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Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reflections on the First Minimester, Part II

I have been periodically reporting in this space on my Law School's new curriculum, which features a new approach to contracts.  We have broken each semester into two, seven-week minimesters, and the traditional four-credit, fourteen-week contracts course has been broken into two, two-credit, seven-week courses.  As a result, our students had their first set of final exams three weeks ago.  They got their grades in mid-October, and I have been meeting with them one-on-one ever since.

I offered a first set of observations on the experiment here.  Now that I have been meeting with students, here are a few additional thoughts.  

  • Far more students have requested conferences with me to go over their exams this year than in any past year.  I would put the rate of increased traffic at somewhere between 300% and 500%.
  • So far, my conversations with my students have focused entirely on how they can improve their performance on the next exam.  No students have come to question their grades, gripe about their grades or complain about the exam or the exam-taking environment.
  • Usually, the only students who talk to me about their exams are the students who performed the worst.  This semester it has been a mix of some of the top students and most of the bottom students.  I haven't seen that many of the students in the meaty part of the curve, but that might be a product of their understanding that a certain triage is taking place.  Students who did poorly on the exams need to be meeting with me so that they can get to work right away on remedying identifiable problems.  For the rest, there is less urgency.
  • To a surprising degree, the meetings have enabled me to identify the nature of the students' problems.  It is the rare student who failed miserably on all aspects of the exam.  Some have significant deficiencies on multiple choice; some did not IRAC, even though they all know that they have to IRAC.  Sometimes, there were specific doctrines that the students had failed to grasp.  I hope that this information is useful to them, and to the extent that there are patterns, it is highly useful to me.
  • All of this is a lot of work.  It is a lot of work for me, and that's okay, but it also puts huge strain on our staff.  Schools that might be considering emulating our approach will have to consider the attendant quality-of-work-environment issues.  It is also a lot of work for our students to think about what went wrong last minimester when they have also slipped into a new minimester featuring two new substantive law courses without any break.
  • One of our main goals with the minimester system is to identify students who are at risk as early as possible and to get them the help we can offer through our ASP program or simply by identifying areas where they can improve their performance.  We will be better to gauge the success of this early intervention program at the end of the second minimester in December.

[JT]

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