Tort of Public Disclosure of Private Facts

My new video on the tort of public disclosure of private facts as established by the Ontario Superior Court in Jane Doe 464533 v. N.D., 2016 ONSC 541.

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Message to My Students as New Semester Begins

On my course website, I usually have a short message saying “hello”, “welcome” and some instructions on what to do before the first class.  I recently read a memo that Maryellen Weimer at Penn State uses to welcome her students at the begining of a semester. I was struck by how that memo addresses what is needed for a successful learning partnership between instructor and students, and also the essential humanity of that relationship.  I used Maryellen’s words as the basis of my message to introduce myself and the course to my students this semester.  Thank you Maryellen. Here’s the message I posted on my course website:

Hello {First Name of Student},

Welcome to Business Law.  To get started and be prepared for our first class , please go through Getting Started and complete the Pre-Class Work for Module 1. Since this course employs the flipped classroom model, it is very important that you properly prepare for class so that your learning experience in class is productive. As well, please Introduce Yourself and complete the Classroom Expectations Survey.

I am committed to making this course a rewarding learning experience for you. But I can’t do my best teaching without your help. So, I thought I’d share a list of things you can do that will make this a better experience for all of us.

Be there. When you’re in class or online doing course-related work, I need you to be there completely. Yes, this means being physically present, but I’m hoping for more than just your body in class. I teach better when you are mentally present—listening, taking notes, mulling things over in your head, asking questions, occasionally nodding (when you understand), and sometimes looking surprised, confused, or amused (as the situation warrants). And yes, you may even look bored, if that’s how you’re feeling. I need that feedback, too. What I don’t need—and find very discouraging—is having you in class but not really there. Don’t kid yourself: I know when students are doing things with their devices or finishing homework for another class, looking up every now and then and pretending to listen. Trust me, feigning attention doesn’t look anything like attentive listening. You’ll make the course easier for me to teach and you to learn if you are present and engaged in what’s happening in class.

Participate! Whether it’s in a full class discussion or within a small group, your contributions are valued. There’s no need to speak all the time. Less is sometimes more. Speak when you’ve got something to say! Ask a thoughtful question, share a relevant experience, respond to another student’s comment, or voice a different perspective—contributions like these make the class interesting for me and everyone else. And thanks in advance to those of you who voluntarily participate.

I know many students find it difficult to contribute in class. I try to make it easier by broadly defining participation. If you’ve got a question about the reading, something I said in class, or an observation that a classmate offered, and you couldn’t quite find the courage to raise your hand, post your question or contribution in the Burning Questions forum. You also can participate by posting in the Post-Class online discussions on case problems.

And everyone can participate in this course by listening and paying attention—especially when another student is speaking. Good listeners respond nonverbally with eye contact and facial expressions. They don’t look close to comatose.

A class that’s participating energizes my teaching. Your comments, questions, and responses feed me. Without your participation, I feel like I’m at a dinner table where all I do is serve the food and never get to eat it. I’d like to be sharing the meal with you instead.

Help me get to know you. Let’s start with names. I am committed to learning yours and do hope you’ll learn mine. Almost everybody struggles with names, including me. If I speak to you without using your name, call me on it. If I’ve forgotten, give me something that will help me remember. Let’s greet each other by name when we run into each other on campus. And remember to display your name card in class!

I’d like to get to know you beyond just your name. What’s your major? Why did you decide on it? What courses are you taking? Tell me something you just learned in one of your other classes. Why are you in this course? I know; it’s required. I think it’s required for a compelling set of reasons, but I’m probably not all that objective. What would you like to learn in this course? What are you finding easy and difficult about this content?

I teach better when I know the students I see in class or chat with online as real people—students with names, faces, and interesting lives. I do my best teaching when I have students who care about learning (and grades); who have dreams, goals, and ambitions; and who want to get out there and fix what’s broken. I do my best teaching when I have students who are serious about getting ready for life—or getting ready to make a better life. I want you to experience my best teaching, and I hope you’ll help me make that happen this semester.

Again {First Name of Student}, welcome!

Wayland Chau

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Critical Thinking: How I teach it

Teaching my students to think critically is one of the holy grails that I strive for.  From birth, we are all critical thinkers. As infants, we say “NO” to the tasteless green broccoli mush. As kids, we pester our parents with “WHY” questions. “Why is the sky blue?”  “Why is my hair black?”   As teenagers, we challenge rules laid down by our parents. “Why do I need to be home by midnight?”   Throughout our lives, we naturally ask questions, challenge the opinions of others and form our own opinions.  That’s critical thinking.

Most students intuitively know how to think critically. My challenge is to have my students tap into that raw ability. Apply it in a methodical manner. And communicate that methodical thought process.  In other words, it’s easy to have an opinion, but difficult to support that opinion with principled analysis and even more difficult to communicate that analysis to others.

Simple Analytical Framework

To have students apply critical thinking in a methodical manner, it is important to provide them with a simple analytical framework into which critical thinking is channelled. In teaching law to undergraduate business students, I provide a simple three-step legal analysis: (1) identify the legal issue, (2) state the applicable law, and (3) apply that law to the facts of the case to come to a legal opinion.  This three-step analytical framework can be restated generically so it can be applied to subject matter other than law: (1) identify the issue, (2) state the applicable rule or principle, and (3) apply that rule/principle to the facts of the situation. I ask my students to apply this three-step analysis to fact situations based on real court cases.

To demonstrate this three-step analysis, I provide in class a simple example that most of them are familiar with. “In a baseball game, a hitter hits the ball into the air and then the ball is caught by an outfielder. Do a three-step analysis for the umpire.”  

  1. Issue:  Is the batter out?
  2. Applicable rule:  When the ball is hit by a batter into the air, the hitter is out if the ball is caught by an opposing player without touching the ground.
  3. Apply the rule to the facts:  Since the outfielder caught the ball before it hit the ground, the batter is out.

Communicating the Analysis

To develop their ability to communicate critical thinking, it is important to have students express their thinking in writing. I have students do that in small groups and individually.  In class, my students work in groups of 3 or 4 on case problems. They write up their three-step legal analyses and post it online on Socrative. Everyone’s answers are projected on the screen in class. I ask them to vote on Socrative for the answer that is the best legal analysis. And then I critique the top two or three answers.  No grades are at stake. These are safe opportunities for students to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.

I also get students to work individually by posting their legal analyses of case problems online in class discussion forums. Feedback is posted by both me and other students in the class.

Critical thinking is a difficult to teach but it is an incredibly important skill that will allow our students to be successful in work and to be contributing citizens in society.

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Midterm Student Reflection

It’s midterm exam time again. Students write exams. Professors grade those exams. Some students are unhappy. Students meet with professors to review those exams.

An exam review meeting can go in any number of ways depending on the student’s mindset. If the student comes with an open mindset to learn how they may improve, the meeting has the potential to be a constructive dialogue to help the student form useful learning strategies. If the student comes with a narrow focus on litigating how their exam was marked, the meeting will likely be just about the mechanics of how the marking rubric was applied. Some of those kind of meetings that I have been a party to end with me saying, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

This semester I am trying something new to, hopefully, increase the likelihood of having more useful dialogues with my students regarding their midterm results. I devised a short online questionnaire for them to complete before meeting with me.  I call it  a Mid-Course Personal Performance Evaluation.  Students are prompted to reflect on specific aspects of their work habits and their progress in the course.

Midterm Personal Performance Evaluation - Part 1

Midterm Personal Performance Evaluation - Part 2

By completing this questionnaire, the hope is that student mindsets are shifted away from the narrow mechanical focus of their exam results to a broader functional focus of assessing the learning habits and processes that led to those results. Consequently, the overall focus of the exam review meeting should be on how to improve a student’s overall progress in the course, not just how an exam was graded.

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Latest YouTube Channel Videos

I have uploaded 8 new videos onto The Reflective Prof channel on YouTube.



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Reading Law: Teaching Law to Non-Law Students

Ask almost any professor at a law school: the best way to learn law is to “read the law”.  What that means is that to learn law, students should read the primary sources of law – statutes, regulations and court cases – instead of secondary sources such as textbooks, articles and blogs.   That’s why most law school courses are taught using casebooks, instead of textbooks.

When law is taught to non-law students, that law-school approach in its purest form, does not work.    Business students do not know how to read and interpret cases and legislation from scratch.  Even lawyers and law students have difficulty interpreting the average Supreme Court decision with 50-plus pages.

As a professor teaching law to undergraduate business students, I try to remember that teaching from primary sources is still very important.  In particular, it’s the facts of cases that give life to and animate legal principles.  Cases help ground legal principles to the real world.

I have been taking a MOOC (massive open online course) by Professor Randal Picker of the University of Chicago Law School called “Internet Giants: The Law and Economics of Media Platforms”. The content of that course is fascinating especially how Professor Picker demonstrates how the economics of internet media platforms (such as Google, PC operating systems, smartphones) relates to the applicable law and government policy.  What I have also found fascinating is how Professor Picker teaches his material.  There are no fancy graphics and videos.  He does use powerpoint, but not in a common way.  A common way that we all see everyday is to put a list of bullet points on each slide.  Instead most of Professor Picker’s slides have a big picture of the front page of a primary source document such as court decision.  Then, he “zooms in” on specific passages in the document as he is lecturing.  Instead of summarizing or paraphrasing a case, he is highlighting specific key passages to explain his points. The central focus remains the law, not any secondary summary.

Professor Picker’s approach stays true to the spirit of “read the law”.  Since the course is a MOOC, Professor Picker probably knows that he cannot reasonably expect his students to pick up and read from beginning to end the cases, legislation and government policies that he refers to.  He explains the law in his own words and insight while highlighting key passages from the primary sources.

I have started to apply Professor Picker’s approach in my own teaching. These are a couple of examples of slides I have developed for lecture videos to explain various clauses in a contract.

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I am German

Note: This post has nothing to do with education. I felt compelled to write it in light of recent events in Europe.

Today, I am German.  I don’t live in Germany and I am not a German citizen. My family has no trace of any German heritage.  Although I do like the occasional bratwurst and beer and I admire German engineering, I am not overly enamoured with the German stereotype of being the dour and efficient taskmasters of Europe.   In fact, I live in Canada, and my passport proudly bears the Canadian coat of arms.

As the world is finally comprehending the vast human tragedy of the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany has been more Canadian than Canada – at least based on what I believe my country should represent.  Germany led by its leader Angela Merkel has been the only major western country consistently asking “How can we help these people?”.  In contrast, other leaders have been asking, “How can we keep them out?” or “How can we send them back?”.  Chancellor Merkel has courageously stood up to be counted.   In the face of Germans waving placards accusing her of being the people’s traitor, Angela Merkel said,  “There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people. There is no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.”  Germany walks that talk: it has taken in over 800,000 asylum seekers.  Will Hutton of The Guardian commented, “Angela Merkel’s humane stance on immigration is a lesson to us all.”   Unlike most political leaders, Chancellor Merkel truly views the situation as a humanitarian crisis, instead of a political one, with the key question being “How can we help our fellow human beings?”.

Other major countries, including Canada and the UK, should be ashamed of our relative inaction. My Prime Minister asserts that we have the most generous refugee policy in the world.  Mr. Harper, let’s place political will and action behind that statement.  Steven Harper can look to the actions of his Progressive Conservative predecessors in the Vietnamese boat people crisis for precedent and inspiration.  As for now, I consider myself a proud German.

Wayland Chau

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