October 04, 2010
Starting a new semester
As we move past the beginning and approach the middle of the semester, we are trying new things and experimenting with new formats. We are learning what wroks, and what needs some tweaks. Some of us are teaching new classes, others are teaching the same classes in a new way. This is my second year of teaching Remedies as an ASP course, and here are some of the new things I am trying. Some are going well, others need more tweaks in teh coming weeks:
1) My student's don't use a traditional casebook (until Mike Schwartz's comes out) so I send them their reading in chunks. I don't know how this will work. But my rationale for the change is that I can better tailor the reading to the movement of the class if I periodically review where we are and where we want to go throughout the semester rather than give them everything at once. I add questions and comments to the reading, and this way, I can tailor my questions and comments in the text to what the students are struggling with in the material.
2) I am definitely using handouts to go with my PowerPoints. I know, I should have been doing this from the start. I would love to say my rationale was that I researched the science and saw that handouts scaffold the material learned in class, and therefore, make for better learning by students. That is 75% of my rationale. The other 25% has to do with attention in class. I really don't like giving away my PowerPoints because I believe it reduces the motivation to be alert and attentive in class. I teach at night, and I could be Robin Williams and students would still want to zone out. If I create a handout the acts as a roadmap to where we are going, they can fill in the pertinent information. I am hoping this method also helps students start to see what they should be taking notes on in their other classes. If I give them a template, they will (hopefully) extrapolate what are the important headings to their other classes.
3) I am trying a slower movement through the material. I am trying to go one step deeper with the material, making deeper connections between the material and what students should be thinking. This is an ongoing metacognitive process for me. I am not only re-reading the material, but stopping myself to ask why? when I write notes on the case.
August 20, 2010
ASP survey coming soon to an inbox near you
So often we wish we had information about what other law schools are doing in the ASP area. For some time there has been discussion encouraging data collection from all of us about our staffing patterns and program details. The Law School Academic Success Project is undertaking a survey of academic support programs/staffing with assistance from LSAC.
The following announcement about the survey was posted by John Mollenkamp on the ASP listserv today. Please help us by providing the contact information requested so that the correct person at your law school will receive the upcoming survey. (Amy Jarmon)
As you may already know, we're trying to develop a Survey of Academic Support Programs in hopes of gathering data about what programming different law schools offer (and what staffing those programs have, among other things). Those familiar with the Legal Writing Survey may be glad to know that our planned survey is MUCH shorter.
But, to have a similar response rate (even for a shorter survey), we're going to need to find out who should answer the survey at each law school. Thus, starting next week and lasting through Labor Day, we're going to begin sending out individual e-mails to the folks that we THINK might be the right person to answer the survey. Then, once we've built that list, we'll send survey information to those folks.
You can help us now, though, by coming forward (by reply e-mail OFF-LIST to firstname.lastname@example.org) and giving your name, school, and e-mail for purposes of getting the survey answered. If you have multiple folks at your school who might be interested in answering the survey, you'll need to collaborate and decide which person will be the contact person and the one to receive the survey (though you can all work on answering it). If we don't know the "right" person, we'll probably ultimately send it to a Dean found via a web search with hopes of it getting forwarded. This is not nearly as good, of course, as getting it directly to the person who knows the answers already.
Thank you for your help in getting the ASP Survey off to a great start. I'm also glad to answer any questions you might have about this project.
Clinical Professor of Law
Director of Academic Support
Cornell Law School
February 09, 2010
Please Fill Out The Survey!
A request from Emily Randon at UC-Davis. If you haven't taken the survey, please do!
We are in the process of collecting data to determine the use of and need for a Law of Agency Casebook to be used in law school academic support courses. Generally, and for the purposes of the course, the Law of Agency focuses and expands on concepts of agency in Torts, Contracts and Property. Many law schools offer courses to assist struggling students with reading, analyzing and study skills. Current studies indicate that combining a substantive law course with skill building is one of the most effective ways to assist these students. Many law schools are looking for a substantive law course “vehicle” in which to teach skills.
With that in mind, I am hoping you will please fill out this quick (really quick!) survey, by clicking here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/D2B9JP9 and respond to questions related to Academic Support courses at your law school. PLEASE FILL THIS OUT EVEN IF YOU HAVE NO SUCH COURSE OR ARE NOT CONTEMPLATING ONE.
Thank you in advance for your help! If possible, please respond by Monday, February 15th.
February 08, 2010
Different Schools, Different ASP
We accept that different schools have different characteristics, different personalities, different cultures and histories. This is an important thing to consider when designing or re-designing your ASP program. One-size-does-NOT-fit-all in ASP; ASP, to be successful, must meet the needs of a unique student body, but also reflect the culture of the school. That is not to say that there are not best practices in ASP (subject of a different post), but it does mean that a program that might be stellar at one school can be lackluster (or harmful) at another.
1) What is the culture of the school? Competitive? Community-oriented?
My experience is that the more competitive the school, the more invisible ASP should be to the general student body. This sounds counter-intuitive to many, but there is significant experience behind this opinion. At highly competitive schools, the students who most need academic help will avoid anything that makes them look weak. Because these students feel weak, they will walk to the other side of the building to avoid being seen near the place where people get help with problems. However, students in the top of the class looking for any extra edge will seek out ASP and monopolize resources. This upside-down appeal exacerbates problems rather than helping students in need. The best ASP at highly competitive schools is still ASP, but it looks like something else. These schools do best with a class-based program, where students meet on a regular basis, but the class looks like any other class at the school, not a class for people who are struggling. The ASP Director should NOT be called an ASP Director; they should have a position and a title that is similar to other academics at the school. ASP classes at these schools should be intensive skills courses, preferably hybrid doctrinal-ASP; students want to know their time is being well-spent doing something about their grades. Students are identified for ASP by a professors, administrators, using student-disclosed information; the more concrete the referrel, the better.
Community-oriented schools will miss significant numbers of students if they adopt this model. At schools that appeal to students with a less-competitive, community-minded approach to legal education, students are more likely to reliably self-identify. ASP looks less academic, more administrative, and has a hybrid student-services approach. ASP is not shameful, because it is a resource for all students, and going to ASP is less stigmatizing for students in distress. ASP can be a drop-in center with regular hours for students to ask questions, check out extra resources, and come in for help.
There are in-between models for schools that mix and match elements of either model. I don't believe that any one model is ideal; all models should reflect student needs and practices. The problem is when a school adopts a program because it has been shown to be effective at a school completely unlike their own. This can happen for any number of reasons.Before you plan an ASP program, it's best to know the population you will be working with.
I realize that I am going to get flak about the vagueness of the terms "highly competitive" and "community oriented." To quote Justice Potter Stewart..."I shall not today attempt further to define [what] I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "
2) What are the student needs? Do you have an evening program? A large number of non-traditional students?
Non-traditional students will have non-traditional ASP needs. A class-based system for non-traditional, part-time, or evening students is not feasible during their first year. Every hour outside of work and classes is occupied with another high-priority committment, like family. Resources and help need to be available to these students. A robust website with PowerPoints, self-help guides, and referrel information is important, so they students can get information on their own schedule. Working with professors of doctrinal classes is also helpful; even if ASP is integrated a few hours a semester through doctrinal courses, it will help students in need. No one is stigmatized, and no one feels left out, because everyone is getting the same material. Caveat: For the ASPer's own health and well-being, they can not be available to both day and evening students for all their needs.
3) What is history of the school with ASP? Have they ever had a program? Why didn't it work?
Some faculty and schools with reticence towards ASP have just had the wrong model ASP at their school. ASP can look ineffective and costly if it does not reflect the culture, history, and needs of the students and the school. But when ASP fits a school, it hits a sweet spot; students in need receive help to achieve their potential, no one is labeled or stigmatized, it builds goodwill with students which can aid in alumni development, and faculty get better exams because students have a better idea of what is expected of them. (RCF)
January 13, 2010
The Numbers Game
All of us in academic support want to know what is working and what is not. Our very nature as ASP'ers is that we want to improve our work so that we can help our students more effectively.
There are multiple ways to evaluate our programs: questionnaires/surveys, suggestion boxes, unsolicited e-mails and notes, academic improvement of students with whom we work, bar passage improvement (for those who do bar prep), attendance at programs. Some of these are qualitative, and some are quantitative. Some might use both indicators.
I agree that numerical data can be helpful. However, in nearly 25 years of working in higher education, I have never been won over by the view that numbers alone tell the story. Why do I take that view? Let me give you some examples:
- Our work matters one student at a time. I do more than just parrot study advice. I listen. I encourage. I challenge. I confront. I pick up the pieces. I search for answers to that student's success. I rejoice in breakthroughs. A number does not evaluate those encounters.
- Rarely is my work a "one hit wonder" phenomenon. My work is based on assessment of issues, individual plans for improvement, monitoring of progress, and relationships with students. One appointment as a number means little in that on-going process.
- A student who achieves a modest grade increment may be succeeding at a level that was a mountain climb away from the student's starting point. Another student may "knock the ball out of the park" because the problems were study management issues rather than understanding how to analyze legally. Both students have shown success for their abilities and their issues.
- Ultimately, my students must want to succeed by doing the hard work that is needed in law school. I cannot impact their success with strategies and techniques if they choose to not implement them. A small increase (or even a decrease) is not about me. Likewise, I cannot take all the credit for major successes.
- Academic success is a work in progress. One semester's improvement may not show the full story. I have students who have worked with me over a series of semesters. By the time we are done, their efforts have maximized their success with A's and B's rather than their initial D's and F's.
- Students vary in the number of appointments that they need to improve. One student may need four or five appointments during the semester to achieve more effective and efficient time management. Another student might be able to implement techniques fairly quickly.
- Some of the ways we help students may not be easily calculated. For example, I send out weekly e-mails of study tips to all law students. I know that students benefit from the advice even though they might never attend a workshop or ask for an appointment. I get enough informal feedback to know the service makes an impact. But, a question on a survey about "how often do you read the weekly study tips e-mails" or "how many times have you implemented a technique from the e-mails" would probably garner little useful (or accurate) information.
- Numbers do not necessarily reflect quality. If I held 2,000 30-minute appointments instead of 1,000 1-hour appointments in 12 months, would it really reflect anything positive? I doubt it. In some cases, it would merely indicate that I saw the same student twice to cover the material that I used to cover in one longer appointment. It would often mean that I was short-cutting on assistance to the student (handouts that do not match the individual problems; a canned speech on a topic that did not consider the individual learning styles; a lecture rather than a discussion).
- Numbers in bar success can monitor trends when a full bar study is done (that is those who passed as well as those who failed). We can find out lots of quantitative indicators: bad grades, 1L gpa, bar courses taken, and so forth. That information is helpful. But only by talking to each person individually would we ever truly know what equaled success or failure for that graduate beyond mere numbers: techniques that worked; bar review courses used; any medical or personal obstacles; diligence in study; timing of study; work while studying.
Four students at a workshop who delve deeply into strategies and ask questions focusing on their issues with the topic may be hugely successful as a workshop. Thirty students at a workshop who barely pay attention and do not really want to be there may produce little improvement.
So, I would say we should look for both quantitative and qualitative measures when we seek to find out how we can improvement our programs. (Amy Jarmon)
October 20, 2008
More on evaluating research on new programs
Based on some of the feedback I have received about my post from Wednesday, I am expanding my discussion about why we need to consider our students when we are implementing new programs based on research. This is an area where I have personal experience, in two different ways. I am in the unique position of having attended classes at or worked at six different law schools in four areas of the country; UNC Law (my alma mater), Duke Law, UCONN Law, Whittier, ASU--Sandra Day O'Connor, and Vermont Law School. But I also have personal experience evaluating the research from peer institutions when making decisions about new initiatives and classes. Based on my experience, the single most important variable when evaluating whether a program will achieve desired results is the students. Students aren't a monolithic, one-dimensional variable. There are multiple sub-variables to consider.
It would be more than a blog posting, more like a journal article, for me to detail why I would suggest considering each and every factor I listed in my last post. I will examine a couple of key factors as examples of how and why to careful evaluate research before implementing new programs based on research from other schools. I will be making some generalizations based on my experience; your experience may be different. My goal is to encourage you to look carefully at how students may impact the research results, and how this may impact the success of a new program.
One of the critical factors to examine is whether the research was conducted at a school with day only, or day and evening students. Day and evening students have some dramatic differences. Demographically, evening students tend to be older, have more work experience, are more likely to be supporting a family, and much more likely to be working while in law school. There are great benefits to schools having evening programs; my experience is they are more focused students, devoted to becoming lawyers, and more mature than their daytime counterparts. But time is at an even greater premium for these students than for day students. Evening students with families or working even part-time don't have any extra time to relax, let alone participate in supplemental programs, even when it will be of great benefit in the long run. Time and money constraints have a dramatic impact in the programs they will attend, how they respond to new programs, and the time they can put into extracurricular programs, such as Bar/Bri and PMBR. I haven't seen any research on the success of evening students as compared to day students on the bar exam, but my guess is there would be a difference. If a supplemental bar program or bar prep class is evaluated using evening students or day and evening students, I would expect the success rate to be much lower than if the same class is evaluated using day law students only. It's not a measure of the program, but an outcome of the time constraints of the students.
The location of the law school is also a significant factor to be considered when evaluating research. A city school with numerous other schools in the area is going to be very different from a rural school with few or no other law schools within hundreds of miles. A school without other schools in the area is more likely to serve a student body with a diverse range of abilities. If a law school is the only one within a hundred mile radius, some students will attend, even if they could have gone to a higher-ranked law school, because they are locked to the region. Evaluating programs in a school that has an LSAT range of 147-165 is different from evaluating programs at a school where the LSAT ranges from 150-153. Let me emphasize that LSAT is not destiny, but it is a factor when evaluating whether a program will work with your students. Teaching to a wide variety of abilities results in different teaching methods, and in some cases, different outcomes. This factor overlaps with the public/private issue; if the only other law school in the area is private, or much more expensive, you will see some of these effects as well.
The history of the law school is a very important factor, with multiple variables. A new law school is creating a culture and a legacy. They don't have alumni war stories about the bar exam to rely on for student buy-in of programs. Without a strong culture and legacy, students also don't have misinformation to the same degree as students who have a wealth of bad advice built into the culture of the school. New law schools also don't have the stigma, or burn-out, if they don't have a great record with the bar exam. An older law school with more than a few lackluster years can develop a culture of failure than sends self-defeating messages to the students. One such message is that no one from Law School X passes the bar exam on the first try, so take it the first time as a trial run, or just for practice. If a school is implementing a new program while simultaniously trying to overcome the burden of law student stigma, the results of a new program will not be reliable for a couple of years. The results of the program need time to be decoupled from the efforts to change the law school culture.
Another variable relating to the history of a law school is the history of the academic success program. A law school with a well-established, reputable ASP program that has outreach during the 1L year will find it much easier implementing a program for 3L's. When the students already trust ASP, they will buy-in sooner, and put more effort into what you are asking them to achieve. Similarly, if a law school has not had ASP, but is looking to establish a 3L bar prep program for the first time, they need a different marketing strategy and should expect a more conservative student response. I am a strong advocate for starting ASP programs incrementally, starting with 1L's, and gradually introducing programs for upperclass students. The other effect ASP will have on the success of a new program relates to the skills base of the students. Law schools with a well established 1L ASP that focuses on basic skills will have 3L's with a better foundation for bar courses. It's hard to build a foundation when students have already made it through 2-3 years of law school; you wouldn't try to pour a foundation after building a superstructure. Any program that is starting with 3L's without a 1L program will need more time to achieve results, and an even longer time if the school isn't planning on creating a 1L program to introduce skills to students at the beginning of law school.
This is not an exhaustive list of factors to consider when thinking about implementing a new program. I hope I have provided an illustration of the kinds of factors to consider when considering implementing new programs based on the research of other schools. I made some generalizations about students based on my experience, and you may disagree with some of them.
Lastly, if your school is considering implementing a new program, and would like to talk to me about some of the things to consider, I would be happy to chat with anyone on this topic. (RCF)