Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse: Owning scholarship

Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse

"... much of my students’ knowledge actually comes from crowdsourcing... As a professor, this seemed to me like a great untapped resource. "

Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse joined the McGill Faculty of Law as a Wainwright Junior Fellow in 2006, after which he became an assistant professor. In 2007, together with Professor Margaret Graham of the Desautels School of Management, he launched the first integrated and jointly taught MBA/Law course dedicated to the study of the business of law. Currently the director for the Center of Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP), Professor Moyse teaches courses on commercial law, property law, and intellectual property.

What’s the most innovative assignment you have given students?

While reflecting on pedagogy, I have discussed teaching approaches and assignments with a number of Law professors in order to see how we can change the tone and dynamic, and hence quality, of teacher-student interactions. One of the goals of this exercise is to understand our audiences less as passive receptors and more as active participants in the learning process. And given that students typically only retain 15% of what is said in class, it’s important to regularly rethink what we’re doing in class and to rethink the results we get from what we’re doing. While conventional approaches and assignments tend to keep the students happy – which is good for teacher feedback – they’re not necessarily the best way to ensure students properly master the course material.

This got me thinking that much of my students’ knowledge actually comes from crowdsourcing – that is, they consult a wealth of unofficial online notes made by previous students about a particular course – in my case, first-year Civil Law Property. As a professor, this seemed to me like a great untapped resource. So I looked at those notes and I saw an opportunity for students to capitalize on peer knowledge, similar to the oral tradition that has been passed down over the years. Thus, for a new assignment I divided the class into 20 three-person groups and tasked each group with producing a 1000-word version of one subsection of the course from those notes, which required research, writing and a short class presentation.

Through this exercise, my students went through approximately 900 pages of notes, which they boiled down into an 80-page summary entitled, “Own Your Course.” This was quite a success for several reasons. First, the students enjoyed being randomly assigned teammates for this intense project – it really motivated them. Next, this team-based assignment helped them understand the difference between information and knowledge because they had to digest a great deal of inherited information, make sense of it, and then present it to their peers in a well-organized, clear and concise manner. Finally, they have the satisfaction of knowing that what they produced will be of great value for the next generation of students.