August 5, 2005
This week I am in Milwaukee at the AHEAD (Association of Higher Education and Disability) annual summer conference.
Watch for posts in the coming days about issues we all face ... helping students with visible and invisible disabilities cope with the rigors of the law school curriculum. The conference includes presentations by attorney disability specialists from the Office of Civil Rights and private firms, as well as a plethora of presentations and workshops hosted by Disability Support Specialists (example: Dr. Jane Thierfeld Brown from University of Connecticut School of Law) bringing us up to date on the latest law, technology and trends in providing academic support for this segment of our diverse students.
In the coming posts, I will acquaint you with some of the lessons I have learned, and provide direction about where to turn when you run into a difficulty in handling situations in this area. (djt)
A Hip Way to Hit the Road
Even though I live in country in Vermont, where cell phone reception is so random that my monthly phone bill can often feel more like a donation rather than compensation for service, I still have a thing for gadgets and advances in technology.
Yet, I'm not into gadgets just for the sake of the gadget. My interest is always with an eye toward how to use the latest technology to help me to do my job faster, more efficiently and more in sync with my personal learning style.
And, hey, it is cool that I can have my calendar, phone book, family pictures and any documents that I am writing in a tiny gadget that fits in my pocket. (A cumbersome paper calendar? Haven't kept one since 2001).
My latest purchase? An IPod. Yes, my husband rolled his eyes when I purchased the pink leather cover and the hip arm band to use the IPod while exercising, but there's more than just the neat accessories that attracts me to the IPod. I'm becoming aware of the tremendous opportunity to use the technology to help law students to learn better and to help me to work smarter.
For example, it can function as an external hard drive, with incredible memory capability. For the ADHD student who needs music in order to focus, the player is pocket size and can hold an audio library. It can slip into a pocket and be brought anywhere. (My IPod has 476 songs and an audio book that I purchased and downloaded and still has 1.4 gigabytes free of the 4.0 GB capacity).
The capacity to use the IPod to become a more efficient attorney is available. For instance, one can record onto the IPOD with additional accessories. Interested in reading more, you might want to read this article about the use of an IPod in law practice. (els)
August 3, 2005
Reviewing Exam Answers
Recently, after reading advice about reviewing exams with professors, a student complained:
Having reviewed my exam answers each semester, I must tell you that I learned absolutely nothing from the tests themselves or from inquiries to professors (to be fair I have only visited about 4 professors regarding my exam grades). The exams that I have reviewed (all of them) had no or few comments. When I visited professors to ask what my strengths and weaknesses were (and that is exactly how I have presented my inquiry), the response from each went something like this... "Well, it isn't that you did anything wrong. In law school, grading is subjective and you are competing against other smart students ... it's just that some of your classmates did a little bit better" ... leaving me with a greater sense of ambiguity about my strengths and weaknesses than when I went in. In one instance where the professor gave me that response, my grade was a D+! ... and she provided no indication what efforts can be made that might lead to better results.
I'm sure you have heard similar stories ... or you will.
Let me share (an edited version of) my response.
I think your professors could have been more helpful, had you approached your conferences differently. When you put a stack of pages in front of a professor and ask what your weaknesses are, you are asking too vague a question to get an answer ... particularly if you wrote a pretty poor answer. Also, "your weaknesses" probably don't appear in your answer. The answer you wrote is a result of a misunderstanding of [or incapability to produce] what is required of you on an exam, rather than a display of your weaknesses. One of the services the Academic Support Program performs for students is this: helping them discover the "weaknesses" in their approach to preparing for exams (which begins the first day of the semester, of course).
Professors can best help when students walk in with very specific questions about particular parts of the examination answer. Examples:
"Professor, you wrote in the margin here, 'conclusory.' What does that mean with respect to the sentence, 'Jake was a minor therefore he was immune from liability'?"
"When I wrote, 'The benefit of the bargain goes for plaintiff rather than for the offeree, therefore there is no consideration,' you wrote 'Huh?' in the margin. Why?"
"I mentioned lots of cases in the answer. Professor Smithers taught me we ought to do that. You drew little lines through all my case references. What's up with that? Shouldn't I have mentioned cases?"
"You wrote at the end, 'Answer the Question!' These six pages ARE the answer to the question! What do you mean by 'answer the question'?"
You shouldn't expect the professor to either (a) remember your entire exam answer, or (b) sit there in front of you and read the entire answer slowly, critiquing each phrase as she reads. So asking an open ended (vague) question like, "What are my weaknesses?" is asking for the (nearly) impossible. Also, keep in mind, if you received a "D" on an answer, the entire answer represents a weakness. Here's what I mean:
Think of the fellow who is trying out for the basketball team, who double-dribbles to the wrong basket, walks a few paces, then awkwardly throws the ball way over the backboard. After he is told he didn't make the cut, he runs the video for the coach and asks, "what are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?" I think the coach might simply say, "You ought to go back to basketball camp and re-learn the fundamentals. It's not like there are a couple of flaws we can address and turn you into an NBA player."
On the other hand, if you received a B+ ... the appropriate response from the professor may well be just what you have heard ... "That's a pretty darn good answer; unfortunately for your grade, we have some incredibly bright people in that class who were able to delve deeper into the economic principles underlying the theory, and thus produce incredibly persuasive arguments in support of their positions. Yours was merely 'very good.' I suppose if they weren't in the class, you might well have earned at least an 'A-' ..."
I hope this helps. If you want to discuss this a bit, make an appointment and we'll kick it around.
How would you respond? Send me your responses via e-mail. (djt)
The Latest on the Rankings
Yesterday I posted a study critiquing the methodology behind the U.S. News & World Report rankings. The topic must be in the air.
The New York Times reported on the shady work of stacking up law schools, including tales of some rather creative accounting principles to drive up the per pupil expenses by one Midwestern school.
Thanks to a sharp reader, Laszlo Szabo, for bringing this article to my attention. (els)
August 2, 2005
About Those Tiers
We're not talking about layers of wedding cake, either. It's about the law school rankings compiled annually by U.S. News & World Report.
Ever wonder what factors were considered?
You might want to refer to the study completed by Stephen P. Klein, Ph.D and Laura Hamilton, Ph.D entitled, "The Validity of the U.S. News and World Report Ranking of ABA Law Schools," and dated February 18, 1998.
Commissioned by the Association of American Law Schools, the report describes and critiques the factors considered by U.S. News, including speculation that the difference in median LSAT scores are inflated and that the rejection rate of applicants could be manipulated. An interesting read. (els)
August 1, 2005
Multiple Intelligences & Legal Education
Kirsten A. Dauphinais, Director of Legal Writing and Assistant Professor of Law, University of North Dakota School of Law, has produced a detailed and insightful article (11 WLLREALJ 1) about legal education in light of Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Writing in the most recent issue (Winter, 2005) of Washington and Lee's Race and Ethnic Ancestry Law Journal, Professor Dauphinais explains the Multiple Intelligences theory and endorses the proposition that taking a new, more expansive approach to recognizing and evaluating student capabilities could help legal educators provide a better education for aspiring lawyers.
Professor Dauphinais posits, "...just as we tend to admit law students who were just like we were, so too do we evaluate them in the way we were evaluated. ... Perhaps we should not hold ourselves out as the exclusive paradigm for 'how to think like a lawyer.' Law professors are but a narrow, and one might argue, not very representative, segment of the overall lawyering population."
Consider this bold assertion: "There should be movement away from legal education as a spectator sport, where students are relegated to the role of onlooker, while the instructor performs before the class. Under such a model, the more students are actively engaged in the learning process, the better they retain the knowledge."
Just a thought: after reading this article, consider passing it along to your teaching colleagues. (djt)
July 31, 2005
An Online Legal Writing Resource
Introduction to Basic Legal Citation by Professor Peter W. Martin.
This work first appeared in 1993, and was most recently revised on July 11, 2003.
This downloadable student resource includes the whys (pronounced "wh-eyes") and hows of citation, is loaded with explanations and examples, and is "accessible" to beginning students.
For example, one of the first questions many new students ask ("What degree of mastery of this language should one strive for – as a student, legal assistant, or lawyer?") is answered directly and clearly.
Consider the source: Peter W. Martin is the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law at Cornell Law School where he has been a member of the faculty since 1971 and was dean from 1980 to 1988. Professor Martin is a past president of the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction and past chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section of Law and Computers.
Would your first-year students benefit from this resource? (djt)