August 25, 2008
From the Professor Toolkit: Props and Gimmicks
Posted by J.W. Verret

Thanks Gordon for the introduction, I am honored by the invitation to visit at the Conglomerate. Today was my first day teaching, and since the Conglomerate’s sage advice about the teaching market got me into this mess in the first place (See Gordon here and Christine here.) I thought that I would talk about an exercise I conducted on my first day teaching Securities Regulation.

We ran an auction for a “gift certificate for dinner for two, plus drinks, at a local restaurant,” the proceeds of which would be donated to the American Cancer Society. I informed them, by way of a disclosure statement via email, that I informally asked some friends on the faculty what they would bid based on the same limited information that the students received. I told the students that the result of that informal survey was an average bid of $93.50, and I mentioned that if the students obtained the item for lower than its value they might even sell it for a profit. My disclosure email was riddled with the sort of dry and equivocal statements one might find in a registration statement, and my first day sales pitch was a little more puffed up.

The result: The winning bid was $85 for a $10 gift certificate to McDonald’s. I think it got their attention, which was a good intro to my overview of what we’ll cover in the class. (Also, at the end of class I let the winner keep her money and the gift certificate, and I promised to make the donation anyway.) My hope is to use this as a teaching tool for all of the chapters that follow, from “what is an investment” to 10b-5 liability and beyond.

I get excited about Sec Reg, but most people find it to be a bit of a snoozer. I remember having law professors that went out of their way to make classes interesting; including using items in the news, showing 3 minute movie clips, corny knock-knock jokes, and one who even kept wind up stuffed animals around her podium. As long as it doesn’t suck up too much class time, I think it’s a useful pedagogical device. It lightens an otherwise dry subject, breaks up monotony, and piques their interest. I would be interested to hear from readers what sorts of gimmicks they use or have seen put to effective use as teaching aids in their legal courses.

I am looking forward to our time together.

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