Thursday, August 18, 2011

I wish I could have taken that class...

Keith Hirokawa (Albany) just posted a short article describing an innovative land use course he teaches.  He structures his course around a hypothetical permitting process for a real parcel of land (which the students actually visit), and asks students to assume the roles of attorneys representing the multiple parties involved in the land use dispute.  It sounds like a great class, and his approach could be imitated, with some adjustment, in other locations or for environmental law courses.  The article is a quick read, and I recommend checking it out.

The article also contains a more general discussion of some of the benefits of problem-based learning.  To the list of advantages Keith provides, I'd add one more.  I've found that problems--particularly problems in which students assume adversarial roles--are wonderful mechanisms for getting students to closely read statutes and regulations.  That's an essential skill for environmental lawyers, but it isn't easy to develop through traditional caselaw-based teaching.  But when students know they'll be required to present an argument to their classmates, and that those classmates will be challenging their arguments, they seem far more eager to act like real lawyers and pore over the details of statutory and regulatory language.

- Dave Owen

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