Thursday, January 27, 2011
AALS Poster Project: Emily Zimmerman's Do Law Students Want Multiple Graded and Ungraded Assignments? Results from an Empirical Research Project
Professor Zimmerman is a professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University. She conducts empirical research to assess strengths and weaknesses in legal pedagogy and methods for promoting student enthusiasm. She has given presentations at numerous regional, national and international conferences, including a seminar on teaching legal methods in Pidgirtsi, Ukraine for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, a conference on the pedagogy of legal writing in Nairobi, Kenya and a conference on global legal skills in Monterrey, Mexico.
Her publications include:
-An Interdisciplinary Framework for Understanding and Cultivating Student Enthusiasm, 58 DePaul L. Rev. 851 (2009);
-What Keeps Me Going? A Great Job at Home and Abroad, 18 Second Draft 9 (June 2004); and
The information in Professor Zimmerman's poster is included in her forthcoming article, What Do Law Students Want?: The Missing Piece of the Assessment Puzzle (Rutgers Law Journal). You can download an earlier version of the article from SSRN (SSRN download) or a newer version here: (Download What Do Law Students Want?).
Professor Zimmerman gives the following description of her poster:
I will be presenting some of the results of my empirical research that investigates, inter alia, law students’ assessment preferences. I have attached my poster as a separate file.
Starting with the 2007-2008 academic year, I have been administering a survey to first-year students at a law school at the beginning of the year (at the end of the first day of orientation) and at the end of the year (during the last week of class). The beginning-of- the-year survey asks students to indicate whether they agree with the statements, “I would like to be assigned multiple graded assignments throughout a first-year law school course,” and “I would like to be assigned multiple un-graded assignments throughout a first-year law school course.” The end-of-the-year survey asks students to indicate whether they agree with the statements, “I would like to be assigned multiple graded assignments throughout a law school course,” and “I would like to be assigned multiple un-graded assignments throughout a law school course.”
My poster presents two years of first-year students’ responses to these questions (the first-year class that entered the law school in 2007 and the first-year class that entered the law school in 2008).
Each graph on the poster shows the distribution of students’ responses (by percentage) to each survey question in each survey year, at both the beginning of the year and the end of the year. The graph on the left shows the distribution of students’ responses to the survey questions about wanting multiple graded assignments. The graph on the right shows the distribution of students’ responses to the survey questions about wanting multiple ungraded assignments. The beginning-of-the-year responses and the end-of-the-year responses for each survey year are presented side-by-side, which enables comparisons between the distribution of responses at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. Also, the results for each survey year are presented separately on each graph, which enables trends across both survey years to be observed.
There is a number on top of each bar on the graphs, which states the percentage of respondents represented by that bar. These numbers are clear on a poster-sized document, although the numbers are not clear when the poster is printed on 8 ½-by-11 inch paper. The graphs also indicate the number of respondents who responded to each question (the numbers in parentheses after “Entrance” and “Exit” below the bars of the graphs).
The data indicate that, in both survey years, at both the beginning of the year and the end of the year, a majority of first-year students respond that they want multiple graded assignments. However, in both survey years, the data also indicate that a lower percentage of students at the end of the year want multiple graded assignments.
In addition, the data also indicate that, in both survey years, at the end of the first year of law school, a majority of students indicate disagreement with wanting multiple ungraded assignments.
These findings raise a number of questions about law school pedagogy.
First, these findings raise the question of whether at least some law school courses should use multiple graded assignments because, at both the beginning and end of the year, a majority of students indicate that they want multiple graded assignments.
Second, these findings raise the question of whether workload concerns underlie both students’ apparent resistance to multiple ungraded assignments and the lower percentage of students who want multiple graded assignments at the end of the first year of law school. Students may perceive that more assessment means more work. As a result, students may not be receptive to more assessment events.
The data from my research project suggest that any efforts to incorporate more assessment into law school pedagogy should consider the impact on students’ workload. Some of the value of more frequent assessment may be lost if students are thoroughly overwhelmed. There may need to be more careful coordination among professors, particularly professors who teach first-year law students, to ensure that students’ workload is manageable. In addition, the data from my research project suggest that law professors should consider ways to integrate more assessment into the classroom, as an alternative to adding an overwhelming number of out-of-class assignments into the curriculum.
Thus, this poster provides data regarding law students’ perspectives regarding multiple graded and ungraded assignments. This poster also demonstrates the value of learning more about our students’ perspectives and how our students’ perspectives might inform the design of legal education.