Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Figuring Out Who Needs Help

One of the most difficult aspects of ASP work is figuring out who is in most need of our help. The reason? As I see it, the primary reason for this problem is that we have competing factors at play that don’t always lead to the same conclusion.

For example, most would agree that we want to get students into our offices as early as possible. Addressing weaknesses in how students approach their studies as early as possible, gives students  more time to implement our ideas and, ultimately, succeed. If earlier is better, then we should all be using LSAT scores and college GPAs to select students who should work with us, right?? Not so fast.

Many of us are unconvinced that LSAT scores and college GPAs are particularly good indicators of success in law school. Of the two, LSAT is likely the better indicator, but using LSAT scores to identify students in need of assistance is a tricky proposition. At best, using LSAT as a prime indicator will produce both overinclusive and underinclusive results. While using LSAT scores will help us “capture” students in need of assistance, not all students with relatively low scores need help. Just as important, some students with relatively high LSAT scores do need assistance. Also, some of us simply do not like the mixed message that the pre-selection of students for ASP assistance sends – your credential are good enough to get into law school, but we really don’t think you can make it without help.

For these reasons, some folks prefer to use law school grades to select students who will receive ASP assistance. The main advantages of using law school grades for this purpose are fairly obvious. We are no longer in the position of having to guess whether someone will struggle in law school. These students are struggling in law school, and therefore do require assistance. Almost as important, these students are more likely to be amenable to receiving help.

Unfortunately, there is an important flaw in using law school grades to determine who needs help. In some schools, student grades are still based on a single final examination, making them essentially useless as a means for getting students into our offices early. In schools where mid-term exams are common, these grades also tend to come out fairly late in the year.  If students receive their mid-term grades in January, February, or even March, it can be very difficult to affect any sort of meaningful change in their study habits prior to final exams.

There is one source of law school grades, however, that is too often overlooked when selecting students for ASP assistance – performance in a legal research and writing class. First, most legal writing professors assess student performance early and often, and these classes are typically taught in relatively small sections. The number of grades and more intimate atmosphere allows legal writing professors to determine relatively quickly whether a student is struggling. From personal experience, I can tell that you that students who struggle in a legal writing class are likely to need assistance with more than their legal writing.

I suggest developing a good working relationship with the folks in your legal writing department. They will know before anyone else that a student needs help. The student will be so thrilled to receive assistance with his/her writing assignments, that s/he will be more amenable to other forms of academic help.


March 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Getting Ready for Another Round of Exams

As your first-year students prepare for another round of exams, you might want to direct them to my UMKC colleague Barbara Glesner Fines's Law School Materials for Success.  Having been through their first set of exams, 1L's can absorb her advice from a more informed perspective than the one they had back in November. (dbw)

March 26, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Confidence Game

Law school can be a place where confidence goes to die.  A student comes into law school believing she can excel and finds herself struggling near the bottom of the class, not entirely certain what went wrong.  The effort was there; the time and energy were there; but the good grades were inexplicably out of reach.  After a couple of semesters, all she knows to do is to tough it out.  So she slogs on towards graduation, reminded every January and June that she is not what thought she was.

Ask her how she's doing, and she may pretend not to care about the disappointments.  Get her to be honest, and she'll just shrug because she is discouraged and has lost faith in herself.    

Even so, like most law students, she will hang in and graduate; and, like most law students, she'll maintain through it all a genuine desire to be a good lawyer, whatever her grades and whatever her rank. 

And here's the great thing: she will indeed be a good lawyer, even an excellent lawyer. But she doesn't know that now.  She knows about GPA's and class ranks and lucrative offers to the top ten percent. 

Eventually, she will learn that preparation wins the day in the real world of practice, not GPA's.  She will find that not all great lawyers were great law students.  It will dawn on her one day that, as a matter of simple mathematics, 90% of the lawyers out there did not graduate in the top 10% of the class. 

Of course, she can't see any of that now.  All she sees is the closed-in world of law school, the immediacy of another set of exams.  That isn't all bad, I suppose; she needs to focus on the task at hand.  But it couldn't hurt if we took a minute to help her see down the road a little, just so she knows that she still has every reason to be confident. (dbw)

March 23, 2007 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New York Area ASP Workshop

Dear All,

Join us on April 19 at Rutgers School of Law-Newark from 10:00 - 3:00 for the NY-ASP workshop. The theme will be "Building Community through ASP." We will spend the day looking at how we handle various circumstances that impact our students and their ability to avail themselves of our resources.

With an eye towards creating a welcoming and supportive environment, we will work cooperatively to generate new possibilities. The day will be split between how we handle individuals and how we build a sense of community. Tentative topics related to individuals include: academic counseling conversations, personal crisis management, family pressures, and career choices. Regarding community building, we will share the various activities we engage in to create an inviting, supportive and empowering environment.

If you are interested in leading a session or if you have an idea you wish to add to the agenda, please e-mail me by April 13. If you are unable to attend but have relevant materials you would like to share, please send by the 13th as well.

I look forward to seeing you in Jersey. We really aren't that far from the city!



Pascale C. Walker, Esq.
Assistant Dean and Director of the Minority Student Program
Rutgers School of Law - Newark
123 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102-3094  (ezs)

March 21, 2007 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


In all the time I've written for this blog, I don't think I've mentioned that my husband is an environmental lawyer.  His main area of work is clean air and climate change.  He works for an environmental non-profit (and for those of you doing the math, that does make us the lowest paid attorney couple in all of Massachusetts) where he spends a lot of time discussing global warming (and no, my nickname is not Tipper). 

Anyway, as a result of being married to "Captain Environment" (which is what I call him when my pleas for a minivan are rejected), we are big recyclers.  We are the people who drain the juice boxes and put them in our recycling bin.  I've tried looking for the recycling symbol on the little straws too, but so far no luck.  Anyway, to do my part in reducing global warming, I am recycling an older blog entry (or as the Car Talk guys put it, "an encore presentation") on exam writing.  Why?  Not because my brain is empty (although my "fill brain" light did go on recently), but rather because I find that I am printing this entry out for students at least twice a day.

So here it is, just in time for spring exams:

Exam Writing is Different:

Exam writing is different from first year legal writing because, while the usual 1L legal writing class teaches writing as a craft, exam writing is a skill. What does this mean?  Legal writing for class is something that students have more time to work on; in addition, almost the entire exercise is about students' organizing their thoughts and choosing their words carefully. Exam writing, on the other hand, is a formulaic way for students to show their professors that they not only understand the material but can also use it.

If legal writing is a painting, exam writing is a photograph.  Exam writing must be done quickly and accurately; and while it must also be done with some creativity and is worth the same 1000 words as a painting, it has to be more stark and realistic. Some of the best 1L legal writers will not do well on their exams because they cannot leave an answer in its raw form. Rather, they need to hone their thoughts and organization until the answer is perfect; and frankly, they do not have the time to do it, so their grades do not reflect their knowledge of the subject or their writing ability.

So how do we prepare students to let the raw answer be and move on to the next question? I do the math with students, trying to make the point that one fabulous answer on a four part exam is still unsatisfactory, while four reasonably complete and cogent (but imperfect) answers will suffice. I teach them the exam mantra:  "the issue is...the rule we have....therefore..., next."    I think I hear students muttering this during exam week, or I'd like to think that's what they are saying as they pass me in the hall....

I also advise taking old exams under exam conditions (timed without notes and books) so students can figure out their ideal ratio of time to organize vs. time to write (usually about 20%/80%). I talk about organizing answers by party (good for torts, not civil procedure) or by transaction (excellent for contracts, but not for torts), etc. I give the old tennis analogy (you still need to follow through after you’ve hit the ball) as a way of reminding students to include counterarguments and defenses. I, personally, had to write the word DEFENSES at the top of every exam in law school lest I forget to include them.

After working in academic support for a while, I have concluded that a student’s performance in the first year legal writing class may not be an indicator of how well that student will perform on exams. Oddly, only about half of the students I see find this comforting. (ezs)

March 20, 2007 in Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 19, 2007


Now that my students are back from Spring Break, they are more aware of how short the rest of the semester is.  Many of them are beginning to plan their exam studying. 

I have discovered that there are some myths out there that have been handed down through generations of law students.  Unfortunately, the myths are bad ways to study for exams.  So, I always go into "mythbuster" mode at this time of the semester.  Here are the myths that I have to confront most frequently:

  1. Slack off in Legal Practice for the rest of the semester to gain more time to study for exams. You may call the course Legal Skills or Legal Research and Writing at your law school.  The logic (or more accurately the illogic) behind this myth is that Legal Practice is not a "real" or "serious" course because it is only worth 3 instead of 4 credits.  I point out the following to my students: a) an "A" or "B" is a 3-credit course still does wonders for your GPA; b) summer employers often look at the LP grade very closely to determine whether or not they should make an offer; c) doing well in research and writing and other legal skills is essential for clerking in the summer if you do not want to look foolish.
  2. Do not do any practice questions until you reach the exam period.  I explain to students that this strategy is a great deal like riding a bull in a rodeo without practicing beforehand.  (This is Texas, so rodeos seem a better example than skiing or some other activities that I use in other regions of the country.)  I explain that the benefits of lots of practice questions over time are: a) increased ability at issue spotting; b) deeper understanding of the nuances of the law; c) increased memory of the black letter law; and d) increased skill at exam writing techniques and strategies.
  3. Spend two weeks focusing on each course during the next six weeks and you will be ready for exams.  Since we forget 80% of what we learn within 2 weeks if we do not review regularly, this seems a real recipe for failure.  (Ideally, I want them to study all semester for exams - but that is a whole other column.)  I talk about the benefits of regularly reviewing each course every week for the remainder of the semester.  I tell them that although they may focus on certain topics for those courses each week, they still want to review the entire outline for each course to keep it fresh.  Besides, many of the students who use this method ignore the six weeks of new material and then are really in trouble.  And, what do you do with this myth if you have four or five exam courses?
  4. Treat all of your exam courses alike in your studying plan for exams.  It is a rare law student who is equally competent or equally lost in all courses.  When I get them to talk about how the courses, exams, and material are different from each other, they begin to see that they need to tailor a study plan for each course separately.  I suggest that they consider: a) will the exam cover the entire semester (some students have mid-terms and that material is deleted from the final); b) how many topics and sub-topics are there for each course that will be included in each exam; c) how thoroughly have they already learned each of those topics and sub-topics; d) which courses do they need more time on to be prepared for exams because they are confused about the material or how to apply the material; e) how many practice questions have they already completed.
  5. You do not have to study as hard for an open-book exam.  Open-book exams are usually a trap.  Students who do not learn the material as they would for a closed-book exam often have to look everything up.  Only a general, surface knowledge of the material is often the result of believing this myth.  And, we all know that you rarely have spare time in an exam to look much up in your materials.
  6. You do not need to study as hard for multiple-choice exams.  The old college saying was that you just need recognition and not recall.  Students underestimate the difficulty of "best answer" multiple-choice exam and the nuances involved.  Again, general, surface knowledge of the material is encouraged by this myth.
  7. Save all of your absences and do not go to class the last week to gain more time to study for exams.  Obviously, they see the error of this advice when I explain that professors often give additional information about the exam and tie together the material in the last week.  In addition, I warn them that some professors weight the last couple of weeks of class heavily in the exam questions.
  8. Stop reading for your courses to gain more time to study for exams and just "pass" if you get called on during class.  I often ask students if the material during the next 6 weeks will be on their exams.  When they respond that it will be, then I ask how they are going to learn the material for those exams if they do not understand what is going on in class since they did not read the cases and other materials. 
  9. Stay up as late as possible during exam period to get in those extra hours of studying.  Wrong!  Being alert and well-rested will provide a far better result in the exam.  For my student skeptics, I tell them my horror story from first-semester 1L year about oversleeping for my Contracts exam.  (I was given the full time to take the exam, but my grade was docked two steps in our grading scale.  That gets their attention!)

After 5 semesters of conscientious "mythbuster" efforts, I am finding that I do not hear these myths as often as I used to when I first arrived to start an ASP program here.  However, the myths still rear their ugly heads at unexpected times.  A mythbuster's work is never done.  (Amy Jarmon)

March 19, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Students Wrecking Students

A recent Washington Post story details some very disturbing behavior among law students at some of the nation's best schools.  The students' actions parallel those of lower school cyber-bullies and can be every bit as damaging, if not more so, for the targets of the attacks.  As ASP professionals, we should be alert to this sort of behavior  it would be foolish of us to think this sort of thing cannot be happening in our own schools.  Given our positions, we are likely to stumble across it when trying to discover what may be at the root of a student's poor academic performance.  It is not difficult to imagine how devastating it would be for a student to find herself the target of such attacks. (dbw)

March 13, 2007 in Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Tips for Spring Break Studying

Spring Break is almost upon us.  Although some of my students are of the cruise contingent, most students are planning to spend a major portion of their time away on law school tasks.  So, I have been handing out tips all week to those who are trying to decide how to balance fun with studying. 

The following items seem to assist many students in their planning:

  1. Be realistic in plans for studying.  Do not vow to study 15 hours a day for the entire break period.  Be realistic about travel plans.  Be realistic about when one will get up.  Be realistic about what family events will be required.  Be realistic about friends who will be home for break.  Be realistic about law student stamina at this point in the semester.  Be realistic about what must be done before you return to school.
  2. Plan ahead for studying during break as much as possible before leaving town.  Consider each day and determine when studying is going to take place.  For example, Monday may be morning and afternoon;Tuesday may be afternoon and evening; Wednesday may be an all-day event; and so forth.  Write in the tasks to accomplish each day.  Then, organize the materials that are needed to complete those tasks so that nothing will be left behind by mistake.
  3. Consider how to streamline and prioritize the study materials that need to be packed.  It may be easier to photocopy casebook readings rather than carry all of the books on the trip.  Flashcards may be useful additions for time waiting in airports.  Outlines printed out may be easier than taking a lap top along.  Take the one or two study aids that will actually be used rather than every study aid owned.
  4. Decide whether travel time can be used for studying.  Some students will have long lay-overs in airports or long flights when they can get some studying done.  Law students who are driving or flying may want to listen to audio-tapes or CD's for their courses.  Some law students who car pool recommend quizzing with flashcards on the drive or group solving of practice questions.
  5. Plan what to say to family and friends.  Family and friends may remember the relaxed and play-time atmosphere of college breaks.  They may not be prepared for law school breaks and the need to study.  At the beginning of the break period, let them know why it is important to complete certain tasks before returning to school.  Share the study plan you have made and ask for understanding.   
  6. Build in some fun time with family or friends.  If family and friends know when they will have time with their reclusive law student, they will be more understanding about supporting study efforts.  Look for compromises.  If dinner with Aunt Bessie is a command performance, then carve out other study time and ask for cooperation.  Some law students put the study plan on the refrigerator so the entire family knows what to expect.         
  7. Break down study tasks into smaller chunks.  It is easier to stay focused and feel a sense of accomplishment if a 50-page reading assignment is broken down into 5-page chunks or one-case-chunks.  Likewise, small research, writing, or editing tasks seem less onerous than doing all of the research or writing or editing. 
  8. Complete the hardest or least liked tasks first.  This way, the onerous tasks do not make the entire day miserable as they are avoided and left until last. 
  9. Build in rewards.  Use little rewards for little tasks: a cup of coffee; reading a bed-time story to a little brother; a 10-minute phone call.  Use big rewards for bigger tasks: a movie with a friend; a dinner out; an afternoon walk with the family dog.
  10. Build up a storehouse of sleep and nuitrition.  The last weeks of the semester will be very hectic.  Get on a good sleep and nuitrition regimen during Spring Break and stick to it during the remainder of the semester.  Brain cells will function better for studying and in exams.

Of course, most of all, we hope that our students have safe travels. (alj)


March 8, 2007 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Lap tops: some other food for thought

I agree with today's posting that there are some definite negative aspects that can occur with lap tops in the classroom.  Having just been assigned to a sub-committee at our law school to look at this problem because of some of the negatives listed, I have been involved in several conversations on the pros and cons, possible remedies, etc.  We are just beginning our work, but it has caused me to give more thought to the issues.  (Most law schools are concerned with these issues; hence, the topic is on the agenda at the teaching methods AALS workshop this summer.)

Personally, I hope that law schools will consider some of the positive aspects of lap top use before banning lap tops completely.  I think some restrictions are needed, but I am less certain that total bans are necessary.  Although as professors we have academic freedom, we need to make our decisions with consideration of all the aspects of our student learners rather than as a reaction to some "bad" learners. 

I know that many other pros and cons will be presented to me through thoughtful discussions with colleagues and students in the coming weeks, but I wanted to list some of my current observations.  I may change my mind about some aspects of the issue, but I am definitely in search of compromises that improve learning for all students and not just some learners.  (My thanks to colleagues and students for their comments, suggestions, and examples as I have mulled over the issues to come to my current thoughts.  There are too many viewpoints and sources to name.  And, I would not want to describe wrongly someone else's position through my own processing "lens.")

Forgive the length of my submission, but putting the thoughts on paper helps me to see what gaps still need to be considered and may help others process the issues.  I know that my ASP colleagues and others will provide thoughtful comments to assist me (and all of us) in this journey for a solution. 

The reasons that I hope that law schools can find "rules of the road" that will allow for compromise and not mean a complete ban are as follows:

  • Students who transcribe every word and disengage their brains to become stenographers are not new.  (Not all lap-top users do transcription, by the way.)  Plenty of students (whether past or present) have hand-written notes with the exact same transcription style because they have developed abbreviations and other "shorthand" methods.  Because undergraduate courses may have required regurgitation of the lectures for an "A" grade, some new law students have come from educational backgrounds where transcribing and not thinking in class equaled the road to success.  Even upper-division students may use this method of note-taking if they have not been shown more effective ways.  One of the transitions in which law students need guidance is that note-taking in law school needs to be adjusted because law school in-class experiences are building toward application and not regurgitation.  Our focus should be on helping all students learn ways to be more discriminating note-takers.  If we focus on making lap tops the culprit for bad note-taking, then we miss the opportunity to correct the real problem. 
  • Learning styles differ among students and to say that no students should be allowed lap tops creates problems for some learners. 
  1. Strong-preference verbal (read/write) learners usually gain more from some hand-written materials (though not necessarily class notes).  There are far fewer of these strong-preference verbal learners in our classes than we might expect.  Many professors probably have a very strong-preference verbal style.  However, many of our students have grown up in a very different educational landscape where teaching methods varied, and students were encouraged to use their different learning preferences.  (Obviously, all of our students read and write, but the point is that it is often not a strong-preference style for our students.) 
  2. Strong-preference kinesthetic-tactile learners actually use typing to focus in class because it is movement and touch which complements their learning. (And, no, it is not the same with hand-writing for most of them.)  There are significant numbers of these strong-preference KT learners in our classrooms.  Some KT's do multi-task.  However, I have found that once these students are cautioned about why they need to avoid any multi-tasking during class to take advantage of lap tops for learning, these students use the technology to advantage and appropriately. 
  3. Strong-preference visual learners at times learn better with typed notes because they are able literally to "see" the material with the "clean" look of the typed page.  Also, the technology helps them to add visual elements during class that increase learning from their notes and briefs.  For many of these learners, a note pad is only useful to capture graphics used by the professor or that the student thinks of during class to visualize a concept or relationship. 
  4. Strong-preference sensing-sequential and sensing-global students need more detail in their notes than global-intuitive students because they learn from facts, practicalities, and details.  One size fits all note-taking does not work.  For sensing-sequential learners hand writing their notes may well cause them more anxiety and less focus on the discussion in class because they will fear that they are not getting everything down that is needed for them to learn.  Sensing-globals will possibly compensate a bit better, but only if verbal (read/write) is also one of their stronger preferences.
  • Because research shows that deeper understanding and learning take place when students process the material themselves, we all encourage students to make outlines to help them focus on the big picture and inter-relationships as well as understand the application for the black letter law.  Lap tops encourage students to produce their own outlines.  It is extremely easy for a law student to cut and paste typed briefs and class notes and to add insights to form a condensed big picture/inter-relationships/application version of the course.  By restricting lap top class notes, two problems that jeopardize learning are likely to increase.  First, students will be more likely to go with their briefs and class notes alone (which may not focus on the big picture, inter-relationships, and application) rather than type out a whole new outline.  Second, students who want a typed outline will short cut and use commercial outlines or other people's old outlines rather than make their own from scratch because it seems such an ordeal without typed class notes. 
  • I also encourage students to take their own class notes rather than depend on "scripts" which are handed down over the years for professors whose courses do not change in major ways.  Taking one's own notes forces processing of the information rather than depending on another person's processing.  (Not only may the other learner have different learning styles, but the other learner may be wrong.)  Students who are not allowed to type their own class notes may rely on a script which is more appealing than the effort of re-typing hand-written notes.  As a result, learning may well decrease for students who would have typed their own notes if allowed to do so.
  • Students in this generation are tech savvy.  They are used to typing and using the computer technology to improve learning.  For example, students use split-screen so that they can view briefs and class notes or outlines and class notes simultaneously.  Alternatively, some students will toggle among these documents.  Students use computer organizers to organize their briefs, notes, and outlines.  If we want students to process after class, then we need to enable them to do it in ways that are conducive to this generation's modes of processing.  (And, the truth is that many students cannot even read their own handwriting these days and cannot write quickly because they are so used to typing.  In fact, I have been told that some elementary schools do not even teach cursive writing any longer!) 
  • Most of us would have to admit that we had law professors who talked 90-miles a minute, were regularly confusing, and/or were not very organized in their class presentations.  And, despite my best efforts, I would have to confess that I have a few days when my fast-talking Northern mode kicks in or I may not have been as clear and organized as I hoped to be because I know my material so well.  Students often need to sift through lecture notes to make sense of what happened in class and condense or re-organize material into a useable format.  That sifting and re-organizing process is much easier with typed notes offering the technology to cut and paste, edit with bullet points and numbered steps, use find/replace, etc.
  • We may need to consider how changes in our teaching methods can help our high-tech students to learn more effectively with or without lap tops.  I shall only give three examples here.  PowerPoint slides or other graphics that are available on-line or as hard copies to all students can assist in learning.  Students who know that these slides will be available later do not feel as compelled to take as many notes and can concentrate instead on listening to the discussion and elaborating the slides in their notes.  (However, PowerPoint slides need to be more than merely lengthy paragraphs stuck on slides or slides filled with distracting "bells and whistles.") Flow charts, tables or other graphics that capture many of the class points and relational aspects of the material can also be used in the same way.  Preview (for global-intuitive learners) and summary (for sequential-sensing learners) skeleton outlines can help students to organize and understand the material more effectively. 
  • There are students who have legitimate reasonable accommodations for disabilities which require that they be able to have lap tops to use in class.  Even a complete ban on lap tops will need to accommodate these students.  By stating that there is a complete ban and then having exceptions, these students are immediately marked as "disabled" among their peers.  (Some of the requisite disabilities are not obvious and visible to others already so they only become "visible" when the students are made exceptions to a new lap top ban.  For some disabled students, this identification as disabled to everyone is a big issue.)
  • Many of our law schools have touted our wireless capabilities, lap-top financial aid, lap-top purchasing programs, high-tech courtrooms and/or other technology prowess.  By banning lap tops completely, we seem to be making an odd statement in light of all of our marketing.  Restrictions with reasonable policies, procedures, and penalties seem more compatible to our descriptions of ourselves as high-tech than complete bans do.
  • Some professors state that students will never use lap tops in the courtroom or with a clients in practice so that they are just requiring what will happen in those settings in order to increase listening skills.  This argument has some merit.  We can all become better listeners with or without lap tops.  However, the non-use of lap tops in legal settings is not as complete as suggested.  It may be true for some areas of practice and in some courtrooms.  However, I have sat in courtrooms where lap tops were used during the trial for a variety of purposes with court approval.  Many states have made major financial commitments to technology use in their courtrooms including at the attorneys' tables during trial.  And, I have also seen lap tops used in client meetings effectively for drafting, strategizing, and note-taking without being disruptive, unprofessional, or insulting to the client.  Lap tops can be professional tools if the technology is approved/explained/used appropriately in these settings.  A complete ban is no longer the reality for all of the legal profession.      

I totally agree that there are some inconsiderate, rude, abusive, and learning-challenged technology users at our law schools.  But, we don't have to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Instead, we need to deal with the problems and find solutions to allow students to use the technology in ways conducive to learning without penalizing those who are already responsible users who learn better with technology. 

So, how do we go about deciding effective ways of computer use in the classroom?  Each law school will need to make its own decisions that match its environment and concerns.  Here are some suggestions based on discussions that I have had so far:

  1. Have a law school study group to look at issues for the specific law school with members on all sides of the issue and with student, faculty and administrative input.  This study group can research the issue, gain information from other law schools if desired, and determine strategies that are appropriate to the specific law school.
  2. Have clear law school policies on what technology uses are not allowed in the classroom.  Surfing the net, instant messaging, shopping on-line, e-mailing, flashing graphics, and snide remarks about others in class would no doubt top the list.  Most students as well as faculty and administrators would readily support banning these behaviors.  Wording could be such as to include a catch-all that divides class-relevant educational uses from non-class-relevant educational uses to capture "creative" examples that may crop up. 
  3. Well-reasoned policies, procedures, and penalties should be well-publicized.  And, the penalties should be enforced.  It does no good if a professor or law school states that "X" will happen, but nothing in fact happens.  Some law schools have granted anonymity for students who turn others in so that "retaliation" is not possible.
  4. Have discussions with law students about the policies, procedures, and penalties during appropriate sessions (Orientation, class meetings, SBA sponsored events, or other venues that suit a particular law school).  Responsibility and professionalism can be included in these discussions.  Most law students are responsible and will react favorably to reasonable and explained policies, procedures, and penalties.
  5. Investigate technology for the specific campus that may solve some of the problems.  Some campuses are able to limit Internet access in classroom spaces while still activating it in other law school areas.  Some law schools are using privacy screens which make distracting graphics, screensavers, and other non-class items less annoying to responsible users.
  6. Solicit strategies that work from professors who have successful use of the computer in their classrooms.  I have heard of professors taking 5 minutes the first day to discuss responsible use and what will happen if students misuse computers (the student becomes the "expert" for the rest of the class; the student is reported to the Dean's office; the student is pointed out for non-class use).  I have heard of professors who "roam" the aisles as they teach, thus curing some of the problems.  I have heard of professors having students sign statements on proper use with the realization that they will be reported for disciplinary action if they violate the conditions.  I have heard of suggestions that the registration schedule should list the professor's lap top policy so that students can sign up for other sections if multiple sections are available.

Lap top use and misuse are important issues.  There are many valid arguments pro and con.  We shall not all agree on the final stance taken by our law schools and our colleagues, but a stance will probably be needed (with academic freedom considered, of course).  I just hope that as ASP professionals we will be a thoughtful part of these discussions and an active part of the solutions to the problem. (alj)

March 6, 2007 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Laptops in the Classroom: An Unhelpful Distraction?

I know this suggestion is fraught with difficulties, but I think it is worth considering:  maybe law professors should restrict or ban the use of laptops, particularly in large classes. In talking with struggling students, I have found a couple of common problems that are probably widely shared by many other students.

The first is the one we all know about.  Students are surfing the Internet, answering emails, instant messaging, etc.  They grew up multitasking with technology and think it works.  A recent empirical study, however, showed that multitasking significantly interferes with the long-term ability to apply information that was obtained during the multitasking.  They are hamstringing the very skill they will need for success on exams and for learning to apply the law in effective ways.

The second problem is that students who are not surfing, etc., are too often acting like stenographers, typing continuously everything they hear in class.  They are passively and indiscriminately recording a load of information, much of which will not be useful to them.  I have recommended to several that they close their laptops and begin taking notes by hand.  They come back and tell me that they are forced to discriminate among ideas and that they are significantly more intellectually engaged in the discussion.

Another nasty piece of this is that law schools are finding that students are using their computers to attack other students during class by spreading messages simultaneously to all the students ridiculing answers, attacking individuals’ intelligence or character, etc.  It is bad enough when someone does that to a student on a particular day, but what schools are finding is that some students are routinely targeted by a handful of other students.  It was so bad at one school that the dean wrote an article about it, warning other schools that the practice is more rampant than we realize.

Finally, I hear complaints from students about how distracting it is to have nearby students surfing the Internet, etc.  It can be tough to pay close attention when a screen three feet in front of them is flashing websites and videos.  How many of us could conduct class while trying to look past a screen full of moving images?  No wonder some of our students seem surprisingly distracted and disengaged.

I know that restricting students’ use of technology in the classroom is controversial; but many students are hurting themselves; and, worse, many are interfering with others’ learning.  At the very least, we need to figure out how to stop the abuses.  That’s a tough thing to do from the front of a room with sixty students and dozens of laptops.(dbw)

March 6, 2007 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 5, 2007

More on Multiple Choice Testing

It's midterm time here, and most teachers give multiple choice tests. (In a future post, I'll raise some questions and issues regarding the policies, advantages, and disadvantates of our practice of giving midterms each semester, but for now, here is one approach that has worked to some extent with some students (is that qualified enough?).)

Of course, I echo that the route to a good grade on multiple choice exams is the same as the one that will get you to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice, practice.

But for some, simply practicing is not enough, and some guided steps can be helpful. I suggest to students that they review their completed practice exams through three lenses: (1) doctrine; (2) application; and (3) test-taking strategies. All three are in the mix with each question, in differing degrees. They overlap, of course.

First comes doctrine - what doctrine does the question require for choosing the right answer? Is their articulation of that doctrine accurate and complete (the two criteria I set out for them in evaluating rule statements in their study groups/outlines, etc.)? If they have paraphrased the rule, e.g., from a Restatement, have they changed it or left out an element or factor?

Application: Did the correct answer to the question depend on a particular fact that they either overlooked, ignored, or didn't understand? Or, was the doctrine triggered by the absence of facts (i.e., res ipsa loquitur)? Did the facts trigger a policy that made one answer better than the others?

Test taking stragegies: Are the students using all the structural clues that the questions themselves provide as guides to the correct choices? For example, if two choices are virtually identifal paraphrases of one another, attrative as they are, neither one is likely to be the correct answer. If one choice discusses unfamiliar doctrine that was not covered in class or on the syllabus, it's good practice to have the confidence to pass it by, on the theory that "I studied, I'm prepared, if I don't recognize it, it's not because I'm unprepared." Does that particular teacher tend to put in red herring facts?

One good exercise is to take a question apart, figure out the least crummy choice out of four crummy choices (a/k/a the right answer), and then break the class up into small groups, giving each the task of adding one or two facts that will either make another answer better, or test some different doctrine.

Finally, for now, is my "margin of error" speech. There is a margin of error built into most exams, which is why an A on the exam rarely, if ever, requires a score of 100 percent. That margin of error is, to a large extent, beyond the control of the student, i.e., there's some doctrine, I didn't get, some fact I didn't recognize, some quirk I didn't pick up. The object is to narrow that margin of error so that all of hte questions that are in my control, I get right. The "three lens" technique gives some students a handle on how to do that.

March 5, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Spring Break

Our Spring Break is coming up in a week. While I plan to use it to tackle Mt. St. Laundry (which is threatening to erupt), many of my students are planning on using the time to actually take a vacation. And yes, I do often tell students they need some “me time” to stay physically and mentally well, but I worry about those students who are in academic distress not taking this opportunity to really catch up before the semester comes to its inevitable crashing conclusion. I warn them that it goes really fast after spring break, but to what end?

In the spring, our program sees students who performed poorly on their midyear (or one final) exams. We even see those folks who midyear GPA’s would put them on Academic Warning if it were their year-end GPA. At this time of year when I am scheduling our next appointment, I always ask my students: so, what are you doing for spring break? The answers shock me.

What I really want to hear is this: “I plan on outlining, not every single day, but a significant part of a significant number of days until I am caught up. You know, Professor Stillman, this is a golden opportunity to catch up without more material piling up, and I could still plan a great vacation at the end of May or early June (when it’s even cheaper than in March). I also plan to do a few fun things, so I am not burnt out by the time exams come.”

But, what I really do hear is this: “going to Florida” (I wonder if the folks in law school in Florida come here to Massachusetts); “going on a cruise;” “going to the Caribbean;” and the most troubling: “planning a few sober and non-hangover days to do some work, maybe two.”

Now, while my academic support style has been deemed maternal by many (including one contributing editor to this blog), it would be overly mom-ish of me to say, “Don’t go!!! Catch up on your work and get ready for those spring finals! They are worth more towards your grades and while we never dismiss students on the basis of their midterm grades, we will dismiss you if your GPA is below 2.0 at the end of the year.” That doesn’t always stop me, but more often I tell students to take work with them. I know this as likely to happen as them taking me with them, but I feel the need to at least try to convey that this time would be better spent on outlining.   

I know if it a feeble attempt, certainly outlining isn't nearly as much fun as snorkeling, etc.  So as I do my laundry over spring break, I find myself wondering two things: 1. Can (and would) a student really outline on a cruise ship? And, 2. How can students afford to take these vacations when I work full time and am at home doing laundry??? (ezs)



March 1, 2007 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)