My sections of Economics 345, Industrial Organization, are taught using Socratic dialogue. Here are some notes about the nature of this teaching method:

1. Procedure

Socratic dialogue proceeds in question-answer format. When you are asked a question, there are three possible responses:

  • You may answer the question. Frequently you will need to answer a “yes” or “no” and then explain; but make sure to answer “yes” or “no” before proceeding.
  • You may ask for clarification of the question.
  • You may say you are not prepared to answer the question. There will be no criticism of you for this answer. However, frequent responses of this kind will reduce your benefit from the class and your participation grade.

In classical Socratic dialogue, the class is driven by nothing other than questions and answers. In Computer Assisted Socratic Dialogue (CASD), we will make use of the live Internet connection in the classroom and the document camera to enable students to participate in that way as well. From time to time a student will be called down front for “math-and-graph,” to explore graphs and formulas.

We will have a limited number of casual days. On these days we will proceed with a non-Socratic discussion, usually to cover a specific set of topics that do not lend themselves to dialogue.

2. Name cards

You will have a two-sided name card. Leave the name card behind after every class and I will bring them back each time. Both sides of the name card will have your official University name. In addition, the formal side of the card will have you listed as “Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jones,” for example. You’ll be asked to fill in your casual name, usually your first name, on the casual side of the card. This side of the card will be turned forward on casual days.

3. Class preparation

This class is unlike many others at James Madison University in that you are expected to do the reading in advance so that you will be prepared to answer questions when called on. You may want to make notes or outlines before class to remind you of the main points of the reading.

4. Note-taking

The draft text for this class is, in sentence form, a set of the notes I would use if I were teaching this class in a more conventional lecture format. That is, you already have an excellent set of notes and you should bring them to class each day. You need not be concerned with trying to write everything down in class but you may wish to take notes on the questions and answers.

5. A word of encouragement

Experience shows that students can excel in the environment of Socratic dialogue. For many students, being able to concentrate on the material without having to take extensive notes is a substantial aid to participation and understanding. Alumni of this class have gone on to achieve distinction in careers, graduate schools, and the study of law. They report that this class was an important part of their preparation.