Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, June 11, 2018

Opportunities to Experiment

Law schools are overflowing with discussions about how to help our students learn.  The hard part is implementing new exercises or ideas.  Not only do we have to create the exercises, we also have to find time during our classes to try new things.  However, many professors, including ourselves, need to cancel class on occasion, so we may be able to seize opportunities in cancelled classes to try new ideas. 

I am relatively habitual in my classes.  If I think an exercise works or if my goals are being met, then I don’t change much in the class.  I have clear objectives, so I focus mainly on meeting those objectives.  I make changes to my classes, but I usually focus on the areas that I don’t think are working.  I will tweak an exercise, but after teaching a similar bar prep essay class for over 9 years, the class is relatively stable right now.  The stability is good, except I don’t try enough new ideas.  This summer though, I inadvertently found opportunities to experiment I can carry over to my bar prep class.

During the summer, I teach Remedies.  I taught it for a few years, so it is also somewhat stable.  However, the course schedule this year fell during AASE and a family trip we had planned.  I needed to cancel both those classes but also design work to comply with the ABA rule for minutes per credit hour.  I remember a couple previous conference sessions about hybrid learning and flipped classrooms.  I decided for one of the classes to record a lecture covering the reading, have students complete my normal in-class questions to turn in, and record a review of the questions.  I have a mid-term, so I can evaluate the understanding of the reading on the mid-term compared to previous years.  AASE forced me to try a form of hybrid learning.

I will admit, I am not entirely comfortable with the format.  I believe students need to be in seats interacting with the professor guiding learning.  However, I also know bar prep is increasingly online.  Instead of constantly complaining about no one showing up to bar prep lectures, I can help them figure out how to learn in a more online setting with specific exercises throughout law school.  Cancelled classes is a great opportunity to explore online learning formats. 

In the other class I needed to cancel, I tried a modified negotiation based on their Remedies readings.  Students needed to understand the material to be able to negotiate for his/her client.  Students practiced lawyering skills while also applying knowledge to a hypo.  Self-reflection after the exercise indicated students liked seeing the rules in practice, which is the context many of us talk about.  I will probably continue to use this exercise each year, even when I don’t need to cancel class.

Both of these exercises arose out of necessity, but the exercises also provided me an opportunity to try things I learned from the community.  As everyone plans the fall, there will probably be similar opportunities for you.  Think about days you need to miss.  I miss class the day of the Oklahoma swearing in ceremony each fall.  I can sometimes schedule a test on that day, and someone else proctor’s the exam.  Going forward, I plan try some new ideas on hybrid or individual skill building.

The other opportunity is when 1L faculty need to cancel class.  We could all contact our 1L faculty and ask them if they plan to cancel a class during the semester.  If so, we could offer to try a skills class or a video review.  It helps them satisfy the ABA minutes requirement, helps us interact with 1Ls, and could help the students understand the material in a different way.

Opportunities to experiment are more apparent than we think.  Events that seem difficult to navigate may be the events we need to experiment with the great ideas we hear at conferences.  Try something new this fall to see if it works.

(Steven Foster)

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