, The Trial, Huxley, Brave New World, 1984, Dave Eggers The Circle.  Uses the texts to introduce students to issues of regulation — regulation by design, decent red and community(self)regulation, regulation by hierarchy and regulation by technology.

How did it work?  It was voluntary — Orwell most popular, Huxley least, Kafka third in popularity.  Participants reported back positively — more book clubs wanted.  class integration and book club was well done, etc.  Very positive feedback.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 my sources May 13, 2014 at 09:07

I don’t write many remarks, however after looking at through a great deal
of remarks on this page A low-tech solution to teaching: the
book club as an educational tool — Paul Maharg. I do have 2 questions for
you if you don’t mind. Is it simply me or does it
seem like a few of these remarks come across
like they are written by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting
on additional social sites, I would like to follow anything fresh
you have to post. Would you post a list of all of all your public
pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?


2 Paul Maharg May 13, 2014 at 11:15

Well, it’s kind of you not to say who was brain dead, Andrew or me. It might have been me that was brain dead in my reporting of the session, since it was towards the end of the conference. Re-reading my live blog, it does read rather disjointedly at times — the perils of liveblogging. Two points — first Andrew was being deliberately provocative, since BILETA is all about technology in law & education. Although, of course, a book is a complex piece of technology itself, something I pointed out in some detail in Transforming Legal Education, where I explored 13th century glosses and argued that the web would actually by-pass the book and its technologies and return us to a sense of glossed manuscripts online. Second, as I pointed out in a comment I made at the end of his session, technology cd be introduced into the course quite easily by comparing book with a filmed version; though as Andrew said quite rightly, that activity (turning a book club into a book/film club) would change the focus of the encounter with the students. Reading my post again, I do remember it as quite an engaging session. Made me think about the nature of online / f2f communities particularly for beginning students, which is no bad thing.

On your request for a list of public pages, good point. The About para above, top right, has links to some, but not all. Actually I’m in the process of re-thinking how I use the whole social media thing. Am not happy with LinkedIn, eg. Had a Facebook page, but took it down because I so disagree with Fb’s behaviour on privacy. Trying out ResearchGate, which is great at sourcing publications & academic community building, but don’t like the scientific tenor of the site or the citation bean counting. Academia has always seemed behind the curve. I had thought of (re-)posting here the comments I post elsewhere, which I might yet do, but time, time….


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