Saturday, October 19, 2013

Legal Education Reform Across the Curriculum: Experiential Education in the Lecture Hall

About twice a year, I read an article that is so exciting that I must immediately write a post about it. Jessica Erickson has recently written such an exciting article:

Experiential Education in the Lecture Hall, which advocates using experiential teaching techniques in all doctrinal classes.

Abstract: "This Essay, written for the "Experience the Future" symposium, hosted by Northeastern University School of Law and the Alliance for Experiential Learning in Law, argues that the push for experiential education in law schools is really a push for better teaching. Experiential learning is not just appropriate for the relatively few skills courses in law schools. It is the best way to teach all material in law schools, including doctrine. To have a deep understanding of the law, students must be able to use the law to craft legal arguments, draft legal documents, and shape legal strategy. A student who has memorized the rules but who cannot apply it in these ways does not know the law in any satisfactory way. Yet students do not acquire this deep understanding of the law through passive methods of instruction. Students learn by experiencing, and doctrine is no exception. This Essay examines the benefits of experiential education in doctrinal instruction and explores how to incorporate experiential teaching methods into doctrinal courses."

I think that Professor Erickson's article will become an important article on legal education reform because, as I have urged many times on this blog, she draws on general education scholarship, including research by cognitive scientists.  She then shows how the learning from general education scholarship can be applied to law school teaching.

Here are some key excerpts from her article:

1. "Students learn by experiencing. . ."

2. "[T]he debate about experiential education is really a debate about student learning."

3. "[E]ven if the goal in the classroom is just to teach doctrine, students learn doctrine better when professors use experiential teaching methods."

4. "[T]o the extent that doctrinal professors want their students to leave law school with other higher-order proficiencies, students can best acquire these proficiencies through experiential learning methods."

5. "The current model in legal education is teacher-oriented."

6. "If they evaluate themselves honestly, most professors would probably admit that their students are not learning as much as the professors had hoped."

7. "To really improve legal education, professors must focus more directly on student learning. . . .  we have to spend as much time (or more) thinking about how we teach as we do thinking about what we teach."

8. Often, in traditional law school classes, "The students did not have to think deeply about the information so, as a result, their brains did not think the information was important enough to store in long-term memory."

9. "When we ask students to apply course material in a problem or case study, we are really asking them to think about the material.  This process of intellectual engagement is more likely to get the information into students’ long-term memory."

10. "Academics in other disciplines have repeatedly shown the benefits of active learning methods."

11. "[A] wealth of studies demonstrates that testing itself enhances student learning."

12. "Even within doctrinal learning, there are different levels of knowledge. A student who can use the doctrine in a sophisticated way has a higher level of understanding than a student who can simply recite the doctrine."

13. "Experiential education is not an end unto itself. . . .  The key is to link experiential education with the professor’s learning objectives for the course."

14. "The final step in the course design process is to determine the learning activities for the course. These learning activities should again be closely tied to the learning objectives and assessments outlined above. Indeed, the three steps—defining objectives, developing assessments, and creating learning activities—should all be tightly intertwined, such that each class period has students actively engaged in activities that will allow them to assess their progress in meeting the learning activities."

15. In sum, "Reform in legal education must include doctrinal professors." 

(Scott Fruehwald)

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