Friday, March 8, 2013

Teaching Property by Flipping the Classroom

One thing that I probably don't blog about enough is teaching methodology.  That's why I was particularly excited to receive the following email from Property Prof, friend-of-the-blog, and all-round good guy Tim Iglesias (I post this with Tim's gracious permission):

As I'm sure you know, there's been a lot of discussion around revising teaching methods lately, in part as a response to the crises in legal education and the job market.

One method that's been touted quite a bit in elementary and high school teaching and more recently in undergraduate education is "flipping the classroom," i.e. providing students with (and expecting them to absorb) "content" before the class meeting (either by written materials, by pre-recorded lectures they can watch or by on-line materials), and then using the class meeting for analysis, problem-solving and exercises rather than "information transfer." Of course, in one sense, that is what the traditional Socratic Method aspires to. In any case, I'm considering doing some variation of "flipping" for at least some topics in my Property Law course. And, rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm interested to know if any Property Law professors have tried it and are willing to share their "lessons learned" or, even better, their materials.

I'm curious about this as well.  Has anyone out there had any experiences with this methodology? 

Steve Clowney

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Great post. I have blogged a bit about flipping the classroom, in the context of my property class. At some point, I plan on designing Khan-Academy style videos to explain Property concepts (short, maybe 7 minutes), and provide those to students before class. Hopefully, that will diminish the amount of lecturing I do in class, and increase the ability to focus on discussion and application. See

Posted by: Josh Blackman | Mar 8, 2013 9:46:13 AM

I teach history, not law, but have taught both grads and undergrads over the last ten years, in classes ranging in size from 12 to 200. Based on my own study and experience, I would say by all means, flip the classroom. There is a large and growing literature on this developed over the last 20 years or so, which seems pretty definitive. In fine: information transfer is the worst possible kind of teaching, whose poor outcomes are directly related to unsuitability of the technique to what we actually know about how learning happens (or doesn't).

My own classes are built in much the way you suggested: the students acquire the 'content' before they come to class, then we can focus in class on higher-level critical skills: analysis, synthesis, evaluation. To accomplish this, I start by collecting the readings with an aim to what I want to achieve in the class: what do I want them to learn, to think about? How can I best challenge their misconceptions and preconceived ideas? The readings are a mix of history and historiography, that is, of primary and secondary source materials (perhaps equivalent to 'case law' vs 'legal theories' of interpretation?). I write up a page (a web page - would be many pages in print) introducing students to the main questions we will issues we will discuss in class, formulated as questions, and introducing each of the separate readings as a clue or step in the solution of a puzzle. The readings are there to give them the tools to construct rational, critically-informed, evidence-based answers to those larger questions. Each reading has its own small set of questions, designed to draw the student's attention to those aspects of the text which I regard as essential to address of the larger questions for the class. There is much more to say (things to beware of, incentives, limitations,where lecture is still appropriate, etc), but that's the gist of it. It works, and makes for a much more lively class.

PS came to your blog 'accidentally' while researching natural rights and property law for a class on the history of political thought.

Posted by: Christopher Pedersen | Mar 11, 2013 9:42:54 AM

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