Thursday, December 8, 2022

Harkness Method and other Methods to Facilitate Deep Learning

I recently came across an article by an 83-year old history professor talking about a method of teaching that I had never heard - the Harkness Method.  Martindale, Jr., Wigt, "This Old Man, He Teaches History, WSJ (Nov. 17, 2022).  In the article, he suggests that our curriculum should be centered around two "rules."  First, that survey courses are the most important courses for high school and college education because they present the opportunity for students to learn the context of what will follow in their educational pursuits.  Second, and the point I'd like to share in this blog, is that we cannot teach today's students using outdated methods.  

That's when, in a passing comment, I first heard of the Harkness Method - "an oval table discussion format that encourages a class to explore an idea as a group."  Id. I recall after law school when I spent a passing year working half-time while engaging in a full-time doctoral program that the entire graduate school experience was built around this so-called Harkness Method.  In law schools, we might call it the seminar class.

That got me thinking, especially with bar exam rates downhill for most jurisdictions, that maybe we in law schools are violating the professor's rule no. 2.  We might be teaching using outdated quasi-socratic lecture methods when perhaps we should instead by devoting the resources and the time to teach in oval-table discussions with lots of small group settings.  Of course, that would be quite expensive because factory-like 1L curriculum is much more efficient, at least from the viewpoint of costs.  But cost efficiency in itself is not necessarily promoting better learning, learning that sticks, as a book title suggests.

In my impromptu attempt to learn more about the Harkness Method, I came across some brief introductions about some other possible ways to reach today's students deeply and meaningfully.  They include the Harkness Method, the so-called flipped classroom experience, and problem-based learning (PBL).

I have to admit that I sort of skipped the Harkness Method because my class enrollments are not likely to be reduced from 50-75 students, at least at anytime in the near future.  But I really appreciated the information about flipped learning and the PBL methods. One thing caught my attention in particular. Flipped learning need not involve video cameo appearances, something I struggle with, and, to be honest, as a sometimes student myself, often find mind numbing.  

As the internet explorations often do, that lead me to a buried link outlining 5 ways to embrace flipped learning without the video camera.That's something I can get on board with.  Here's the link for 5 suggestions that might actually work out better for you and your students.  

Regardless of what you choose, you need not chose alone.  Too often, however, in my own case, I'm stuck in the past because I'm comfortable with the past.  But a good life is not necessarily the comfortable life and good teaching is not necessarily comfortable either.  As Prof. Martindale writes: "Teaching is hard. Good teachers still have to know how to make contact with students and recognize a change in the climate of a classroom."  Id. But the hard things are often the best things in life.  And we are called to serve in one of the best pursuits of all - helping others become their dreams of service too as future attorneys.  (Scott Johns).

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