Simulation squared

Over a year ago, Karen Barton, Michael Hughes and I were at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire (now University of New Hampshire Law School), working with Professor John Garvey and others on SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Learning Environment) projects.  SIMPLE enables staff to design and run simulations between students, staff and fictional characters.  It facilitates transactional learning between individual students or groups of students and staff.  In legal simulations, students usually play the role of practicing lawyers, though of course they can adopt any role that’s designed into the simulation.  SIMPLE, though, can be used with any client-based professional transaction – it’s been used by disciplines as varied as Architecture and Management Science.

Karen and I have already worked with UNH Law School on the use of Standardized Clients (SCs — for information see our occasional blog & document repository).  SCs are lay people trained to do two things well — role-play a client in an interview, and assess students’ client-facing skills during the course of the interview. We’re using thisassessment process in the training and assessment of students in interviewing.  These students are participating in the Center’s innovative Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program which offers an alternative to the State’s regular Bar examination, and students are admitted upon successful completion of the Program. SCs are already in use in the capstone program; feedback is very positive indeed (as it was in Scotland), and we’re currently analyzing the statistical results of their performance for publication.

On our last visit to New Hampshire, we were helping John to produce two simulations in SIMPLE – one in personal injury and one in civil litigation.  What’s really exciting about this initiative is that John is aiming to combine face-to-face with online simulation by combining SCs with SIMPLE – a world-first in any profession…  SCs will play key roles in SIMPLE simulations, such as clients or witnesses, and will perform the usual roles that they are trained in, namely standardizing role-play and the assessment of student performance.  What we’re doing is fusing two proven methods of simulation to give students a much more immersive simulation experience, while enhancing the formative feedback given to students and retaining standards in summative assessments.  For further information on the Daniel Webster program and use of Standardized Clients at UNH, see John’s paper over at SSRN. We’re aiming for SIMPLE to be used on the Program in fall of 2011, and we’ll be analyzing and writing up the results.

On a broader view, the SIMPLE and SC projects enhance a program that is attempting to move away from conventional US law school education and Bar Examination.  As we all know there is a substantial literature describing 3L disengagement, alienation, boredom, cynicism.  The Daniel Webster Program implements much of the advice in Carnegie and Roy’s Best Practices in order to engage students in the practice of law as well as a critique of that practice.

But there are deeper implications to this pilot.  If SIMPLE and SCs can be used in capstone projects, why can’t they be used in earlier years?  Carnegie acknowledges the power of the case-based method in first year JD pedagogy; but it could be argued that it is precisely because it is so powerful that it requires the balance of experiential learning right from the start.  It’s even possible to go further, and to put a radical case for experiential learning as an example of Lee Shulman’s ‘shadow structure’ in the curriculum – the forms of teaching and learning that are made invisible or weak by the hegemony of the dominant methods (Carnegie, p.24).  Let’s take the radical step and ask why can’t students learn law as if they are inhabiting forms of cultural, ethical and intellectual practice apprenticeships – which is what they’ll be doing for the rest of their lives, after all?  It’s a move that will help to shift student attention from 1L grades and Law Review Editorial Board membership towards the complex human and ethical realities of legal practice – an approach John Dewey would surely approve.

Karen, John and Paul will be presenting the UNH initiative at the third Future Ed Conference in New York Law School in April.  If you’re interested in learning more about either SCs or SIMPLE, see you there!

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  1. […] Mindie Paget posted about this interesting story. Here is a small section of the postKaren and I have already worked with UNH Law School on the use of Standardized Clients (SCs — for information see our occasional blog & document repository). SCs are lay people trained to do two things well — role-play a client in an interview, and assess students‘ client-facing skills … The Daniel Webster Program implements much of the advice in Carnegie and Roy’s Best Practices in order to engage students in the practice of law as well as a critique of that practice . … […]

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