Thursday, January 24, 2013
LSSSE data suggest that students benefit tremendously from their relationships with professors. Our analysis reveals that interaction with faculty relates significantly to students’ perceptions of their own gains in both academic and personal dimensions. Student-faculty interaction influences students’ assessment of their writing, speaking, and legal research skills; job or work-related knowledge and skills; and critical and analytical thinking, among other factors. In terms of personal development, student-faculty interaction positively relates to students’ understanding of themselves and others, and to their development of a personal code of values and ethics and a sense of contribution to the welfare of the community. Finally, interaction with faculty also relates positively to students’ report of their grades.
Interaction with faculty not only affects students’ sense of development, it also affects their overall level of satisfaction with law school. LSSSE data show that student-faculty interaction is strongly related to students’ likelihood of choosing the same law school again and of their evaluation of their entire educational experience. Similarly, student-faculty interaction also relates positively to students’ sense of the supportiveness of the law school environment and to their perception of the emphasis their coursework places on higher order learning activities.
Clearly, faculty matter to students. Given the strong benefit to students of these interactions with faculty, it is reassuring to note that LSSSE data do not show significant differences among different groups of students in levels of student-faculty interaction. No significant differences with regard to the amount of interaction with faculty are evident based on students’ race, ethnicity, or gender. While students with lower LSAT scores are slightly less likely to interact with faculty, and students who report higher grades in law school are slightly more likely to interact with faculty, these relationships were small but significant. More influential in terms of faculty interaction are student behaviors (asking questions in class) and activities (moot court and law journal participation, and leading a law school organization), suggesting that students who are more inclined to speak up in class also are more likely to seek out professors to discuss assignments and issues, and those who involve themselves in co-curricular activities may have more opportunities to work with faculty who are advisors. Generally, law students report positive relationships with faculty. Nearly half of students (45%) report that their instructors are highly supportive and encouraging. More than a third of students (38%) feel that their professors care about them as individuals. Fifty-seven percent report feeling strongly that faculty respect students.
Despite these positive results, LSSSE data also suggest that students’ interactions with professors are limited in scope. While half of students frequently discuss assignments with faculty, 25% have never talked with them outside of class about course issues or readings. Nineteen percent of students have never talked to an instructor about an issue unrelated to coursework. One-third of students have never talked to a professor about which courses to take in law school, and one-quarter of students have never talked to a faculty member about career plans or career advice.
These data underscore the impact that faculty can have on student growth, student outcomes—even student satisfaction with the law school experience as a whole. While our findings aver the importance of student-faculty interaction, they also suggest that additional opportunities exist for more meaningful interaction. Law schools may draw on these findings in considering strategies to promote and facilitate such interaction.
Check out the full report here.