Friday, April 5, 2013
This summer, I will be moving from UConn and UConn Law School to UMass-Dartmouth School of Law, where I will become tenure-track faculty. The move also means I will be shifting back to ASP full-time. As much as I love UConn (and more on that below), I could not turn down the opportunity to work with Dean Mary Lu Bilek, who was a pioneer in ASP at CUNY before becoming dean at UMass. I found the faculty at UMass to be incredibly supportive and genuinely excited to be at the law school, and I was encouraged by the mission of the law school, to provide an affordable option for students seeking to work in public service.
It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave UConn. Not only do I love my job and my students, but I am alum of the school (both my BA and MA are from UConn). I have had amazing opportunities here that I would not have had anywhere else. My experience working with undergraduates has been invaluable. My experience has changed how I view ASP and the types of supports needed by students. I now see the essentiality of ASP-undergrad partnerships, and the growing need for ASP to move outside of the legal academy. To truly understand the challenges facing our incoming students, we need a better understanding of where they are coming from. It's no longer adequate to recall personal memories of our pre-law days, and superimpose our challenges on our students.These students are "digital natives" who are not afraid of the rapid pace of technological change--it's all they have ever known. These are students scarred by the Great Recession, which has shaped their worldview. Their undergraduate experience has shown them that education is not the ticket to security and stability. Incoming students are savvy and informed in ways that were unthinkable just four or five years ago; "buy-in" to the law school pedagogy will require us to prove ourselves and our value to students. ASP should not be afraid to embrace this new generation of law students and their challenge to our curriculum. These students will force us to up our game, to become better, more effective teachers and scholars. Personally, that is a challenge I embrace and encourage. While we work with students to become the best version of themselves, they will force us to better versions of ourselves.
It is bittersweet for me to be moving on from UConn. I love my job, I love my students, and the colleagues I have here will become lifelong friends. But in this time of uncertainty and change in the legal academy, I am very excited to become to a part of a law school that is embracing the "new normal" and challenges ahead of us. (Rebecca Flanagan)
EDIT: 3:44 pm
This is a fantastic post by William Henderson from over at Legal Whiteboard. It dovetails on my message about students and growth.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The mandatory meeting for first-year students (optional for upper-division students) to discuss our registration process for next year's classes was held last week. Registration will start next week. For first-year students, the process can create a great deal of stress because it is another "unknown" to them.
The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs explained the ins and outs of the curriculum requirements beyond the first-year required classes. The Registrar explained the actual procedures for registration.
And then the rumor mill started to make the process even more stressful. The sources were sometimes upper-division students' comments but often just from imagination:
- Horror tales about registration for rising 2L students (computer freezes, no places in popular courses because rising 3Ls will take all the spots, long wait lists, etc.) while ignoring changes in the system and statistical realities.
- Rumors that students will fail if they get Professor X while swearing they will get an A with Professor Y - even though course statistics do not reflect these guarantees.
- Rumors playing up the fear factor of different professors' exams or teaching styles or course topics and ignore that different students learn and test better in different ways and have different backgrounds and interests.
- Moanings about the audacity of the law school's hiring of unknown visitors/new hires/adjuncts who cannot be easily pigeon-holed.
So what is the 1L student to do to survive registration and choosing the best class schedule? Here are some tips that I give students when they consult with me:
- Know the requirements for graduation: credit hours, normal course loads, required doctrinal courses, skills development courses, writing courses, certificate programs, dual degree programs.
- Think ahead beyond the next semester to the full academic year and the next academic year - how will fall 2L courses impact spring 2L courses and how will 2L courses influence the 3L courses.
- Consider summer school credits (including study abroad) if the student plans to attend and know the policies that are involved.
- Have alternate course choices in mind in case a class is closed out entirely or only waiting list spots are open at the time the student registers.
- Take a balanced course schedule by considering paper versus exam courses, required versus elective courses, large versus seminar courses, difficult topics for the student versus topics that come more easily, hands-on skills courses versus traditional courses, courses that interest the student versus ones that have less appeal, law versus dual degree courses (if applicable), and other factors.
- Watch out for prerequisites that are needed for later courses or clinics that the student wants to take.
- Talk to professors about elective courses that sound interesting but are only briefly covered in the course descriptions to find out more about the courses.
- Talk to professors in specialty areas in which the student may want to practice to get advice on courses that would be beneficial for background.
- Consider courses that will give background for the bar exam but which may not be required courses for one's law degree.
- Talk to multiple students who have taken a course/professor in the past because variety of input will likely highlight pros and cons rather than one-sided feedback.
- Look at the exam schedule to see what the grouping of exams will be like for particular combinations of courses (available at our school prior to registration).
With careful thought and planning, registration can be a less stressful experience for students. Faculty, administrators, and others can provide guidance as students weigh the pros and cons of different course choices. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Global processors are always looking for the big picture, the overview, or the roadmap in learning - they want to know the essentials and the end result. Intuitive processors are curioius about concepts, abstractions, theories, and policies and seek out relationships among ideas - they are synthesis peole. When these two breadth-processing styles combine as strong preferences, the learners can sometimes assume they know a course when they only know the gist of a course.
These processors are more tempted to take shortcuts in learning: skim a case, read the canned brief, produce a cursory outline, and write conclusory memos. They often come out of exams with comments like "I guess I didn't know Torts as well as I thought." They are shocked when reviewing an exam to see that they never analyzed element three even though they knew the analysis. The analysis stayed in their heads instead of making it to the paper for the professor to grade.
Global-intuitive students tend to make mistakes on exams that stem from their breadth of learning without sufficient depth of learning, thinking, and organizing. For example, on fact-pattern essay exams, they leave out the steps of their analysis because they think the professor will know how they got from point A to point D without having to lay it out. It is true that the professor knows how to get there, but the professor needs to know that the student knows how to get there (rather than a lucky guess) to give points on the exam. On multiple-choice exams, they tend to pick by gut rather than carefully consider every answer option. Consequently, they look at the options that match their conclusion (guilty, admissible, liable) and miss the best answer that is not guilty unless, inadmissible unless, or liable only if. Alternatively, they may not know which of two better answers is best because they do not know the nuances of the law on which the question turns.
There are several ways that global-intuitive students can help themselves to develop more in-depth understanding of the law and gain more points on exams:
- Avoid shortcuts that tempt one to only know the gist of a course: canned briefs, scripts, outlines of other students.
- Spend time memorizing the precise wording of the rules, definitions of elements, and other law so that one is not fuzzy on elements, factors, variations. or other items.
- For essay exams: Write out fact-pattern essay answers instead of just thinking about them; get feedback from professors, teaching assistants, or classmates on the depth of analysis.
- For multiple-choice exams: Complete lots of practice questions and read the answer explanations in the book to learn the nuances of the law rather than just the gist of the law.
- Take the time to read, analyze, and organize an essay answer. The rule of thumb is to use 1/3 of the time for a question to do these steps and then 2/3 of the time to write the answer.
- Use a chart to organize the essay answer rather than hold information in one's head. Rows can indicate the parties to the dispute. Columns can indicate the elements or factors that need to be discussed. One can enter facts, cases to be mentioned, and policy arguments in the appropriate cells as a careful read of the fact pattern is completed.
- When writing the essay answer, change the audience one writes to - instead of writing to the professor, write the answer as though explaining the law to a non-lawyer (your cousin, grandmother, little brother). Connecting the dots is easier when writing to a lay audience.
- When writing the essay answer, ask "why?" at the end of each sentence. If an explanation for the statement is not there, keep writing and add the "because" to the sentence.
- Carefully weigh each answer choice on multiple-choice tests; look for the best answer rather than the superficially right answer.
- Slow down in exams and use all of the time given. Global-intuitives tend to finish early which often indicates that they missed smaller issues, did not fully analyze the arguments, or did not read the questions carefully enough.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Sequential processors focus on the individual units before them (cases, subtopics, topics) rather than look at the bigger picture (how these units combine into a whole). Sensing processors focus on details, facts, and practicalities rather than look at ideas or synthesis (the inter-relationships of concepts, subtopics, etc.). When these two depth-processing styles are combined in a student as strong preferences, the students can become too focused on pieces and detail and miss the broader view, inter-relationships, and policy arguments.
Several strong sequential-sensing learners have mentioned to me in the last few weeks that they feel that the only time they are focused on what really matters is when they are reading and briefing for class. When they are outlining, reviewing their outlines, or doing practice questions (all of these steps are in their weekly schedules), they fear that they are not expending their energies on what really counts.
After several of these comments came close together, I decided to step back and analyze why these issues were surfacing after I thought we had discussed what one is trying to accomplish in law school courses. I realized that for these individuals we had not yet fully formulated what one does in law school versus what one will do in one's specialty in practice.
These students saw their job in law school as learning all the law in a course so that they were ready to practice that legal area later. They had missed the fact that they are learning topics for a course (but not all of the law for that specialty) to gain critical thinking and writing skills and general knowledge to solve new legal problems (for exams). Once they are in practice, they will focus on learning all they can about their own practice area(s). However, law school does not expect that level of in-depth study; it expects familarity with a variety of areas of law and application of the concepts to new legal scenarios.
Sequential-sensing students feel more secure in preparing for class because they mistakenly think that memorizing everything about individual cases is the most important task. Because synthesis and big-picture thinking are more uncomfortable for them (especially if policy is involved), they feel less convinced that outlines, review, and practice questions are full-fledged studying.
Once these students realize that class preparation is important but not the be-all and end-all, the light-bulb comes on for them. They are still less comfortable with the synthesis and big-picture thinking that lead to application, but they can see those broader study tasks as legitimate. By releasing themselves mentally from having to know every minute detail in each case and each sub-topic and each legal area, they begin to make the transition to the additional levels of learning that will allow them to succeed on exams. They push themselves to synthsize the material and fit it into the bigger picture. They realize that practice questions assist them in this process and help them to apply the law on exams. (Amy Jarmon)