Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education: Working Paper Criticisms

The ABA Task Force Working Paper is a thoroughly thought out document, which contains many insightful observations and important recommendations.  However, it also contains several recommendations that I think should not be implemented.

A. The Task Force states that the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar should consider modifying Standard 306 (relating to distance education).   I strongly oppose this recommendation.  The idea behind this recommendation is that distance education could allow one professor to reach more students, thus lowering the cost of instruction.  However, this would also significantly lower the quality of the learning process.  General education studies have shown that effective education requires interaction between the students and professor.  Otherwise, the students will not be engaged in the class, and they will learn much less.  Also, students learn more when they apply what they know.

A Columbia University study showed that "students who took online courses were more likely to fail or drop out of the course than students who took the same course in person. Moreover, those students with the most Web credits were the least likely to graduate."  (here)  Another writer has declared, "In spite of all the hype about interactivity, "lecturing" a la MOOCs merely extends the cliché of the static, one-sided lecture hall, where distance learning begins after the first row."   (here)  Finally, San Jose State University recently suspended its distance learning courses because more than half the students flunked.  (here)   Comments from this article:

1. "The hype originates mostly from educational start-ups backed by millions of dollars in venture capital. Udacity, which was founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and Google fellow who says his goal is to bring "the very best of higher education to everyone worldwide," launched last year with $20 million in venture funds. Its closest rival, Coursera, also founded by Stanford faculty members, has collected $65 million in backing so far, including a chunk from the World Bank.  So it's not surprising that the services these firms offer resemble the product of a business model more than an educational model. More to the point, critics say, it's a Silicon Valley business model."

2. "They think the distribution of information that they're part of is the same as education, and that's just not true," says Christopher Newfield, an English professor at UC Santa Barbara who has been tracking the spread of the online learning mania. "Learning is not the same as watching TV or playing video games."

3.  "Having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her own students," the professors wrote. They pointed to the risk that the edX model would lead to two classes of universities: a top tier "in which privileged students get their own real professor; the other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of video-taped lectures and interact with a glorified teaching assistant."

4.  "Moreover, if university administrators think the online model will allow them to save money, say, by employing fewer or less-qualified teachers, without sacrificing the quality of the education they provide, they've been hoodwinked.  That's the danger of believing promises of a pedagogical revolution when they're purveyed by companies with something to sell."

B. The Task Force states that the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar should consider modifying Standard 403 (relating to proportion of courses taught by  full-time faculty).  Adjuncts have been a valuable resource in legal education.  However, they are a supplement to what full-time professors do.  Students need full-time professors who are professional educators who know how to teach.  Not only are adjuncts not teachers, they cannot devote the time necessary to properly teach professional students.  Our law students are paying high tuition for full-time teachers, and they should get what they pay for. 

C. The Task Force states that the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar should consider modifying Standard 304(c) (requiring that the J.D. program be completed no earlier than 24 months after commencement of law study).  Education requires reflection, and trying to cram law school in to as little time as possible does not engender reflection. 

D. State regulators of Lawyers and Law Practice should Seriously Consider Proposals to Reduce the Amount of Law Study Required for Persons to be Eligible to Sit for a Bar Examination or be Admitted to Practice.  As I have written before in detail (here), many students are coming out of law school  significantly unprepared to practice.  Reducing law school to two years would only make this problem worse.

E. State regulators of Lawyers and Law Practice should Reduce the Number of Subjects Tested on Bar Examinations.  Instead, licensing authorities should change the bar exam so that it actually tests for the knowledge and skills lawyers need in practice.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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