Curriculum Reform: Best Processes?

In reviewing proposals submitted for the University of Washington’s conference Legal Education at the Crossroads: Ideas to Implementation Conference to be held in Seattle on Sept. 5-7, one theme that has surfaced is “process”:How do we get it to happen?

  • What processes will be most helpful?

We expect to have both showcase and workshop sessions relating to process at the conference, and on Sunday morning an entire plenary on process followed by small group discussions. I know I’ll be there, eager to learn.  Hope you’ll all join me.

This year I chaired our Curriculum Committee as we were asked to review our 2L/3L curriculum in light of the Carnegie Report. I wish I could report that we waved a magic wand and will be implementing a major transformation for next year. But I can’t.

We did, however, take some preliminary steps that I hope will lay the foundation for larger changes down the road. I share them here, not because they have “worked”, but in the hopes of prompting conversation about how we can best go about this challenging work.

Our three “accomplishments”:

  • Gathering information
  • Initiating conversations
  • Beginning to making more usably visible what we already have

Doesn’t seem like much. But I go back to all the cliches about little acorns and mighty oak trees. Who knows? Maybe five years from now, we’ll see these small steps as foundational.

More on what each step involved in later posts.

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3 Responses

  1. We submitted one of the proposals that focused on process. Informally, we have started to gather some information on the processes various schools have used to move towards reform. If anyone would like to contribute information about their experiences, I’d be ever so grateful.

  2. Our “process” at Albany is probably the WILDFLOWER approach. Setting many seeds in many different places and watching them grow. Most importantly, we are trying to create a culture of consciousness about Best Practices through faculty meetings, the Curriculum Committee, the Hiring committee and through the Dean’s annual review of faculty. Although this approach is not as systemic as Carnegie and Best Practices might advocate, it has resulted in effective beginnings.
    First, some of us have been very mindful about using the terms Best Practices in faculty meetings for years laying the foundation for future reform. The Dean has also spoken about the movements in legal education which are Carnegie & Best Practices. We try to support the Dean in matching Best Practices with his other institutional priorities.

    Second, we linked these efforts to the pride our school has in teaching and to work done by Albany Law in recent years to enhance teaching tools and bring in diverse perspectives.

    Third, our Academic Dean has been an important ally and crafted a useful memo about reducing our overloaded first year curriculum and some heavily and unnecessarily credited courses based on Best Practices and Carnegie. At the end of the year, the faculty voted to approve these changes at a meeting in which I had this BLOG pulled up on my laptop for reference and support of the discussion concenring how students REALLY LEARN. This change to our first hyear allows for a freeing up of faculty and students to engage in more creative endeavors.

    Fourth, we are bringing adjuncts in to the school in a mindlful manner as part of a newly created week long integrated course (more on that later).

    Fifth, as part of the Dean’s revision of his annual review form, we suggested Best Practice criteria.

    Fifth, we included potential for teaching in accordance with Best Practices as part of our hiring criteria.

    Hopefully, we are saturating the culture with Best Practices “THINK” so that it will seep into all decisions. We’ll let you know how its working!

  3. Mary, your “wildflowers'”comment brings to mind “wildfire” in something Mike Schwartz said during our planning committee discussions for the UW Crossroads Conference:

    Research suggests that the curriculum reforms most likely to stick are the great ideas that spread like wildfire through the faculty.

    I’ve been trying to make visible what we’re already doing and initiating conversations in the hopes of seeing some of that wildfire magic!

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