Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wegner on the Visible and the Invisible (Wegner 3)

In her article Reframing Legal Education’s "Wicked Problems," which I have been discussing this week, Professor Wegner emphasizes the importance of both the visible and the invisible. The visible includes things like "How many hours should each first year subject receive? Isn‘t there need for additional advanced offerings in xxx (pick your subject area) since there is so much important and sophisticated work being done in that field?"

An important invisible dimension is student learning and the recent, profound developments in learning sciences. One area concerns expertise. "The development of expertise has been studied across a myriad of fields ranging from chess players to historians to educators. Experts are typically those who possess both the know what and the know how that allows them to demonstrate great skills in solving problems in a particular domain. The movement from novice to expert is a journey that occurs in the context of many domains. " "Experts notice patterns not seen by novices. They possess a great deal of content knowledge, and organize or chunk that knowledge in ways that reflect deep understanding. Expert knowledge develops in context through experience with myriad scenarios, and becomes deeply internalized so relevant insights can be retrieved with relatively little conscious effort. Tacit learning (including observation, imitation, and experience) is important in the development of expertise, since expertise is characterized by much more than book learning. Expertise develops in stages, from initial acclimation through competence, to proficiency and excellence. Experience in working with poorly defined problems is essential to developing expertise."

(I should add here that Daniel Kahneman has written similarly about expertise in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. For example, he declares, "what we consider as ‘expertise’ usually takes a long time to develop. The acquisition of expertise in complex tasks such as high-level chess, professional basketball or firefighting is intricate and slow because expertise in a domain is not a single skill but rather a large collection of miniskills." p. 238. Professor Kahneman notes that it takes thousands of hours to develop expertise.)

A second invisible dimension is assessment. "There are generally two types of assessment, summative assessment and formative assessment. Summative assessment involves a snapshot judgment of what a student knows at a particular time and is often used as a tool to evaluate where a student stands in terms of achieving ultimate educational objectives or where the student stands with respect to others." Summative assessment is common in law school (the typical law school exam). "Formative assessment on the other hand is designed to provide feedback and guide students to improve and learn further, based on feedback that enhances their capacity to build on what they know and address areas of misunderstanding." While Wegner considers formative assessment rare in law school, she mentions the process method of teaching legal research. (I would also add how most legal writing teachers teach their students.) She adds, "Too often assessment is seen as the end of the story, when in fact, it provides a means of continuing improvement." (I would like to add that the best way to learn is to learn from your mistakes. Formative assessment allows students to do this.)

Finally, she mentions the three apprenticeships–"to ‘think and know,’ ‘do and act,’ and ‘believe and be’ while wrapping these dimensions into a meaningful whole."

"The first cognitive apprenticeship focuses on developing students' thinking skills in the specific context of legal materials and law-related content. It has both a knowledge context and an epistemological character. In short, students must learn what counts by way of knowledge, and how to construct knowledge for themselves within this particular field. The cognitive. apprenticeship fits exceptionally well with the case-dialogue method and with legal education‘s place in the academy."

"The second apprenticeship of skill and practice focuses on developing students‘ abilities to understand and intervene in particular contexts and to perform as expert professionals responsible for the well-being of others. The second apprenticeship is one that law schools have approached in a patchwork fashion, adding skills courses, externships and clinical opportunities over the years. . . . In short, legal education has not really embraced the need for students to learn to do and act or appreciated the ways in which doing and acting are powerful means to fuel learning of substance itself. "

"The third apprenticeship of identity and purpose concerns the development of students' appreciation for professional roles, possibly conflicting dimensions of those roles, ethical obligations, and individual meaning derived by professionals from the work they do. This apprenticeship is the one that seems most absent and least well understood within the legal education universe of today."

I agree with Wegner on her evaluation of the three apprenticeships. Law schools teach the first one well. Law schools do the second one some, but they could do it better. Finally, law schools do a poor job in developing students’ professionalism.

(Scott Fruehwald)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2012/02/wegner-on-the-visible-and-the-invisible.html

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