Evidence Based Experiential Learning?

Over on the Legal Whiteboard, Bill Henderson has an interesting post noting that despite the current call for more experiential education, we lack evidence to answer two key questions:

“(1) Among experiential teaching methods, which ones are the most effective at accelerating professional development? And (2) among these options, how much does each cost to operate? Quality and cost must be assessed simultaneously.”

Henderson is the principal researcher on Northeastern Law’s Outcomes Assessment Project (OAP) that is attempting to answer the question “Does Northeastern’s legal education model accelerate the development of law graduates who are ready to practice and to serve clients?” As Henderson notes, selection effectsmake these challenging questions to answer given Northeastern’s distinctive characteristics, including a progressive, public interest tradition, and a student body with high numbers of women and LGBT students decades before the rest of legal education.

If the OAP project shows that Northeastern’s legal education model does accelerate the development of its graduates, here’s an interesting follow-up question: Will that result be due to the co-op model specifically, or simply to the greater integration of exposure to practice into their students’ education than is typical. In other words, would a different version of a “marble cake” curriculum model have the same benefits?

The Ideal Law School Graduate? A ‘People Person’ Who Can Do Research

By: Jacob Gershman

You can be a sharp writer and a nimble researcher who is skilled at analyzing cases.

But for law school graduates entering the workforce, it’s the softer skills, like work ethic, collegiality and a sense of individual responsibility, that really impress legal employers, according to a new study.

University of Dayton School of Law researchers conducted focus with legal employers to find out what they expect from new law school graduates.

Dayton law professor Susan Wawrose said researchers had thought that the attorneys would focus mostly on the need for basic practical skills, like writing, analysis and research. But comments on soft skills — defined as “personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee” — tended to dominate the responses.

“The most surprising outcome of our research was the primary importance employers placed on the ‘intra- and interpersonal (socio-emotional)’—soft skills—needed for workplace success,” writes Ms. Wawrose, who authored a report on the study appearing in the Ohio Northern University Law Review.

The researchers interviewed 19 attorneys in the Dayton area who are “actual or potential employers” of graduates from the law school. Most were employed at law firms of varying size. Several others worked as in-house counsel, as an assistant federal public defender, or for legal aid.

The focus group participants said ideal job applicants have a strong work ethic, can work independently without excessive “hand holding,” and would bring a positive attitude to the workplace.

One attorney griped about new hires who “come in . . . [with] this expectation that we’ll sit down and kind of spoon feed them.” Others agreed that some attorneys fresh out of school think “they have a law school degree so they’re entitled to rise up and become partner.”

Other comments suggested that law schools put more of an emphasis on teaching research:

Employers, particularly those with more years in practice, rely on new attorneys to be research experts. The employers in our focus groups have high expectations when it comes to new hires’ research skills, i.e., “[t]hey should be able to adequately and effectively find everything that’s up to the minute.”

Being a research expert also means knowing how to scour books, not just websites, the paper said. “Statutes, treatises and encyclopedias, and desk books are the sources employers still use in paper form. For this reason, new attorneys may want to be familiar with these paper sources,” writes Ms. Wawrose.

The employers also observed that while some new hires are good at cranking out a “full-blown research memo,” the same ones stumble on shorter assignments:

The purpose and audience of the assignment are the key. “[T]hey need to be very cognizant of who their audience is.” Is the document for a client? And, which client? Is it the one who is “very busy” and “want[s] to know, ‘boom,’ ‘what’s the answer[?]’” Or, is it the client who is “all into the details” and will feel “nervous if you don’t give them all the specifics.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2013/11/25/the-ideal-law-school-graduate-a-people-person-who-can-do-research/

Congratulations UNM and Editors of the proposed new Best Practices Book!

This weekend, the University of New Mexico hosted a workshop BEST PRACTICES IN LEGAL EDUCATION: The Walls Are Coming Down” in which draft chapters of a new “Best Practices” book were reviewed and discussed.  The proposal to create a second book focused on best practices in legal education is the brainchild of Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ably assisted by Professors Deborah Maranville, , Carolyn Kaas and Lisa Bliss. The symposium workshop brought together law professors from throughout the country interested in how legal education and the world of law schools has changed since the publication of the 2007 book Best Practices in Legal Education. Facilitated by Professors Beryl Blaustone and Alex Scherr, the conference explored how many law professors fluidly move from former silos of clinical, legal writing, lawyering, librarian, doctrinal, theory, or skills concentrations to pioneer a new kind of curriculum, better prepare students for the profession, explore the limits and usefulness of technology, and deepen the understanding and learning of law students through self-improving assessment processes.

Fully cognizant of the pressures on legal educators, the fact that not all in legal education welcome the need to change, and the moral imperative to address the concerns of debt-ridden unemployed law students, the authors, editors, advisory board members and readers reviewed challenges, cross-cutting themes and areas of promise. They engaged in innovative thinking about how to move legal education forward for the good of the profession, society and the students who desire to be lawyers of tomorrow. The keynote speaker for the Friday night dinner and author of the first book, Professor Roy Stuckey, directed the participants’ attention to what legal education should look like in 2027. At the same time, he reminded us that those seeking to improve legal education today stand on the shoulders of folks such as the honorable Rosalie Wahl and former ABA president Bob MacCrate who paved the way for the changes we have seen in the last 40 years. He recalled their joint mission to prepare “agents for justice in our communities.”

Every law graduate needs to understand fully that civic professional role of the lawyer. And every admittee to the bar has a sworn duty to improve our system of and access to justice. Returning to those principles can help prioritize our cost-cutting and can position us to move forward in the best interests of our students, our institutions and the society our profession is pledged to serve.

A rose by any other name: Evaluation and Assessment at Cross Purposes

A barrier to developing, improving, or sharing our assessment practices is the confusion surrounding the vocabulary of assessment.  Whenever it occurs or by whatever method, assessment is simply the process of discovering what and how well students have learned and then using that information to improve. One can quickly become mired in a sea of words that feel like jargon, with assumptions that confuse and distort the real meaning of this otherwise familiar practice of all good instructors. Part of the problem is that the language is not our own and so, by its very adoption, reinforces the impression that assessment is an intrusion into our classrooms.  Because these confusions are so destructive to the ability of an institution to move forward with assessment, we must either work to make this vocabulary our own or develop a different vocabulary for the same ideas.

Even though discovering what students have learned in order to improve teaching is a natural part of a good teacher’s practice, law schools are having difficulty in knowing exactly what this talk of assessment means. Faculty frequently mistake outcomes assessment for something more complex, unusual, or even sinister. “Assessment” becomes confused with “evaluation” (as in program or teacher evaluation) or “standardized testing,” and, before long, we are thinking of K-12 school district funding decisions based a “No Child Left Behind” external control of education.

There is a fundamental difference between assessing student learning for the purposes of program or teacher evaluation and assessing student learning for the purposes of improving that learning.  If we are assessing for accountability, we collect data (e.g., pass rates) about students learning outcomes that we do not necessarily control (e.g. bar exams) so that we can report that data to external constituencies (e.g. accreditors). In contrast, if we are assessing for student learning, we observe evidence (e.g., essays, performances) of student learning outcomes that we have designed ourselves so that we can interpret and use that evidence to improve the learning of our students.  When accountability to those outside the learning process is the driving force behind assessment, the temptation may be to assess only those learning outcomes that we know students have mastered and avoid looking for places where learning could be significantly improved.  We might skew our teaching and curricula away from learning outcomes we truly care about to more closely match the learning outcomes we believe outsiders consider important.  Of course that already does happen to some degree.  The influence of ABA standards of accreditation and bar examinations on curricula is so obvious we may not even recognize the degree to which our faculty control of the program of legal education is directed by these learning outcomes and assessment methods.

It is against this backdrop of fear that some law teachers approach the topic of outcomes assessment.  However, resisting assessment out of a concern that others will rob law faculty of their freedom means giving up one of the most powerful tools to protect that freedom. If a faculty can clearly communicate the learning goals they have for their students, and can demonstrate how their program of legal education leads to more students accomplishing those learning goals at higher levels of mastery, that proof of learning can become powerful tool for demonstrating accountability: to the students, the academy, the bar, and the public. That is not to say that assessment for accountability will not be required or should not be undertaken with seriousness of purpose and honesty in method.  Assessment for improving student learning, however, should be just as important, if not more so, so that we can be accountable to ourselves and our students.

Free Upcoming Webinar: Flipping the Law School Classroom

Join LegalED for a free webinar on
Flipping the Law School Classroom

When:  Friday, Sept 27th from 2-3 pm EST

 What is LegalED?  Founded by law professors, LegalED is a website, legaledweb.com, designed to collect teaching materials for legal education.  The site is host to a growing collection of short videos (each 15 minutes or less) on law and law-related topics (substantive, procedural, practical skills and professional values), as well as classroom exercises and assessment tools.  The videos on substantive law could be assigned to students for viewing outside the classroom, in a flipped or blended learning environment, to supplement in-class teaching or to bring new perspectives into a course.  Here is a recent article about LegalED.

What is flipped or blended learning?  Flipped learning blends online with face-to-face instruction.  It uses the internet for what it does well – information and knowledge delivery.  When relevant information is delivered by online videos, face-to-face classtime can be devoted to learning activities that not only reinforce the knowledge, but also ask students to use their new learning to analyze, evaluate, apply or create material – all of which reinforces learning.

Registration:  To register send an email to: meeting@uif.org with your name and institution (participants will be asked to call into the webinar from a phone (with mute functionality, so as to avoid feedback) and should have access to a computer on which they can follow the presentation).

Register soon: space limited to the first 20 participants.
How the webinar will work:  We are “flipping” the instruction so that we can maximize the take-aways from the webinar through active dialogue and discussion.

In preparation, all participants will prepare (approx. 20 min.) for the session by:

(1) watching two short LegalED videos (each less than 6 minutes) on the topic of flipping the law school classroom  http://legaledweb.com/online-learning/;

(2) watching a short video on persuasive lawyering http://legaledweb.com/practical-lawyering-skills/ ;

(3) reading a blog post on how the persuasive lawyering video was used in a flipped classroom http://legaledweb.com/blog/2013/8/27/flipping-the-law-school-classroom.

The webinar is organized and presented by Professor Michele Pistone, Villanova University School of Law, with support from the Uncommon Individual Foundation, uif.org.

Cross-posted from: http://legaledweb.com/flipped-learning-webinar

New Blog

Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. (ISSN 2329-2504), a digital project that supports teachers and reformers in higher education through encouraging serious engagement with the scholarship on teaching and learning has recently announced its full launch.

You can visit at http://teachingandlearninginhighered.org/

The website features a manifesto, an infographic, a list of recommended readings and a blog.

Submissions to the blog are welcome on an ongoing basis.

Since its soft launch in March, visitors have viewed the site more than 4500 times. Some of the most viewed posts to date (with links shortened through goo.gl) include:

Those interested can sign up on the site to receive updates of new posts by email or follow the blog through:

Please consider visiting, reading, following, commenting, sharing, and/or submitting posts to the blog.

ABA COUNCIL ELIMINATES ANY MEANINGFUL SECURITY OF POSITION FOR FACULTY AND TURNS ITS BACK ON EXPERIENTIAL FACULTY

As reported last week here, the ABA Council on Legal Education met in San Francisco to review proposed revisions to law school accreditation standards.  The ABA reviewed four proposals sent to them by the Standards Review Committee (which I described in an earlier post here) and which were intended to address  faculty competence, academic freedom and governance rights.   The Council sent out for notice and comment two of the four proposals. Some commentators have suggested that one of the adopted proposals includes some security of position and the other does not. However, a closer look suggests that neither proposal affords any meaningful security of position.  see National Law Journal  

The alternative that mentions security of position states that:

(d) A law school shall afford all full-time faculty members a form of security of position sufficient to ensure academic freedom and attraction and retention of a competent full-time faculty (emphasis added).”

At first glance, I optimistically thought “Maybe ensuring a competent full-time faculty would require something beyond at-will employment?” However,  I was reminded by a professional colleague that this proposal is identical to the current provision for legal writing professors, which has been interpreted to permit at-will contracts as long as the teachers are “competent,”  Undeterred in my optimism, I thought “Well ensuring academic freedom certainly needs to ensure some job security especially for folks like clinicians who have been attacked repeatedly for representing the powerless against the moneyed members of our society, right?”  However,  the ABA interprets that same language  in the clinical context to permit one-year renewable contracts,  as long as the institution has a “policy” on academic freedom,

As Amy Poehler would say “Really!1?!  Really!?!”    Is that really the kind of job security that will fill you with confidence in advocating  on behalf of seemingly powerless clinic clients or articulating unpopular but important legal positions?   And what about all this talk from the ABA and the profession about how students need to be better prepared for practice and the profession.   “Really!1?!  Really!?!”  How is that going to happen when you de-value those in the academy who teach through supervised practice ?   CLEA President Kate Kruse got it spot on when she wrote on the clinic listserv,

“Because tenure is now and is likely to remain the norm only for doctrine professors, both of these provisions protect current faculty power relationships and threaten the presence in legal education of teachers specializing in experiential education.’

That is not good news for legal education, law students or future clients.  REALLY.

Are The Walls Coming Down?

Happened upon Eugene Volockh’s blog post on peer feedback today, though he didn’t use that term.  Struck me as  great example both of the way “the walls are coming down”  in legal education and of the distance we have to go.  Volokh,a high profile libertarian 1st Amendment Scholar, is launching a  First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic this fall.

Two possible cracks in the walls suggested by the post, and their limitations, and a crack that wasn’t one:

1. Classroom v. clinic:   Since he began teaching in 1994 at UCLA at the ripe age of 26,  Volokh has taught. courses such as Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Torts.  This appears to be his first foray into clinical teaching.  Not surprisingly, given that he went into law school teaching directly from appellate clerkships, his clinic is focused on a narrow skill long addressed in legal education– appellate brief writing.  And his clinic will operate in a context — amicus briefs — that does not require traditional client contact.  Nonetheless, it’s an example of what I hope is a growing trend, not limited to appellate clinics.  (My hope is fed in part by the example of my colleague Anita Ramasastry. In winter 14 she will co-teach an exciting new international human rights clinic focused on preventing, or remedying, human rights violations by businesses.)

2. . Intellectual v. Interpersonal Skills: Teamwork skills, such as the “ability to cooperate productively,” are a classic example of the interpersonal skills that are too often denigrated as “soft” and therefore neglected in legal education.  Perhaps  significant that Volokh, an intellectual prodigy — B.S. at age 15, former techie — recognizes the value of these skills, though not clear from the post he is aware of work done on teaching teamwork by people like Barbara Glesner Fines and Sophie Sparow..  

Prof. Volokh informs me that the the point below was based on incorrect information — apparently the UCLA and Southwestern efforts developed independently.

3.  Elite v. non-elite law schools: Volokh doesn’t mention it, but the offering will apparently be a collaborative effort involving both Southwestern Law School, though Southwestern refers to it as a practicum,* and UCLA.  That a sturdy wall remains between elite and non-elite schools is, no doubt, evidenced by the the fact that  neither school’s clinic website trumpets the collaboration.

*Terminology — a subject for another day.

Four Proposals on Faculty Forwarded to Council on Legal Education

As readers of this blog remember, the July ABA Standards Review Committee (SRC) meeting was slated to be an important one. SRC actions taken with respect to the curriculum and program of legal education were discussed by Professor Michele Pistone last week here. In this post, I want to alert readers to the SRCs decisions regarding faculty competence, tenure and security of position, governance rights, and compensation and perquisites. I have read Karen Sloan’s National Law Journal article discussing the July meeting here. In addition, I reviewed the very helpful and thorough CLEA and SALT reports on the meeting submitted by Professors Claudia Angelos and Carol Chomsky here.

HOW FINAL ARE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FROM SRC?

The CLEA/SALT report does a good job of explaining the process.

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is the accrediting agency for JD programs in U.S. law schools. The Council’s Accreditation Standards, contained in the“ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools,” are subject to a comprehensive review every five years. The Council has delegated to the Standards Review Committee, an appointed committee comprised of legal educators and others, the task of recommending changes to the standards. After receiving a report and recommendation from the SRC, the Council asks for comment from interested constituencies on the proposed changes and then acts on the SRC’s recommendations…

The SRC’s proposals most notably include final recommendations on student learning outcomes and on faculty tenure, governance, and academic freedom (emphasis added). The Council will receive and discuss these recommendations at its next meeting, in San Francisco on August 9, 2013. After the Council considers and possibly amends these recommendations, they will be sent out for notice and comment by the public.

WHAT DID SRC DO AT THE JULY MEETING?

1.  Proposed eliminating the minimum faculty-student ratio requirement. As Karen Sloan in the National Law Journal points out,

The ABA committee reviewing the organization’s accreditation standards has voted to do away with the rule establishing a minimum student-to-faculty ratio. The panel reasoned that determining the true size of a law school faculty is just too complicated, given the number of adjuncts and non-fulltime teachers.

Law schools would still have to have enough faculty members to carry out their mission and comply with all the other accreditation standards, said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director for accreditation and legal education. But schools no longer would need to annually ensure they have at least one fulltime faculty equivalent for every 30 students.

Read more here.

2. The SRC also sent four proposals (A-D) regarding faculty security, academic freedom and governance up to the Council on Legal Education. The CLEA/SALT report states

All four alternatives contain provisions requiring law schools to adopt and adhere to policies that provide that all full-time faculty have academic freedom and “meaningful participation” in law school governance over mission and curriculum. They all require (in varying language) that schools have a comprehensive system for considering and making decisions regarding promotion, tenure, renewal of contracts or other forms of security of position, and termination. While there are some bedeviling details, the primary differences among the four alternatives relate to tenure and security of position for faculty.

MARY’S ANALYSIS:

The recommendations on Faculty must be read in conjunction with other recommendations in Chapter 4 and in other Chapters and can only be fairly viewed as part of an integrated whole. Moreover, the Council must use common sense and their experience of human behavior in deciding appropriate rules.

For example, Alternative D proposes no security of position (including tenure) for any faculty member. The only requirement is that a school demonstrate it can “attract and retain a competent faculty.” This proposal assumes one can ensure academic freedom (required elsewhere in the rules) without tying it to security of position. Now, in the abstract that may appear like a workable plan. But seriously, outside of academics, pundits and those who are so independently wealthy that security of employment matters little, where has anyone witnessed regularly an employee freely declaring, writing, and advocating on controversial or unpopular subjects and the advocacy having no bearing on one’s ability to keep one’s job, support one’s family and pay one’s bills?

In another example, the SRC proposals under Chapter 3 Program of Legal Education require law schools to focus more intently on student learning outcomes, experience-based opportunities, academic support for students, and preparing students for practice. This push was demanded by consumers, the economy, and the profession, and the proposed revised standards appropriately respond to those demands. However, that kind of teaching requires small class sizes, close supervision and multiple feedback opportunities. Yet,the SRC proposal eliminates minimum faculty-student ratio requirements. In addition, the student-learning focused activities encouraged by the standards will, in the real lives of faculty and students, compete with the ability to spend considerable time working on intense writing projects and pathbreaking scholarship. Thus, one would think that both activities should be, at the very least, equally encouraged and certainly there should be no DISINCENTIVE to focus on teaching rather than primarily focusing on scholarship. Yet, in all but one of the faculty proposals sent to the Council the standards allow for discrimination in security, compensation, and/or governance against many of the very faculty members who will be working most closely on student learning needs and innovative teaching.

If you care about legal education, about preserving academic freedom while updating law school teaching to meet the challenges of a global digitalized economy, be vigilant. As noted above, the Council considers these recommendations at its San Francisco meeting on August 9, 2013 and will soon send them out for public notice and comment.

Maximizing Active Learning

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has some fascinating ideas about getting students invested in the materials they are learning. Most recently, Sophie M. Sparrow at the University of New Hampshire School of Law wrote:

“Engaging students in active learning has long been one of my main teaching practices. As many of us know, educational experts have found that students learn more when they are actively engaged, such as by speaking, writing, or discussing, rather than listening to a lecture or discussion. Having just completed a three-day workshop with educational expert L. Dee Fink on course design, however, I learned that I should redesign my approach if I want maximize what students learn from their active learning assignments. This month’s idea is about how to improve active learning exercises.”

Continue reading here.

The Future of Legal Education: Ted Talks, Kahn Academy and LegalED Web

http://albanylawtech.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/live-blogging-from-the-celt-workshop/

Live Blogging from the CELT Workshop

pistone

On April 17, 2013, Michelle Pistone, Professor of Law and Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) at Villanova University School of Law, spoke to the Albany Law School faculty on the topic of How Emerging Innovations Will Disrupt Legal Education:

Her engaging presentation began with a clip from 1994 of Bryant Gumble and Katie Couric from the Today Show debating the pronunciation of a mysterious keyboard symbol, the”@” symbol. From there and Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A Changin”), she reminisced about buying books and records at neighborhood stores, seeing movies in the theaters, and when TV shows only played once a week, and if you missed them, you had to hope they’d be rerun during the summer.

Yes, this has all changed. Books and newspapers are now digital. TV shows and movies can be watched at anytime and on computers and phones. These changes are result of innovations which have created a new world.

However, this is the only world that our students know!! They were born digital.

As a result, our students are visual, connected, relate to one another through technology, have an abundance of information that is available at any time from any place. They are used to convenience, speed, multi-tasking, immediate feedback and working together on projects, collaborating, sharing, and creating.

So the important question that Prof. Pistone raised was: In light of these changes, have law schools changed enough?

And her answer was: “Law schools have not changed much in the last 100 years.”

K-16 education has been changing. We have the addition of MOOCS (massive open online courses); Khan Academy which offers videos and quizzes that can being used alone or to flip the classroom. TED ED which makes videos for use in high school – students watch videos online for homework and then can come into class ready to do active problem based learning (thus “flipping the classroom”).

Prof. Pistone recommended reading the book Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clay Christensen. In it, he introduces the key concepts of sustaining technologies (those that improve the performance of established products) and disruptive technologies. Although “disruptive technologies” result in worse product performance in the short term, they are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use (Skype being an example.) So we need to adapt to them.

A study conducted by the Department of Education found that blended learning (a combination of online and face-to-face instruction) obtained better results for students and than either face-to-face or completely online learning. This is something to keep in mind.

So what is next for law schools?

Prof. Pistone recommends focusing on:

  • What we teach – in light of our changing, globalizing, interdisciplinary world
  • How we teach — to cover a wide range of competencies and reach different learning styles
  • How we assess what students are learning – supplementing the final summative exam with formative assessment
  • How we signal to others a student’s competencies

legaled

Lastly, Prof. Pistone introduced her new project called LegalED. LegalED is a web-based platform that will host teaching materials for legal education. The materials will include:

  • short videos made for internet viewing
  • problems and exercises
  • assessment tools

This online platform of teaching materials (esp. the short videos) can be used to supplement law school and to “flip” the classroom.

legaled1

Prof. Pistone’s presentation concluded with a lively discussion by faculty on law school competencies that cannot be taught online (such as empathy), mapping competencies to the teaching process, mastery/adaptive learning, bar exam…


Revived CELT Website: Welcome to the Future!

Esteemed Bloggers and Blog Post Readers,

Albany Law School has redesigned the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching ( CELT) Website just in time to present you with videotaped presentations and materials from CELT’s Inaugural conference held last March 30, 2012  . If you are unfamiliar with the CELT website , I would like to introduce you to this clearinghouse of materials on teaching, , curriculum, and proposed revised  BA accreditation standards. If you  already are familiar with the website, I invite you to take some time to  re-acquaint yourself with the new organization and the wealth of information that is available for your perusal. (CELT)

Through this site, I hope you will be able to find learning resources, assessment materials and rubrics , syllabi from lawyering classes, PowerPoint presentations about different teaching techniques and links to other sources and resources.   In addition, you can access materials and presentations from the  CELT  March 2012 Conference, where innovative  thinkers attended and discussed current and proposed models for student-centered reform of legal education. (CELT CONFERENCE) This was in response to the changes students face in the profession and the new economy.  As a third year law student, I found this conference not only enlightening but reassuring. The materials that were provided to the attendees laid out ideas and suggestions to improve student  learning  and encouraged professors to take a more active role in design of the classroom experience and sequencing of the law school curriculum. .

As Special Assistant to CELT, I have attempted to organize materials on this website to make it simpler and more convenient for users to navigate.   I truly welcome your feedback. If there is something that you are looking for and cannot find, I ask that you let me know  and would be happy to direct you to the correct location of the information or figure out if there is additional material to be added to the cite.  In addition, if you have any questions about accessing the conference videotapes or materials, just send me an e-mail.

Finally, if you are interested in becoming a BLOG author or contributing a blog post to the Best Practices blog (which is housed within CELT), please let Professor Mary Lynch or myself know and we would be happy to assist!

Thank you for your readership and your loyalty!

-Stephanie Giancristofaro-Partyka

Assessment Tales: The Bluebooks That Stayed

It’s that time of year when we all have the grading of our last semester’s bluebooks well behind us and the last few students have come in to review their exams. So we have packed up the bluebooks to be archived and they are out of sight and out of mind.

But wait! In the world of assessment, the bluebooks come back! These papers and exams have a wealth of assessment information for us to mine if we only take the time to gather, reflect and use that information.

How can you use your bluebooks for efficient assessment and improvement of student learning?

Many faculty gather holistic impressions as they grade about the performance of the students overall and the areas of difficulty and strength. To improve on this reflective process, faculty can take a few more simple steps:

1. Improve your data collection.

Rather than gathering general impressions as we grade bluebooks, we can mine the bluebooks for some more concrete data. Examine the distribution of performance on individual questions or issues. Note that you need not gather every data point possible from the bluebooks. Often it is helpful to begin with two or three items to analyze. For example, what is the one thing that nearly every student did well on the exam? What were the one or two questions/issues/approaches that many students had problems on? What percentage of the students had these problems?

2. Analyze your data.

For issues students appear to have learned well, look again at your questions. How confident are you that the question truly tested the student understanding? In this respect, essay questions are often easier to evaluate than multiple choice questions, because you can see the students reasoning on the former, whereas consistently correct answers on the latter can be the result of distractors that are patently wrong. What materials and techniques did you use to prepare the students for that question? When during the semester did you teach those matters? If the student performance is improved from prior exam administrations, what, if anything, did you change that may have caused this improved learning?

For issues or questions on which a significant percentage of student performance was deficient, again, begin by reexamining the question, its placement in the examination and the time allocated for responses, to identify other possible reasons for poor performance that are less related to student learning and more related to exam conditions. Look for patterns in the student errors or misconceptions that can help you diagnose what learning conditions led to the student poor performance. What materials and methods did you use to teach this doctrine?

3. Plan for the next class

When students are performing well on a doctrine or concept, especially when that competent performance appears to have been the result of your prior efforts to target and improve learning activities for that material, you may be tempted to rest on your (and your students’) laurels. However, consider that any change to one part of a course can affect other parts and each class brings with it different experiences and preparation.

To improve student learning on areas that have presented difficulties for students, consider not only improving teaching materials or methods related to that area, but also incorporate more formative assessments during the term to help you and the students identify earlier and more clearly the learning deficiencies.

4. What my bluebooks told me this semester:

To illustrate this process of mining bluebooks for assessment, I will discuss this semester’s Professional Responsibility exam. From this semester’s bluebooks, I gathered a range of data on materials well understood and poorly understood. I will share three examples of data to illustrate the process of using bluebooks for an assessment process.

The doctrinal winner this year in terms of student performance was multijurisdictional practice of law. Is this because the students understood these aspects of the course better than others? Reviewing the exam, I noticed that the question testing this subject called for a fairly low level of mastery (basic issue spotting and knowledge of rule) without any sophisticated analysis required. This was a topic for which I had provided a number of practice problems to the students and I had tested the issue in a similar fashion on a prior year’s exam, which I had made available for student review. Moreover, it is a subject that, because my law school is located on a state line, with dramatically different variations on this rule, the students understood that this was a rule that would impact their immediate future, as they chose which state bar exam to take first. What I learned from this is the fairly unremarkable understanding that my law students can and will master at a knowledge-level those topics for which they know they will be tested and for which they also have a more personal motivation to learn well. I concluded that I would and could generalize these understandings to not only raise the bar on testing this doctrine, requiring a more sophisticated understanding, but also would look for other areas in which I could improve student motivation by identifying the specific need-to-know circumstances looming in their immediate future for other rules.

A second topic about which I have been tracking student learning performance for many semesters is the student understanding of the distinction between the evidentiary attorney-client privilege and the ethical duty of confidentiality (among other doctrine). When I first began tracking, as many as 30% of students were demonstrating fundamental confusion on this topic – using language of “privilege” when the subject was confidentiality (or vice versa) or confusing the exceptions to the ethical duty with the crime-fraud exception to privilege. I knew from speaking with other Professional Responsibility teachers that this is a common area of confusion for students. Over the course of several semesters, I worked to improve student learning in this area: including more problems in course materials, writing and assigning a CALI lesson on the subject, and explicitly telling the students that this is something that I am tracking and cheering them on to “make this the 100% mastery year.” The efforts are bearing fruit. This semester was the best yet – only four out of 72 students used the vocabulary of the two doctrines improperly and three of these applied the correct rule even though they were not using the correct terminology in doing so.

An area on which I had thought I was making progress in student learning turned out to be a continuing problem. Students commonly are confused by the rule governing an attorney’s right to withdraw from representation. I have made the same efforts on this doctrine as I have with the privilege v. confidentiality confusions: increasing problems, providing additional outside resources (again, I wrote a CALI lesson on the subject); and providing in-class quizzes to assess understandings while there was still time to improve learning. However, I was puzzled to see 13 of the students declare that an attorney may not withdraw from representation if it would harm the client. What could have been the source of this confusion? Searching through my course materials and lesson plans, I uncovered the problem. A powerpoint lecture on withdrawal from representation when the client fails to pay the attorney contained a page with a bulletpoint list of reasons that courts might deny an attorney permission to withdraw even though the rules would permit the withdrawal. One of the bullet points listed “degree of harm to the client” as a factor the court would consider. Obviously some students had transferred the powerpoint slide into their notes on the general withdrawal rule rather than recognize that these factors were connected only to the judicial discretion to deny an otherwise permissible withdrawal. Again, a well-worn lesson learned anew: as helpful as powerpoint slides can be for organizing discussions and providing visual cues for learning, students will study text of these slides as definitive statements of law rather thumbnails of larger discussions and understandings. Conclusion: no shortcut summary slides!

Harvard Law’s Curricular Reform: 3 Years In

This was recently posted on PrawfsBlog by Glen Cohen.

Several years ago, under the stewardship of then-dean Kagan and then-professor-now-dean Minow, Harvard Law School made a significant change to its first year curriculum. Different portions were phased in at different times, but this will be the third full year of it all being in place, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the reforms. Unlike the Langdellian Socratic method that was also started at Harvard, I have seen less copying of our reforms. That may be that others do not think it a good idea, but I suspect it is more to do with the fact that this was a resource intensive change (adding an additional 21 professors needed to teach 1Ls) that was implemented at a moment where most schools are facing economic woes.

Here is the reform in a nutshell:

The typical Harvard 1st year courses (Civ Pro, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Law) were all dropped from 5 credit hours a week to 4 credit hours.  An additional 4-credit class entitled “Legislation and Regulation,” which largely combines a course in legislation/statutory interpretation with parts of administrative law was added.  In addition, a 4-credit international/comparative law elective was required and added to the first year curriculum. Students choose from a menu of seven classes for 1Ls with foci such as private international, public international law, international humanitarian law, an comparative law (China, for example).  Last, and most recently, we moved our finals into the fall and now give the 1Ls a winter (or J-) term class called “Problem Solving Workshop,” which is taught intensively over 13 week days. Each day the students are given a problem, and in small groups have a day or two to solve it and submit work product as a group. While some of the problems are focused on litigation, others are things like dealing with public relations and media, negotiating, and other skills. The next day the students re-assemble, debrief and consider how different groups dealt with the problem, and start a new problem. The course is pass/fail. Once in the middle of the class and once at the end the students meet with practicing lawyers to test their proposed solutions against the practical realities as the lawyers see it.

Students also take a regular elective in the spring.

Here is my internal sense of how these have been received, but one reason why I want to post about it is to get feedback from those of you in the world out there who have seen our students under the new curriculum and their performance.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.

 

If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.

 

Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!

 

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor

 

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