Forbes article focusing on law schools, competencies and skills development

Earlier this week, Forbes contributor Mark A. Cohen discussed what he calls “the interdependency — and misalignment —   of law school stakeholders.”  Cohen refers to a comment in a recent speech by Mark Smolik, the general counsel of DHL Supply Chain Americas, that  “he would no longer subsidize on-the-job-training of law firm associates.”  According to Cohen, Smolick’s remarks are an

indictment of the Academy for its failure to produce practice-ready graduates with required skillsets and a swipe at law firms for their failure to more fully invest in associate training to drive client value.

Cohen is urging today’s law students to look to the marketplace for “efficient, accessible, cost-effective, and just-in-time learning tools available to fill knowledge gaps and to teach new skills.” He boasts about one product that produces “high quality videos” and uses “flipped classrooms.”

I don’t disagree that law schools need to transform faster, provide more skill building,  emphasize the business context in which lawyers are hired to help, and prepare law students for the team realities of today and tomorrow’s economy.  And I appreciate Cohen’s raising this issue and inviting discussion. But his claim that only a “handful” of law schools are savvy on these issues – or as he put it have “yet to read the memo” – made my Irish blood boil. Maybe it is because it is the end of the week and I’m just tired? Maybe it is because I  just recently (September 13th) hosted yet another Flipping (every pun intended) workshop at our school showcasing all the great work being done by my colleagues in flipping their classroom? Maybe it is because if Cohen googled law schools and flipping classrooms,  he would have found Michele Pistone’s fabulous LegalED information? Maybe it is because he could have found this blogsite pretty high up on that google search and clicked on a number of posts such as here and here  and here and here and here  and here ?  Maybe it is because  nobody is noticing the work of folks like my faculty colleague Antony Haynes on innovative online opportunities?

I invite you to read the article, see what you think and tell us on this blog about what Cohen missed happening at your school!

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Blended Learning for Law Schools

I just returned from an inspiring and thought provoking three days at the Wolters Kluwer-sponsored Leading Edge workshop. The gathering of about 35 thought leaders from legal education – a wonderfully diverse group – was structured as an un-conference, so the participants designed the agenda upon our arrival and all the discussions revolved around topics that the invitees chose and facilitated. The topics ranged from assessment to increasing diversity in the academy, to teaching about leadership and cyberlaw, to disruption of law schools (yes, that was the session I lead).

Among the many recurring themes at the conference was online learning, particularly blended or hybrid learning, also referred to as flipping the classroom. Over the last few years, researchers have increasingly confirmed that students learn best in courses that combine online with face-to-face learning. Here, the Mayo Clinic describes the utility of blended learning in the health sciences field. Similarly, the US Department of Education found many benefits of flipping the classroom in its meta-analysis of online learning. These and other studies talk about the many advantages that derive from blending online and in-class instruction.

In the law school context, I made these videos about flipping the law school classroom and blended learning in legal education, in which I talk about how online learning can free up class time for law students to begin to gain exposure to essential lawyering competencies during each course while still covering the doctrinal material that professors hope to assign during a typical semester. Adding blended elements to your courses can be fun and rewarding. Here are some tips for getting started.

Top Five Things to Consider When Flipping a Law School Course

  1. What topics do you want to flip?

Before you begin, identify the topics that you typically cover for which the flipped classroom model would make the most sense in the course.

  1. You don’t have to produce all of the videos.

Don’t be reluctant to assign video content produced by other professors. Like other teaching and scholarly activities, such as writing an effective article, practice guide or even blog post, the production of effective and engaging video content takes time. As a result, I often assign my students to read law review articles and casebooks prepared by other professors. Assigning videos prepared by other professors is analogous. Indeed, by assigning material prepared by others, our time is freed up to spend on more active teaching activities. Visit legaledweb.com for a collection of videos prepared by leading law faculty.

  1. Begin with planning what will be “flipped in” rather than what will be flipped out.

Plan what you want to do with the additional face-to-face time with students that blended learning will afford. This is the point of having a flipped classroom. For example, consider adding new activities into the classroom (such as interviewing, negotiation or drafting exercises) that hone practical lawyering skills and competencies.

  1. Produce chunked, short video content.

Research shows that effective videos do not exceed 5-8 minutes in length, and some are even shorter. Break up a longer subject matter into a few chunked segments, making sure that each video addresses a discreet legal topic. Remember to make the video engaging and to speak clearly and concisely.

  1. Hold the students responsible for watching the videos.

Start each class with an assumption that the students watched the video. That will create an expectation for the group. Start the class by expanding on the videos lessons and assigning activities/discussions that ask students to use the theories learned from the videos actively through role plays, simulations, small group work or Socratic dialogue.

Best of luck innovating legal education. Let us know, in the comment section below, how it goes for you. What works? What could be improved? What insights can you share with the community?

And if you want to learn more about flipping the classroom and other innovations in teaching pedagogy, visit legaledweb.com

 

Flipping Law School Classes

I flipped my class yesterday.  And I think it worked!

The class was on persuasive lawyering.  Over the summer I made a video about persuasive lawyering.  It talks about persuasion in relation to classic rhetoric, and the elements of logos, pathos and ethos.  The video is available on LegalED.

Here is what I did during the 55-minute class segment that I allocate in my syllabus for introducing the topic:

I assigned the video for students to watch as homework.  It is less than 5 minutes long.  Then, when we got to class, instead of starting the discussion of persuasion with a short lecture on the topic, I started with an exercise.  The students were asked to work with a partner to persuade my co-teacher (I am very fortunate to be co-teaching with Harriet Power from our university’s theater department this semester) and I that we should serve wine and cheese during each class.  The student teams had two minutes to come up with their arguments.  Then, each student team had one minute to stand up and persuade us, with each partner contributing equally to the argument.  Most argued about the health benefits of wine, others about how drinking wine would make the students more relaxed and open, which would facilitate better in class discussions, and others pointed out how the professors could benefit from the wine as well, at the end of a long, busy day.  The theme of culture was raised as well; some arguments tied the wine and cheese to our abilities to learn about different cultures through their food and drink.

My co-teacher and I then facilitated a discussion of the arguments in relation to the theory of persuasion.  We used the students’ arguments as jumping off points – we broke them apart to identify what worked and why, relating everything back to the theory the students had learned from the video and the tactics of persuasion – logos, pathos and ethos.  For example, the argument drew on logos when it referred to the research on the health benefits of drinking red wine.  The part of the argument that was more personal about us as professors and how we could also enjoy the wine, was about pathos, appealing to the audience’s emotions.

I have taught a class on persuasive lawyering about ten times before and this one seemed different; it was better.  Instead of my talking at the students about the foundations of persuasive argument, by flipping the classroom my students could learn the foundational information before coming to class.  That opened up the class for an activity in which the students could actually try it out.

Another added benefit was that we could provide feedback on the students’ presentation skills as well.  We told them whether their tone was appropriate and authoritative.  By getting the students out of their chairs, we could provide feedback to the students on their posture and stance and how body language can enhance or detracted from the persuasiveness of an argument.

I hope to make shorter videos on each of the three elements – ethos, pathos and logos – in which I flesh each out in more detail in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments section below.  I’d be happy to share more about the experience.  I also welcome comments on the video.

Why Formative Assessment is Essential in Legal Education

As the ABA Council meets to consider and debate the proposed revisions to the Accreditation Standards found in section 3, The Program of Legal Education, I want to highlight a Forbes article by Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute.  Horn has been studying disruption in education for the last several years.  

If we take as a given that our goal in educating potential lawyers is for every single one of our graduates to have mastered the material before graduation, then a system that incorporates formative assessment and feedback is essential.  That’s because our current system of feedback and assessment does not ensure that students will be motivated to achieve mastery.  Why?  According to Horn, “the keys events embedded within curricula that could help students feel successful – examinations – occur [at the end of the semester].  Students generally don’t receive feedback on how they did for another couple weeks while the professor grades them.  And when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students.  By design the rest experience failure.”  

But, according to the “Jobs To Be Done” theory that Clayton Christensen and Horn posit, law students hire law schools in part to make them feel successful and make meaningful progress.  How can our system of assessment be so out of line with what students hire us to do?

The article is definitely worth reading and explains why I envision blending online learning with active, problem-based, face-to-face instruction as a means to build motivation and thrive for mastery in learning for all our students.

CALI conference June 13-15 in Chicago

If you’ll be in the Chicago area this week, consider attending the CALI conference.  Info is available here.   This year’s conference is about Driving Innovation and will feature talks by Bill Henderson, Barbara Glesner-Fines, Conrad Johnson and many other innovators in legal education.  The conference will also include a number of session on one of my favorite law school innovations, flipped learning.  Need a primer on flipped learning, watch my video, available on the LegalED site and here.

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