Teaching Optimism, by Margaret Martin Barry

Chris Rock’s tweet “Are black men an endangered species? No, endangered species are protected by law,” captures at once the failure to apply our laws and when applying them to do so effectively. Scan to the recently released Senate Select Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, yet another example of how we struggle as a culture with the rule of law.

How do law schools inspire students to work within a system that yields such results?

The AALS Deans Steering Committee had this to say: “Law school empowers students to become agents of change because it teaches students about the legal system of the United States, a system that has the seeds of change built into its structure.” The statement goes on to say that “The rule of law is the foundation of our society, our political system, and our economic system” and “The primary role of law professors is to teach the next generation of lawyers to think critically about problems, to understand the structure and power of law in our society, and to be thoughtful and engaged with respect to solutions.”[1]

Indeed, critical thinking about legal and other strategies that touch on social wrongs has been discussed in law school classrooms and clinic supervision for decades. However, our legacy is the workarounds and neutralizing of civil rights, workers rights, environmental, and other laws intended to help us solve social ills; the seeds of change have not borne the results expected. Students who are attracted to law school because they see law as a tool for solving problems, soon sense a system that is mightily frayed. As these students navigate the texts and training offered, they struggle with how within our venerated legal system to achieve change that will connect the law to the values they consider essential for a viable society.

Vermont Law School’s curriculum committee just approved a new course called Legal Activism: Lawyering for Social Change designed to expose students to theoretical and practical approaches to legal activism. The course will use Alan K. Chen and Scott Cummings, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (Aspen Elective 2012) as its text, taking advantage of the book’s focus on activist lawyers and legal strategies in our history. The impetus for the course was largely the disconnect between the careful web of procedure, precedent and statutes that perpetuate unsustainable results and the desire so many of our students have expressed to find paths that reflect the values they hold.

As law schools consider how to prepare students for the “new normal” (a painful phrase), we must recognize that among them are those who question the very premises of normalcy. Our challenge is to work with these students to foster a sense that they can achieve meaningful results, and that it is not too late to try. Their pursuit of change may test the structure of law in our society and its relevance to the increasingly urgent problems we face. While they may not discover more sustainable results than those achieved by activist lawyers in the past, we will do well to help them envision the possibilities.

[1] See “Statement on the Value of Legal Education,” http://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Statement-on-the-Value-of-a-Legal-Education.pdf

Free Webinar on Friday — Flipping The Law Classroom: Infusing Active Learning Through Technology

As the semester comes to a close it is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on your teaching strategies and what worked and what did not. If you have thought about introducing blended learning with in-class instruction this upcoming spring consider joining LegalED for our upcoming webinar Flipping of the Law Classroom: Infusing Active Learning through Technology on Friday, December 12th at 2:00-2:45 pm EST.

Fill out this form if you wish to participate as we have limited open slots.

Jeremiah Ho of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Law will be leading this webinar and we are thrilled and honored to work with him!  Jeremiah shined in our Igniting Law Teaching Conference this past April. You can see his presentation, “Not Your Father’s Case Method: Bringing Skills into Doctrinal Courses” here (If you are interested in presenting at our 2015 Igniting Law Teaching Conference visit our Call for Talks)

Again the webinar Friday, December 12th from 2:00 – 2:45pm EST.  If you are interested in participating, please fill out this form so I can reserve your slot.

We will be using GoToMeeting software and will be sending sign-in information before the webinar.

We hope you can join us for the free webinar!

Making Educational Videos for Legal Education

Educational videos are becoming one of the most popular online learning formats in K-12 and higher education.  The semester break is a great time to start thinking about how to make educational videos for your courses.

Since last year, I have been working with law professors to begin to incorporate educational videos into legal education.   Together with FWD.us, a group of law professors recently launched a series of educational videos on immigration law and additional videos are currently being produced.  The videos were made by several law professors from a host of law schools, including: Lenni Benson (NYLS), Amanda Frost (AU), Lindsay Harris (Georgetown), Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez (Denver), Laila Hlass (BU), Hiroshi Motomura (UCLA), Michael Olivas (U of Houston), Jayesh Rathod (AU), Philip Schrag (Georgetown), Ragini Shah (Suffolk), Juliet Stumpf (Lewis and Clark), Shoba Wadhia (Penn State), Virgil Wiebe (University of St. Thomas), and Michael Wishnie (Yale).

I learned a lot from making these and other educational videos on law and law teaching.  Many of my colleagues have asked for advice on how to get started.  Over the next 3 blog posts I will detail the 3 easy ways to produce educational videos for legal education together with some lessons learned. The three posts will be on (1) Voiceover Powerpoint/Keynote Slideshow, (2) Screencasting (3) Whiteboard Animated Videos.

Voiceover Powerpoint/Keynote Slideshow

Both Powerpoint and Keynote allow you to record yourself talking over each slide in a slideshow.  It is quite easy to record an audio narration over a Powerpoint or Keynote slideshow.  Open the slideshow on your computer and speak about each slide at your normal pace.  As you move through the slideshow, your voice is recorded.  Then, when you are done, save the presentation as a movie, a function available on both Powerpoint and Keynote.  Here are useful articles about recording narrations over slideshows.

If you use Prezi, the program does not have an embedded system for adding audio.  You will have to record your voiceover using a different program, such a Quicktime or Garage Band and then import the audio clip to your Prezi.  Here is a quick Prezi that walks you through that process.

Watch this slideshare for tips on how to make slides pop.  There are also tools such as Haiku Deck that you can use to create your slides before exporting to Powerpoint or Keynote.

Stock Images

Free Images- These two links list several great resources to find free images for your presentations. Make sure to read the terms of use since each site’s terms may vary slightly.

Paid images- iStockphoto is the largest and best solution for paid images. http://www.istockphoto.com

Pricing depends on the size and quality of image you need.  Getty Images, which has a lot of professional photography, recently announced that its photos can be embedded for free in certain material.  http://www.gettyimages.com/embed

Lesson Learned:  To improve the visual quality of your Powerpoint or Keynote slideshow, use as many images as you can and try to reduce the amount of written text on each screen.  Research on learning sciences teaches us that learners have both an auditory and a visual track.  When they see an image, while listening to a presentation, both tracks are fully engaged.  This is best for retention and transfer.  When text is on the screen, learners use their auditory track to read the text.  Therefore, if you speak as they are reading the text, your students have to make a choice of whether to listen to the narration or to read – they can’t do both at the same time.

What type of images do you use? Do you have any experience with keynote or PowerPoint? Please share with us! If you know of any additional resources add them in the comments below.

At LegalED, we are also looking for teams of law professors to curate (think book editor) video content for the site.  If you are interested in curating a collection of videos in your subject area, please let me know!  You can leave a message in the comment section below.

I’ll have more to share on this topic in future posts.  Don’t forget to follow the conversation @LegalEDweb

Helping Students Succeed in Law School by Gerald Hess

On the first day of class in every course I tell students that my job is to help them succeed in law school. I doubt that my students remember this, especially my 1Ls who are hearing all sorts of new things from their teachers and fellow students during the beginning of their legal education. So I remind students several times during the course that my obligations as a teacher include helping students succeed.

The last time I told students about my view of my job, I began reflecting on my statement. To begin, I admitted to myself that much of my job is not tied directly to helping my students succeed. Like many legal academics, my job includes teaching, service, and scholarship. Although I think that some aspects of my service and scholarship benefit students, only the teaching portion of my job has student success as a primary goal.

Then I began to think more deeply about what it means to say that my job is to help students succeed in law school. I recognize that what constitutes “success” varies tremendously among my students. For some, success means that they avoid academic dismissal and eventually graduate from my law school. For others it means that they perform at a very high level and create many options for themselves upon graduation. Some students define success in law school by their intense and varied “hands on” experiences that they hope will prepare them for the practice of law. And other students are driven by the opportunity to use their legal learning to help people in need during and after law school. And so on…

Finally, I started reflecting on what behaviors and attitudes on my part could help students succeed. I will continue to contemplate this, but here are some initial thoughts.

Learning Environment. I can play a significant role is creating a class environment conducive to learning for all students. How? By fostering three-way respect: Teacher to Student, Student to Teacher, and Student to Student. By learning students names and something about their lives. By my expectations – they should be high, yet achievable, for every student, and for myself. By making joy and celebration part of the educational experience.

Practice and Feedback. I ask my students to learn difficult doctrine, theory, skills, and professional values. Practice and feedback are critical for that learning. So I should provide students with multiple opportunities for practice and feedback, both graded and ungraded. Providing feedback to students during the course takes a significant portion of my “teaching” time. It takes place in the classroom with large groups of students and outside of the classroom with small groups and individuals. Perhaps the most valuable use of my time during my 1L course is meeting with students to provide feedback on the graded midterm exam. It provides me with an opportunity to reinforce each student’s strengths and troubleshoot their weaknesses.

Good Faith Assumption. I try to operate as a teacher with the assumption that there is a good faith explanation for my students’ behavior. Whenever I fail to do so, my students remind me of the importance of the good faith assumption. I have many examples of my falling off of the good faith assumption wagon. Here is one from this semester. A student identified herself to me on the first day of class as “very high maintenance” (her words) requiring lots of reassurance from her teachers. Several weeks later we had a poor interaction when she interrupted my conversation with another student to ask a question. A couple weeks after that, I noticed that she appeared very unhappy and distracted in class – never smiling, rarely even looking at me. I began to obsess about her poor attitude in my class. She hated me – it was obvious. Finally I asked her after class whether she was OK because I had noticed that she seemed unhappy and distracted in class. She told me that her parents had decided to separate and her high school aged siblings were taking the news very hard. She was doing her best to help her parents and siblings get through a very tough time. Her “presence” both in and out of class have continued to improve since our conversation. Or perhaps her “presence” was fine all along and it was only my attitude that needed adjustment…

I can’t succeed for them. I can strive to create an effective teaching/learning environment. I can provide opportunities for practice and feedback. I can operate according to the good faith assumption. But only my students can do what it takes to succeed. I can support them, believe in them, challenge them, but I cannot learn doctrine, theory, skills, and values for them. At the end of the day, my obligation to help students succeed in law school is not the key to my students’ success. There is no substitute for the passion, diligence, intelligence, compassion, and judgment that students must find in themselves.

Call for Talks – Igniting Law Teaching 2015

LAW PROFESSORS: Are you doing innovative things in the classroom? I would love to showcase your ideas at Igniting Law Teaching, a TEDx-styled conference on law school innovations.

The Call for Talks for Igniting Law Teaching 2015 is out, http://legaledweb.com/ilt-2015-call-for-talks. We’ll be reviewing proposals on a rolling basis, until January 15th.

The conference is March 19-20, 2015 (stay tuned for registration information) in Washington DC at American University Washington College of Law.

Last year’s conference brought together more than 40 law school academics in a TEDx-styled conference to share ideas on law school innovations. LegalED’s Teaching Pedagogy video collection includes many of the talks from last year’s conference (others are being produced and will be available soon).

The topics we addressed last year are: Flipping A Law School Course, Using the Classroom for Active Learning, Simulations, Feedback and Assessment, The Craft of Law Teaching, Applying Learning Theory to Legal Education, Beyond Traditional Law Subjects, and Teaching for the 21st Century.

We would love to hear more on these topics and also expand the horizons a bit. We designed the conference to create a forum for professors like you who are experimenting with cutting edge technologies and techniques in law teaching with the goal of spreading your ideas to the broader community. We see the conference as a way to showcase you as a leader in teaching innovation and to inspire innovation by others as well.

The Igniting Law Teaching conference is unlike other gatherings of law professors. Here, talks will be styled as TEDx Talks, with each speaker on stage alone, giving a well scripted and performed talk about an aspect of law school pedagogy. In the end, we will create a collection of short videos on law school-related pedagogy that will inspire innovation and experimentation by law professors around the country, and the world, to bring more active learning and practical skills training into the law school curriculum. The videos will be available for viewing by the larger academic community on LegalED, a website developed by a community of law professors interested in using online technologies to facilitate more active, problem-based learning in the classroom, in addition to more assessment and feedback.

This is a great opportunity to showcase your innovations to the legal academy. Consider joining us for Igniting Law Teaching 2015!

Cross-posted on the LegalTech Blog

BP BLOG NOMINATED FOR TOP 100 BLAWGS

Well readers, we have earned a spot in the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100, the 8th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.   If you want to vote for your beloved Best Practices Blog, the e-mail below gives all the details.

“Dear Blawgger,

Congratulations are in order.

Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100, our 8th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.

The full list appears in the December issue of the magazine, which was posted online today.

As we have in the past, we’re inviting our readers to select their favorites from each of the 13 categories represented in our Blawg 100.

Voting begins today and ends at close of business Dec. 19. Winners will be announced in January.

We invite you to:

• Urge your readers to vote for your blog here.

• Add a Blawg 100 badge to your site. You can find them here.

• Announce your selection with a press release. You can find a sample release here.

Subscribe here to a list of fellow Blawg 100 bloggers on Twitter. (If you can’t find your handle on the list, please contact us.)

So thanks for your hard work this year. We appreciate the high quality of news and analysis your blog provides to our legal community”.

I finally understand the appeal of the expression “VOTE EARLY AND VOTE OFTEN!”

- Mary

Increasing Experiential Education is Not a Remedy for the Broken Legal Services System – Thoughts from the U.K.

The lack of available legal representation for low income persons is a persistent problem, and not only in the U.S. Cuts to legal services programs have been deep in England and Wales, where access to civil legal aid has fallen by more than half.

In a recent post, a Solicitor Tutor at Northumbria University, Newcastle, lauds U.K. law schools for increasing clinical opportunities for students, but cautions against using them to attempt to fill the increased need for pro bono legal services. Her message is both important and familiar:

But what we mustn’t do is look upon law schools as a replacement for legal aid, or a sticking plaster for a somewhat bruised legal system.

We cannot forget that this is clinical legal education, designed to give law students the opportunity to hone their practical legal skills, to experience what it is like to sit opposite a real person with a real issue and help them solve a problem. They need to understand how the cases and legislation they learn about in the classroom truly affect individuals and organisations – and to reflect meaningfully on their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Thankfully, we may have moved beyond this corrective conversation in the U.S., where the ABA requires 6 credits of experiential education for all students graduating from accredited law schools, starting very soon. The ABA mandate is intended to improve educational outcomes, not to fill the void for legal services. Experiential courses are explicitly required to integrate and develop legal doctrine, skills, and values through faculty-supervised performances and self-assessments (ABA Standard 303(a)(3)). In contrast, pro bono opportunities “need not be structured to accomplish any of the outcomes required by Standard 302″ (Interpretation 303-3). While there is often a wonderful overlap between clinical courses/field placements and public service, it is nice to see the distinction between them articulated by the ABA.

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