The January 2008 United Kingdom Conference on Legal Education

Here are a few observations after participating in the second annual UK Conference on Legal Education on January 3rd and 4th of 2008:

1.  In Sync….  The legal education instructors in the UK share our issues and concerns regarding the future of legal education. In a plenary presentation by a well-known Australian professor, the Best Practices and Carnegie Foundation reports were mentioned as part of world-wide efforts to “modernize” legal education. 

2.  Feedback and Delivery.  The British schools use a large number of tutorials to deliver education to their students, including those placed on video as i-tutorials.  One looming issue was how to provide individualized feedback, particularly in pass/fail environments.  This was similar to assessment issues in the United States — we often look at assessment as comprising a single summative final exam, without effective formative feedback.

3.  Learning Environments.  A related issue involved learning environments for the 21st Century law student.  In Britain,  the use of tutorials has “decentralized” the learning environment.  From lap-tops in the classrooms to the use of technology advances, the United States is struggling with similar pressures to adapt the delivery of legal education.  My colleague, Catherine Dunham, co-presented on the use of different learning environments for the 21st Century law student and reflected similar concerns raised by British instructors.  (One presentation by a British instructor involved a critique of an elaborate i-tutorial program.) Given studies and plentiful anecdotal evidence showing that our current law students learn from a variety of multi-media sources, we should meet the students at those sources through pod casts and other such environments, rather than stick to a 20th Century notion of classroom space as the sole learning environment (excepting clinical course offerings).    

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5 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more re feedback. It’s critical. John Mayer of CALI, on Caliopolis, put it really well: ‘The single biggest thing that students crave is more feedback. Imagine if you took a job where you were paid at the end of 15 weeks based on your performance -better performance= more pay, but you weren’t told how well you were doing until the end of the 15 weeks. That’s law school’ — see http://caliopolis.classcaster.org/blog/legal_education/2007/10/02/chemerinsky. And of course Dewey was there before us, as usual: ‘Experience is the result, the sign and the reward of that interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participation and communication’ (Later Works, vol 10, p.28). Transformation is rather more difficult when talking to yourself, or a textbook…

    But feedback is expensive. How can we do it well without doubling the number of faculty? The answer has partly to do with imaginative (re-)deployment of resources. For instance, re-thinking the lecture — i-tutorials are one example of this. Video lecture + ‘surgery’ is another, where lecturers (in this context precisely the wrong word) turn up to a large room and students come to ask questions of staff (the opposite of the case-dialogue method context…?) and have a conversation about issues raised by students, on their viewing of the video lectures.

    And it also has partly to do with imaginative rethinking of educational encounters. In the US the rhetorical /compositional fieldwork done by Dorothy Deegan, Leah Christensen and James Stratman, amongst many other fascinating outcomes, has shown just how important role and stance is to student understanding of cases & legal argumentation (I think that the recent work of Elizabeth Mertz takes this forward, too). In other words, students learn legal rhetoric better, faster, by being in-role, rather than being told to be a student and prepare for class. This is the sort of research we ought to be operationalising in our classrooms – a point that Best Practices makes, too.

    By the way Steven I was at the session you and Catherine gave at LILAC — enjoyed it a lot.

  2. I am fascinated by this blog discussion which is traveling back and forth across the BIG POND. I’d love to hear some examples of successful “in role” learning environments/exercises which work in non-clinical, larger classroom settings.

  3. Technology has helped two professors at Albany Law School offer immediate feedback to students and encourage class participation and active learning:

    1. For the past several years Professor Norman T. Deutsch has been experimenting with use of laptop computers as an integral part of classroom teaching in his Contracts and Constitutional law classes. The IT department at the law school set up a system whereby students with laptop computers can respond to Professor Deutsch’s questions and lecture during class. Two web pages have been posted, one for the professor and one for the students. Students fill out a form and submit their responses. The responses, along with the students’ names, appear on page that only the professor can view. He can then select one or more of these responses to be projected (anonymously) on a large screen for discussion and critique. This system permits more students to actively participate, gives the professor the opportunity to provide feedback to more students, and requires students to respond in writing. Professor Deutsch is able to acknowledge good answers, and pursue, through questioning, responses that demonstrate a misunderstanding of the assigned material or a lack of analytical skill. This often results in a number of different points being discussed at once, but it does increase the number of students actively involved in the class and hopefully, as a result, help students reach the professor’s course goals of thinking analytically about the legal materials they have read and expressing these analyses and conclusions in coherent sentences and paragraphs. In fact, one student responded on survey: “The online form system has been a good way to answer questions in an efficient manner. This, coupled with the projector, has been a great learning tool, not only for answering questions, but also for working out good, “exam-style” answers.”

    2. Daniel Morarity, a veteran professor of 35 years recently experimented with the use of “clickers” as part of teaching his 1L Criminal law class . Several of the other professors who used the eInstruction’s CPS system (or “clickers”) also use PowerPoint on a regular basis as part of their teaching and are fairly comfortable with technology. This was not the case with Professor Moriarty. He is extremely adept at uploading documents to his TWEN (The Westlaw Education Network) web site for his students; but in the classroom, his technology use was minimal. So he decided to abandon the idea of using eInstruction’s CPS with PowerPoint (which had worked for the other professors) and instead Professor Moriarty uploaded multiple choice or True/False questions for each class to his TWEN site and assigned them to students for homework. This proved to be a less threatening way for Professor Moriarty to integrate a “new” technology into his classroom. As planned, Professor Moriarty began most of his classes by having the students use the “clickers” to record their responses to the questions (on the TWEN site) that they had answered for homework. Professor Moriarty used the CPS system in the verbal mode which simply meant that the students would use their response pad to key in their answer to each question. The professor would then project on the screen a graphical representation of the class’ responses and indicate the correct answer. A discussion always ensued following each question/answer. To make sure that the students took the CPS experience seriously, Professor Moriarty announced to the Criminal Law class that the number of correct answers that each student recorded would be totaled and at the end of the semester, this score would count for up to 10 points of each student’s grade. In CPSOnline, students were able to log in and check their progress after each class. The CPS system actually encouraged more class discussion, prodding even shy students to get involved as responses were debated. They cited their texts as sources for their answers. On a post course survey, one student remarked:” Since we started using them I really feel as though I’m learning a lot more.”

  4. Paul — Thanks for your comments. One of my favorite things about the UK conference was the opportunity to have an international dialogue face-to-face. I hope the collaboration can continue. It is through pooled ideas that we can make headway on the costs of feedback and collectively arrive at a better way to deliver legal education. The more professors who are invested in improvement, the more likely we will obtain it on an institutional level.

  5. Over the last few years I have found the U.K. Center for Legal Education to be a valuable resource. Was this conference connected to that center? I have particularly enjoyed expanding my ideas of portfolio assessment based on the literature on that site. While I have attempted to encourage students to keep samples of their work and identified types of work that they would want to have samples of by the end of their clinical experience, I have not yet successfully made it an integral part of the workings of the disability law project that I teach. I would love to hear what others are doing and what people encourage students to include in a portfolio.

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