Thursday, February 19, 2015
In a lot of respects, Legal Writers have struggled with (and sometimes overcome) the professional challenges many ASPers face. Professor Ralph Brill brings some of these to light in his response to a University's President's Frank Look at Law Schools. Professor Brill's response also briefly touches on the disparate impact to women when Legal Writing, and I submit ASP, is undervalued. Similarly, Professor Flanagan highlighted sexism in a blog post early this year. It is hard to believe that these are issues we are still grappling with in 2015.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
ASP conferences and presentations frequently extol the virtues of group work. Books and articles suggest that group work would enhance legal education, make students better prepared for law practice, and make law school less isolating. Business schools rely on group projects. Despite the evidence, law schools hew to the familiar, and few 1L courses include group work, although some upper-division seminar and clinical courses include group exercises. For women, there may be some benefit to this arrangement.
Women are subject to the "secretary effect," where they are the secretary, the recorder, or the stenographer in group projects. The spit-balling, the creative thinking, and the leadership roles are taken by the men of the group. Women are expected to play supporting roles, while men take the lead, when they work in groups. This arrangement extends into adulthood.
I never liked group work, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed law school. In group projects, I felt like my contributions were never valued, I did more work than other members of the group, and I was stuck in ill-fitting roles where I could not demonstrate my competance. On the rare occasion I had to work in a group during law school, I sought out all-female groups, where I knew I would feel more comfortable.
Professionally, I see the same pattern. ASP is dominated by women, who rarely rise to leadership roles outside of our small community. ASP is designed to support students, but is frequently expected to support the (predominately) male tenured and tenure-track faculty. ASP, as a field, keeps the students in school, helps them achieve career success through bar support, yet rarely receives the credit for helping law schools meet accreditation standards. In ASP, we are still the unsung secretaries, the essential member of the group who is undervalued and overlooked.
Group Projects and the Secretary Effect
Saturday, January 3, 2015
This semester has been eye-opening for me. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about sexism in ASP. Although I am a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue feminist, I've been lucky that I haven't faced much individual sexism (as opposed to institutional or systemic sexism, which are think are endemic to the academy). In the past, it's been one-off incidents, nothing that made me really question whether ASP fosters sexism. ASPs are predominantly run by untenured women, teaching in second-class rolls. While more men have joined our ranks, many of the (admittedly talented, committed) men that have been in ASP for more than 5 years have moved into tenured or high-level administrative positions, while I see equally talented, committed women stuck in the same second-class positions, without promotions or recognition, year after year.
I don't think this is solely due to institutional sexism. Studies have shown that women receive lower course evaluations than men. A tiny, needs-to-be-replicated study out of North Carolina State demonstrated that students will give higher course evaluations if they believe their instructor is a man--whether to not the instructor actually is a man or a woman. (See study here)
This semester I co-taught an ASP course with a fantastic, very talented male (tenured) professor. Mid-semester, we asked students to fill out qualitative evals, asking them to tell us what we should do and how to improve. While the majority of the surveys were helpful and fair, a disconcerting minority used the evaluations to make personal, sexist comments that had nothing to do with the substance of the course. Not one evaluation made personal comments about my male co-teacher.
I spoke with several experienced female professors after I read the evaluations. Everyone had a similar story; students feel it's okay to attack a female professor's attire, posture, hair style, or tone of voice in evaluations meant to measure teaching.
These attacks on female professors are damaging careers. Students evaluations are regularly used to renew contracts and earn tenure. The best administrators know to ignore these damaging comments in evaluations. But many evaluations are on a 1-5 scale, with female professors losing valuable points for things that have nothing to do with their ability to teach. And administrators can't distinguish between someone who needs help in the classroom, and someone who is receiving low scores because "their voice hurts my ears" or "their clothes are too bright for my taste."
ASP is integral to the success of the legal academy. It is time we started looking at the reasons why we are still second-class citizens.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
New York is considering the adoption of the Uniform Bar Examination. That is one sentence I did not imagine that I would be writing in 2014. But, it is true. NY may be the 15th state to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam. The New York State Board of Law Examiners (SBLE) has recommended to the New York Court of Appeals that the current bar examination be replaced with the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) beginning with the July 2015 administration. This news made me wonder, “What are the benefits of the UBE and why would a state like New York want to adopt it?”
The Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to test the knowledge and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law. It is comprised of six Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) essays, two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination(MBE). It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score that can be used by applicants who seek admission in jurisdictions that accept UBE scores.
When a law school graduate takes the UBE, they can use their UBE score to apply to other UBE jurisdictions for bar licensure. The following jurisdictions have adopted the UBE: Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Colorado; Idaho; Minnesota; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; New Hampshire; North Dakota; Utah; Washington; and Wyoming. With New York possibly on board and other states considering it, the UBE is beginning to look more like a national exam.
Since many law students do not yet know where they would like to practice law, the portability of an applicant’s UBE score allows for more flexibility and mobility. Law graduates can take the UBE in any UBE jurisdiction and use their score to apply to as many UBE State Bar Associations as they would like. Instead of sitting for another bar exam, UBE licensed graduates can bypass a second test and apply directly for additional bar licenses with their UBE score.
However, other state specific requirements may also be required. For example, New York has proposed adding an additional New York specific one hour, 50 question, multiple choice test that would be given on the second day of the UBE. In order to practice in NY, an applicant would need to pass the UBE, with a score of 266, and score at least 60% on the state specific exam.
Avoiding a second bar exam is wise since bar exams are costly, excruciatingly difficult, and very time consuming. Taking the bar exam once is enough! The Uniform Bar Examination has many benefits- from portable scores, to multijurisdictional practice, to greater employment options. Having the UBE take a bite out of The Big Apple is a huge move in the right direction for this generation of law graduates.
If you would like to learn more about the Uniform Bar Examination, please visit The National Conference of Bar Examiners web-page at http://www.ncbex.org/about-ncbe-exams/ube/. If you would like to comment on New York’s proposal to adopt the UBE, you can e-mail your comments to: UniformBarExam@nycourts.gov or write to: Diane Bosse, Chair, New York State Board of Law Examiners, Corporate Plaza, Building 3, 254 Washington Avenue Extension, Albany, NY 12203-5195. Submissions will be accepted until November 7, 2014.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
Picture this: Your new suit is pressed and ready, your parents have arrived from out of town, and your celebratory dinner reservation has been made. Then, you get a call; one you could have never imagined receiving. You thought you passed the bar exam (because you were on the pass list); but, the State Bar Commission tells you during that fateful phone call that there was an error. (Insert menacing music here.) Unfortunately, they deliver the news that there was a clerical error and that you actually did not pass the bar exam. What??? How could this happen?
This is exactly what happened in Nebraska this week when three almost attorneys were called 24 hours before being sworn in and told that they fell just a few points short of passing the bar exam even though they were initially told that they had passed. One phone call changed their life. While I often remind students that this is just an exam, it is an exam that consumes extensive amounts of time, money, and willpower. It is not an exam that anyone (other than a select few) wants to take over and over.
Mistakes happen. However, with high stakes testing such as the bar exam, shouldn't there be more stringent standards in place so that mistakes of this magnitude do not occur? If our society relies on the bar exam to determine a lawyer's competency to practice law, are we not also allowed to require those who administer the bar exam to be competent? With news such as this from Nebraska, we may need to start asking, who polices the gatekeepers?
Lisa Bove Young
Saturday, August 23, 2014
August 18, 2014
As the summer wanes and we move into the fall semester, the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law wishes to invite you to our Second Annual Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange. This is an opportunity for junior faculty in the New England region to gather together to discuss works in progress, finished papers, research interests, and to network with peers from other institutions. Our hope is to provide a local forum for legal scholars to develop their ideas and scholarship with input and constructive criticism from fellow law teachers. This event is especially aimed at faculty with seven, or fewer, years of law teaching experience.
We are hosting this conference at the UMass Club, located in the heart of Boston’s financial district, on the 33rd floor of 225 Franklin Street. The venue is close to South Station, and the red and orange lines of the MBTA, several parking garages and local hotels. A hot buffet lunch, with morning and afternoon snack services will be provided. For directions, see: http://www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/University-of-Massachusetts-Club/About-the-Club/Directions-Hours.
Please consider joining us for this event by marking your calendar for Friday, October 17th, 2014, from 10 to 4. Seating will be limited. To register for the Junior Faculty Scholarship Exchange, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kindly include a short abstract of the work you wish to share with our group. We will confirm your registration for the event. Once we achieve capacity, we will need to decline further registrations . As this event is being underwritten by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School of Law there is no registration fee. Attendees will need to assume responsibility for their personal travel or lodging expenses.
Feel free to forward this invitation to a junior faculty member that you believe may be interested. If this is information that you would prefer not to receive, please let us know and we will take you off of our list. If you have any immediate questions or concerns please call us at (509)985-1121, and ask to speak with Emma or me. Thank you.
Spencer E. Clough
Associate Dean/Director of the Law Library
The University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth School of Law
Thursday, July 3, 2014
I just returned from the LWI Biennial in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay the full three days, but I was able to attend the majority of the conference. And it was well worth it. I would strongly suggest Academic Support professionals with the means to attend legal writing conferences to do so. Legal writing and ASP have collaborated for as long as we have been a part of legal education, and our histories are intertwined. ASP well-represented at LWI, and the sessions gave me much food for thought. An example was the presentation by Jeremy Francis of Michigan State. He presented on a long-term study of writing support. The study was one that could easily be replicated by ASP folks (with the assistance of institutional research or statisticians), and I found his results to be fascinating. Katie Rose Guest Pryal of UNC Law gave a fascinating presentation on genre theory. For everyone reading this, thinking, "that's so legal writing, and I have nothing to do with legal writing," let me clarify. She presented on how to teach students the basics of all legal documents, but examining the similarities and differences between them. I left her presentation thinking, "WOW! This is a revolution in legal writing, and it has SO much applicability to ASP!" The ASP work being done by Chelsea Baldwin of Oklahoma City Law School has significant overlaps with Dr. Pryal; Chelsea is looking at the difference between doctrinal subject matter, and Dr. Pryal is looking at similarities. Both scholars are examining law in ways that can help our students see the big picture.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the number of ASPers who presented at LWI; Kris Franklin and Paula Manning had an amazing presentation on using visuals to teach students about applying and distinguishing cases, Corie Rosen (formerly of ASP, but still a friend of ASP) presented on positive psychology, Myra Orlen presented on the new normal, and Courtney Lee presented on bar support. I strongly recommend that ASPer's beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Kris and Paula's presentation materials--their material was a game changer. It is a credit to Kris that I have seen a version of her presentation several times, and yet I get something new from it each time. And if I missed anyone, I sincerely apologize, I wasn't able to attend the entire conference.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
The Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) convened in beautiful Indianapolis for their second annual conference. What went well at AASE? Well...the program was packed with creative, informative, and inspirational presentations; all in attendance can attest to knowing how to add multiple choice questions to help students achieve core competencies, recognize the implications FERPA has on Academic Support, and to design effective learning experiences for their students. Plus, it was 80+ degrees and sunny!
In true ASP fashion, everyone was encouraged to acknowledge "what went well" by expressing their gratitude, thoughts, or observations to each other on index cards. While this was conceived at the inaugural AASE conference, I am happy to report that it has now become a tradition. Honoring each other in this manner is such a gift. Both receiving an index card or giving one provides a great opportunity for us to show our support for each other.
In addition to the amazing presentations, the conference provided the perfect venue to network (and dance) with AASE members and Indianapolis was the perfect backdrop. A huge thanks to the program and planning committees and to the host school representative Carlotta Toledo for organizing such a wonderful conference. Next year's AASE conference will be in Chicago, at John Marshall Law School, and our host school representative will be Jamie Kleppetcshe.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
This week, the Justice Department filed a landmark consent decree to settle claims that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many of us work with students who may have been affected by LSAC’s “flagging” practice, which identifies applicants who received extra time on the LSAT. This decision not only helps to remedy past discrimination, but also helps ensure that applicants with disabilities are protected in the future. This excerpt taken from the Department of Justice webpage lists the details of the agreement.
Under the consent decree, LSAC has agreed to:
- put a permanent end to the practice of flagging the LSAT score reports of individuals with disabilities who take the LSAT with the common testing accommodation of extended time;
- pay $7.73 million to be allocated for a civil penalty, compensation to individuals named in the United States’ and other plaintiffs’ complaints, and a nationwide victims’ compensation fund;
- streamline its evaluation of requests for testing accommodations by automatically granting most testing accommodations that a candidate can show s/he has previously received for a standardized exam related to post-secondary admissions (such as the SAT, ACT or GED, among others); and
- implement additional best practices for reviewing and evaluating testing accommodation requests as recommended by a panel of experts (to be created by the parties).
Saturday, May 3, 2014
The Fourth "Colonial Frontier" Legal Writing Conference — Saturday, December 6, 2014
Hosted by: The Duquesne University School of Law, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Conference Theme: Teaching the Academically Underprepared Law Student
For generations, college and law school educators have often voiced the belief that their students are not as prepared as they used to be. Although some educators may disagree about whether there really has been a change in students since the apocryphal “good old days,” there is a growing body of scholarship suggesting that 21st Century college graduates and law students lack the critical thinking skills necessary for law study and that as educators we are facing new challenges in teaching these students. See e.g. Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses (2011); Susan Stuart & Ruth Vance, Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight: The Academically Underprepared Law Student & Legal Education Reform, 48 Val. L. Rev. 1 (forthcoming 2013), available at http://works.bepress.com/ruth_vance/1 (the theme of this conference is based on this article’s title). Scholars and other commentators have pointed to many causes for the real (and perhaps perceived) problems that new law students have coping with the demands of academic and professional training. These causes include the declining quality of pre-college schooling and a focus on standardized testing, lowered expectations at the undergraduate level, a decrease in the numbers and “quality” of incoming law students, the generational characteristics of current law students, the effects on student learning from psychological problems such as anxiety disorders, the deleterious influence of the Internet and computer technology, and more. This conference will offer attendees an opportunity to hear from others who are interested in these questions, and, hopefully, learn how to better teach current law students or change the current educational environment.
We invite proposals from educators who want to speak to these issues. The Duquesne Law Review, which has published papers from two previous Colonial Frontier conferences, plans to devote space in its Spring 2015 symposium issue to papers from the conference.
We welcome proposals for 30-minute and 50-minute presentations on these topics, by individuals or panels. Proposals for presentations should be sent as an e-mail file attachment in MS Word to Professor Jan Levine at email@example.com by June 2, 2014. He will confirm receipt of all submissions. Proposals for presentations should be 1000 to 2000 words long, and should denote the topic to be addressed, the amount of time sought for the presentation, any special technological needs for the session, the presenter’s background and institutional affiliation, and contact information. Proposals should note whether the presenter intends to submit an article to the Duquesne Law Review, based on the presentation. Proposals by co-presenters are welcome. Proposals will be reviewed by Professors Julia Glencer, Jan Levine, Ann Schiavone, and Tara Willke of the Duquesne University School of Law, and by the editorial staff of the Duquesne Law Review.
Proposals for presentations will be accepted by June 15, 2014. Full drafts of related articles will be due by September 5, 2014; within a month of that date the Duquesne Law Review will determine which of those articles it wishes to publish; and final versions of articles will be due by January 12, 2015.
The attendance fee for the conference will be $50 for non-presenters. Duquesne will provide free on-site parking to conference attendees. The conference will begin 9:00 a.m. with a welcoming breakfast and reception at the Duquesne University School of Law, followed by two hours of presentations. We will provide a catered, on-campus lunch, followed by 90 additional minutes of presentations, ending at approximately 3:00 p.m. We will then host a closing reception in the “Bridget and Alfred Pelaez Legal Writing Center,” the home of Duquesne’s LRW program.
Pittsburgh is an easy drive or short flight from many cities. To accommodate persons wishing to stay over in Pittsburgh on Friday or Saturday evenings, Duquesne will arrange for a block of discounted rooms at a downtown hotel adjacent to campus, within walking distance of the law school and downtown Pittsburgh. We will also provide attendees with information about the Pittsburgh area’s attractions, including our architectural treasures, museums, art collections, shopping, and world-championship sports teams.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Check out Lisa McElroy's post, which highlights the discrepancies in status and salary that legal writers (and ASPers) face. http://www.dorfonlaw.org/2014/02/are-legal-writing-professors-like-nurses.html
Friday, November 22, 2013
Hat tip to Joanne Harvest Koren for sending this interesting article on the power of patience and how slowing down can lead to more productivity. The article is titled The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. I especially like the idea that delays in formative assessment can be beneficial. The time a student spends waiting helps influence their experience and their knowledge. Patience, while nostalgic, needs a comeback.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Everyone has heard of "right brain/left brain thinking." However, this article debunks the right brain-left brain split as old science, and proposes a new way to look at the way people understand, perceive, and plan. The article has interesting implications for how we understand our students. We are all frustrated when we see a student struggle, but fail to act in ways that will help them improve academically. Students who are "adaptors" may not learn from feedback in an optimal way, while "movers" will act on feedback immediately, and learn from academic setbacks. (RCF)
Friday, August 16, 2013
We are wrapping up orientation here at UMass, and here are some thoughts about what can go right and wrong during orientation:
1) Orientation is the time to set the tone for law school.
Orientation sets the tone, and too often, the tone is "let's scare you out of your wits." It's hard to come back from that. Let them know it's hard work, but you are their for them, and they can succeed. If students start the year feeling like their faculty and administration are unapproachable, they will not approach. I know some crotchety professors think that is a good idea--they are wrong. If a student can't talk to you before a small issue becomes a major catastrophe, you will be dealing with that major catastrophe for a long time.
2) Orientation is not the time to practice "hide the ball" with new students.
Most law schools have a practice class during orientation (ours is tonight). Too many times, I have seen professors try to prove how clever they are by starting with "hide the ball." It's a very bad idea. "Hide the ball" is a bad idea, but it's a very bad idea during orientation because the students have no context. They have no idea that "hide the ball" is a method of teaching word clarification, examining ambiguity, or eliciting student opinions. It's a technique that alienates and confuses students when they already feel overwhelmed.
3) They don't need to know everything right now...so follow up!
I am guilty of the belief that I need to teach them everything up to outlining in orientation. But too much information too soon just confuses new students. They need the essentials; how to read, how to brief, and where to go for more information. Save the advanced lessons for workshops later in the semester. This also saves you a major headache; if you overwhelm students during orientation, you will just need to re-teach the lessons at a later date anyway.
4) Orientation should be a whole-school event.
Orientation should not be an ASP-and-legal writing affair; the whole school should be a part of orientation. Let students meet the amazing night staff in the library. Introduce them to the maintenance staff who will save them when they lock themselves out of the building, their car, or get trapped in an elevator or bathroom. Let them meet ALL the professors; show them that the entire school is behind their success.
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.
Monday, October 1, 2012
There has been a shift in focus at many law schools across the country due to the ever changing legal market, the downturn in the economy, and the push for reforms in legal education. When change takes place as a reaction to outside forces, it is not always done thoughtfully with a deliberate action plan. Reacting is limiting and may lead to unfavorable results. Responding, rather than reacting, will lead to changes that are logical, intentional, and will help create a positive momentum system wide.
How does this shift affect Academic Support Professionals and the services we provide students? A reaction to the change in our student body, whether it is their LSAT scores, the numbers of students enrolling, or their undergrad GPAs, could deplete academic support services to students if the services provided are not highly valued or acknowledged as a benefit. Funding for such programs may be transferred to areas in the law school that directly feed advancement in US News rankings or to other programs that shine a spotlight on the school.
However, I submit that when academic support services are viewed as integral parts of the law school curriculum, students benefit, law schools benefit, and the legal profession benefits. It is counter intuitive to think that support services for students can be reduced during these changing times; but, I know it is happening. I am lucky that my institution values academic support but I know that many other ASPers face a more troubling reality. Yet, students, more now than ever, need academic support professionals to guide them through their arduous law school experience.
If students are entering law school with lower UGPAs and LSATs, Academic Support Programs should be expanded to meet the needs of their student populations not minimized to fit shrinking budgets. While budget issues are a real concern, providing much needed academic support and graduating practice ready students are arguably more important. Academic Support Professionals are uniquely situated to guide students throughout their law school journey, especially non-traditional students or those with risk factors that may impede their success.
How should we as Academic Support Professionals respond to these changing times? I think we can all construct a lengthy list in our minds as to why the services we provide are essential to the educational growth of our students. However, I urge you to go one step further. Write down your list and share it with as many members of the faculty and administration at your law school as you can. In doing this, you have enlightened others (that have power and influence) as to the many ways in which you shape the law school community. You have also identified ways in which you can help respond to the ever-changing nature of legal education and the makeup of your student body.
Another response is to assess and evaluate your program. While many of us do this already, we could all benefit from taking some time to revisit the idea and determine whether we are reaching our desired outcomes. How is your program currently being assessed? What can you learn from the data that has been collected? Is there something else that should be included? Reflecting on what is working and what needs improvement will enhance the quality and efficiency of your program and will keep you directly engaged with carrying out its mission.
Lastly, a great way to respond to the changing nature of legal education is to get more involved in the discussion. Think about presenting a new or innovative teaching method or step up to present a work in progress. The more that we as a community can support each other and highlight the essential nature of our work, the more valuable we are individually to our respective law schools and collectively as a whole. Consider collaborating with others and finding ways to get involved. By responding, rather than reacting, to the changing times, we will make a positive impact on our law students and on our profession.
Friday, June 8, 2012
In Connecticut, there is a fierce battle brewing over education reform. There is also a lesser-known, but associated, movement to change course requirements in college. The Connecticut legislature is proposing to do away with remedial courses in colleges, and replace the remedial courses with embedded support for students who score below a preset threshold on placement tests. This proposal has potential implications for academic support, which includes both componants of remedial instruction and embedded support. The obvious caveat when comparing the proposed legislation and law school ASP is that there are many, many differences between college-level preparedness and law school preparedness, and significant differences between law school ASP and remedial courses at the undergraduate level. However, I think there are things we can learn from the movement to end remedial courses.
I am most interested in the difference in student perception; do students prefer classes or embedded support? Why do student succeed with one method, but not the other?
Embedded support: how do they plan on implementing this without making the class too slow for those who have mastered basic skills? Do you lose students who are more skilled if they are bored in classes that spend too much time on support for student who do not have basic skills?
Cost structure: embedded support across the curriculum costs money; how do they plan on funding this legislation in a time of budget cuts? Will embedded support pay for itself when fewer students drop out?\
These are things that I am mulling as this debate continues in the state. (RCF)
Friday, May 4, 2012
An interesting issue was discussed on the ASP listserv recently. Carlota Toledo of Indiana-McKinney School of Law brought up the issue of declining law school enrollment and the impact this will have on ASP. I work with undergrads and in law school ASP; this issue is not an abstraction for me. I spend part of my day, everyday, working with undergraduates who are exploring legal education as a post-graduate option. As I have previously discussed, this is not something we can afford to ignore. Law school deans have already spoken out about the rising cost of running a law school, as well as the challenges of providing increasing levels of services to students. Because ASP professionals are more vulnerable to budget cuts due to less job security, this is an issue that all of us should be discussing and addressing in conferences. We cannot afford to stick out heads in the sand, or hope that it will be somebody else's problem.
Personally, I can attest to the significant drop-off in interest in law school among students with high LSAT's and UGPA's. These students have paid attention to the news, they read the blogs, and they have other options besides law school. An unprecedented number of them have told me they are changing their plans and either not going to law school at all, or they are taking a wait-and-see approach, where they explore other options (Teach for America, Peace Corp, internships abroad) until a legal education guarantees a substantial return on investment. My strong-but-not elite students are taking a different approach; they are only considering law schools that discount tuition by half or more. Many of them are willing to walk away from the idea of being a lawyer if it means more than 40 or 50k in debt from law school loans. These students are still going to law school in significant numbers, but they will not be generating much, if any, revenue for law schools.
Why is this relevant to ASP? The only group of students who are not reconsidering their plans to go to law school are the ones who have no other options. I have seen no decline in interest in law school among students with mediocre to poor UGPAs and LSATs. They cannot get a job in this economy, and many of them have substantial undergraduate loan debt that they cannot pay after graduation. A handful of these students will do very well in law school, because the reason for their lackluster academic performance thus far was due to events outside of their control (death in the family, health issues that have been resolved). The majority of these students are going to struggle in law school. Their sub-par academic performance was due to a sub-par work ethic and a lack of maturity. These students are going straight from undergrad to law school, without the time to grow into themselves and gain the maturity and insight that is necessary to compete in law school. ASP is going to be a lifeline for these students. They are the students most likely to reject help until they are in crisis, and they will be the most reluctant to accept that they need remedial support because they did not learn essential skills in college. ASP needs to plan for the arrival of these students and develop strategies for working with these students.
We are facing the unprecedented convergence of twin challenges: a decline in enrollment and accompanying decline in revenue, and an increased need for our services. (RCF)
Friday, April 27, 2012
This frightens me, to my core. The style of writing that garners top scores from a robo-grader is the style of writing I try to eliminate from my students repertoire: lengthy, inaccurate, complicated, and verbose. I know colleges are now using robo-graders in large, introductory classes. This means that ASP and legal writing will be dealing with more remedial writing challenges, as students learn to write for robo-graders.
Here are some of the highlights of robo-grading that draw my ire:
- Favoring longer sentences, when shorter sentences would be more direct.
- Giving points for length, regardless of what is written.
- Preferring "gargantuan" words ("egregious") to simple phrasing (it was wrong).
- Facts can be wrong, as long as the facts are a part of a well-structured sentence. “E-Rater is not designed to be a fact checker,” said Paul Deane, a principal research scientist.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
It seems like the news focusing on legal education is rarely positive. It's not much better at the undergrad level, where very good books (Academically Adrift, Higher Education? Crisis on Campus) from well-respected researchers are focusing on the problems at the BA/BS level. Criticism of undergraduate education and legal education share some common themes: there are not enough jobs for graduates, graduates have no marketable skills, and what is taught is disconnected from what graduates need to know. At the law school level, ASP and LW focus on skills acquisition, and should be at the center of efforts to reform legal education. While ASP and LW scholars have come up with some great ideas for reforming legal education, we have not really discussed "disruptive" ideas that change the very concept of legal education. Undergraduate researchers have done a lot more thinking about wholesale change in the academy. Most of the changes and ideas are not going to be embraced in entirety, but they they can spur innovation that can lead positive changes to help students and graduates become more successful after they leave us.
One of the most fascinating ideas coming from the undergraduate reform movement centers around using mentors and doing away with the idea of traditional courses with a sage-on-the-stage professor. This type of university would blur the lines between professional and liberal arts education, and do away with disciplinary silos that exist only in the academy. With the growth of open access education or MOOC's, sage-on-the-stage teaching can be done economically over the web, as was done at Stanford when Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig taught an artificial intelligence course to over 100,000 students. Instead of traditional courses, students would work with mentors who could help guide their course selection and college experience. With a small peer group and a mentor, students could work together to solve real-world problems, using the knowledge they gain from MOOC's. Students gain skills when working with real-world problems in a safe, contained learning environment, and mentors can help guide students socially, intellectually, and professionally.
There are certainly challenges to implementing such large-scale changes to the current model of undergraduate education. It is wonderful that researchers and academics are looking to disrupt the current model--something that is not happening at the law school level. I am not dismissing some of the ideas that have come out of the legal academy that promise to improve legal education; there are some great ideas out there (see Robert Rhee and Bradley Borden's "The Law School Firm"). But legal education has had few truly "disruptive" thinkers. Disruptive thinking is scary and promises change, and law schools are notoriously risk-averse and conservative. Instead of fearing change, ASPer's can get out in front of it; think about how our skills can be used in novel and unconventional ways to solve the problems facing law schools. It means we may need to re-boot our thinking, and consider brand-new ways of delivering services.
Here are some things ASPer's can think about:
1) Law firms major complaint is that law school graduates are not practice-ready. Can ASP work with legal employers to teach skills to graduates? Law schools can start making guarantees to law firms: hire our grads, and if they don't have the skills, we will provide them to graduates for free, at the firm. This type of deal with law firms would benefit all parties: law firms would be acquiring less risk when hiring, law schools could get work with law firms so more students are employed, and law students could feel more secure about their employment options.
2) Shift students into "pods" that work on a real-world problem. Instead of a 3-hour exam at the end of the semester, each pod would be responsible for an entire portfolio that addresses the problem. Students would need to address the problem from the perspective of their core courses; they should be able to produce memos that discuss the contract implications of the problem, the constitutional challenges, and possible conflicts with property laws (zoning implications, etc.). ASPer's could play myriad roles; they can be the overall supervisor of a pod, they could float through each pod throughout the semester to check their progress, or they would be the resource for pods that were struggling. An additional benefit would be that ASP would not need to isolate struggling students; the ASPer could work with the entire pod to reinforce skills.
ASPer's need to start thinking about ways to leverage their skills and knowledge for a different type of legal education. If we don't act as change agents, we risk being lost in the changes. No one is going to speak for us but ourselves; we cannot rely on others to find a place for ASP. The fantastic thing about ASP is that we are collaborative, creative, and flexible. Let's use those skills to help address the problems in legal education from new and novel directions. Let's provide the ideas that "disrupt" legal education for the benefit of our students and the profession. (RCF)