Thursday, January 11, 2018

A report from the recently concluded AALS conference by the Section on Teaching Methods

A little known fact is that I'm a former chair of the Section on Teaching Methods so I'm happy to promote the efforts of a successor (a few generations removed) regarding the Section's program at the recently concluded conference. Dateline San Diego, January 8, 2018:

One of the highlights of the recent AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego were the two back-to-back sessions held by the Teaching Methods Section.


In the first session, entitled Something Borrowed: Using Cooperative Learning Strategies in Legal Education, Catherine Haras, Senior Director of the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning at Cal State Los Angeles, began by urging us away from the well-worn theory of “learning styles,” explaining that there is no research supporting the idea that people have one preferred style of learning. She suggested instead that all learners are “multi-modal,” and that teaching and learning need not be geared toward any one style. She drew on her extensive background working with teachers in other disciplines to underscore the value of the Langdellian case method and traditional Socratic dialogue, while encouraging law faculty to break out of their silos, critically examine learning theory, and borrow ideas from other fields. Professor Haras suggested that we teach to students’ prior knowledge and expertise to enhance metacognition.


In the second session, Learning Together: Diverse Models of Collaborative Learning in Law School, the Teaching Methods section presented a panel of law faculty who shared their methods of using collaborative strategies to enhance learning in their classrooms. Particularly interesting was Mel Weresh’s (Drake) demonstration of Team Based Learning (TBL), which had attendees working in teams – some on the floor - to piece together a legal analysis problem. Angela Mae Kupenda (Mississippi College) focused on “inevitable disagreement” in collaborative learning, based on her appellate practice, her business school teaching experience, and her current role as a teacher of Constitutional Law and related subjects. We look forward to Professor Kupenda’s forthcoming paper on this subject.


I was impressed by the size of the audience, showing how we care deeply about our students and our mission to best prepare them for their life’s work in the law. The focus on collaborative learning was particularly relevant, as I strongly believe that students need to practice working as part of a team while still in law school, instead of being expected to do so for the first time after becoming junior associates.


These were some of the best and most practical sessions I have ever attended at an AALS meeting. Teaching Methods Chair Debbie Borman (Seattle) is to be commended for her creativity in constructing two sessions that flowed together so seamlessly and that taught us so much.


Gregory J. Marsden

Professor and Dean of Postgraduate Study

Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey

Monterrey, Mexico


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