Monday, May 25, 2020
Ordinary greatness. You’ll find it in places you never imagined and, when you do, higher performance and increased productivity are not far away. – Barbara Pagano
Last fall, a presenter at a workshop that I attended referred to the audience members as SMEs (pronounced smēz). She readily explained that SME = subject matter expert, and that those in attendance, based on our training and experience, were SMEs. As you can tell, I was tickled by the title. Before that workshop, I had not yet recognized my experience as expertise. During the workshop, and many times since, I told my imposter syndrome to kick rocks, and came to realize that the presenter was right.
Weekly, I write to and about the subject matter experts in every law school, whose expertise is designing and delivering academic enhancement and bar support programming. As my thoughts turn to this group of specialized experts, I ponder the number of meetings held, decisions made, funding resolutions, and curricular adjustments approved without any input or involvement from an ASP expert. Too often ASP expertise is overlooked, or called upon only in reaction to a problem that could have been proactively addressed, like fluctuating bar pass rates, and serving at-risk students.
In the turmoil of a global pandemic, plans for the fall semester are uncertain. The July bar exam is a hot mess topic right now. Deans, students, faculty members, examiners, and bar administrators are not sure of what the summer and fall will bring or what their next move will be. While ASP professors can’t solve any of the problems that COVID-19 has wrought, we most likely have greater insight into the learning needs of law students. Implementing decisions that affect the delivery of the program of legal education without consulting those with subject matter expertise in educational delivery, is like buying a house without a realtor. It can be done, but rarely without regret.
If we were to survey U.S. law schools, I wonder which would have ASP professors serving on or consulting with admissions committees that screen applicants to identify those most likely to successfully complete the academic program and pass a bar exam. How many law schools have a member of the ASP team on the curriculum committee where decisions that affect bar preparedness are made?
While student success is the primary concern of academic support programs, a well-structured ASP team will also complement a faculty of doctrinal experts and provide helpful teaching resources and opportunities for collaboration. It might surprise those outside of ASP to learn that experts in ASP are typically the first to know which students are struggling academically. Many students will seek out academic support assistance when they feel lost. Some, but certainly not all, professors may not become aware of a struggling student until after the one summative assessment is graded. Deans, directors, chairs, and coordinators who want to identify areas and sources of underperformance in the first-year and required curriculum could save time and resources by asking their in-house ASP experts first.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Today's Washington Post has a fascinating and disturbing article about the company HireVue and its signature product, an artificial intelligence hiring system through which employers can set up automated "interviews" with prospective employees. The system "uses candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choice and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants based on an automatically generated 'employability' score." Based on these scores, HireVue's clients -- which include large organizations like Unilever and Goldman Sachs -- can choose which candidates they would like to bring in for actual human interaction.
The growing reliance of employers on HireVue and its competitors suggests several issues of interest to law students. Can we expect that someday soon, they too will be forced to welcome their new computer overlords by developing another set of skills -- namely, the art of using just the right expressions and intonations to appeal to the interviewing algorithm? How do we even know what appeals to that algorithm, and whether the appealing features actually bear any relationship to job performance, if HireVue releases no information about what it is measuring, what it assigns value to, or, indeed, even what a candidate did wrong? (The mystery and validity issues echo some complaints about the UBE, but at least bar examinees are told their scores.) Like it or not, this Pandora's boxing ring is now open, and it's only a matter of time until young attorneys are sent in to altercate.
To get some perspective on the rigor of the HireVue system, the Post reporter spoke to researchers in applicable fields, including Luke Stark, an AI researcher who was
The charisma of numbers is something I feel I run up against over and over again. And I say this as a person who values data and statistics! I believe it is difficult to make consistently effective decisions or to take wise action without obtaining and evaluating relevant numerical information. And, true, in a field in which our success is largely measured numerically (GPAs, retention rates, bar passage rates), numbers can possess either star power or infamy.
But, notwithstanding their dazzle and clout, numbers should only be powerful if they are attached to something meaningful. If they are being misused or misunderstood, that can mean mistaking the sizzle for the steak. Figures can be seductive when they seem rounded, or extravagant, or provocative, or revealing. It's easy to jump on the conspicuously appealing numbers -- the highest GPA, the apparently significant pattern in MBE scores, the increase in median starting salaries -- just as it's easy to be attracted to the confident, well-spoken cutie who walks into the party. But the GPA might be based on a disproportionate number of generously graded courses; the MBE pattern might be statistically insignificant; the median salary increase might represent slippage, not advancement, if similar schools are seeing an even larger increase. Causes, reliability, and context all matter.
The danger of the charisma of numbers is that sometimes, even when a person is only looking at the surface, they don't feel like they are being shallow, because numbers are supposed to be scientific and rational. We need to remember, and teach our students and colleagues, that, even with the most alluring numbers, you should really spend some time with them first, get to know their flaws and idiosyncrasies, before you commit to them.
Saturday, August 17, 2019
The West Coast Consortium of Academic Support Professionals is hosting their 8th Annual Conference on November 1st in Las Vegas. The theme is Technology and Data Assisted Academic Support Programming. They are accepting proposals through September 23rd. I attached an image of the flyer they sent out below.
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The sun is shining through my windows. The day is starting well. I turn on my computer, and outlook starts. The barrage of emails then piles into my inbox. I methodically answer questions about internships, class selection, the bar exam, exam taking, and other student concerns. As I finish my hour slog through email, my first student appointment comes in. We talk about life and law school. I finish the meeting and plan to work on my upcoming class. After pulling up the class schedule, I start planning the next class period. My phone vibrates (which also vibrates my watch). I get a text message about the half-price deals at Top Golf this week. I get back to thinking about my next class when my phone vibrates again. This time a group text about a kids activity. 9 messages later, I am back to thinking about class. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that my email box now has 12 emails. 3 of them can be immediately deleted, and 3 can be answered in 1 sentence. The rest take more time, so I will let them sit for now. Back to working on class, and a student needs to see me. By the end of the day, my class exercise still isn't done. Maybe tomorrow, or I may just do the same thing as last year.
Am I the only one that has this experience? Probably not. I am sure everyone has similar problems. Technology is infiltrating every second of my day, so my day includes tons of small breaks. The breaks cause me to lose focus, which in turn means I take longer to accomplish any task.
The book Deep Work by Cal Newport addresses this topic. He states that we are all so inundated with constant beeps and buzzes that our brains are being trained for only small tasks. We are addicted to the immediate need to respond or help that we can't accomplish more difficult and meaningful tasks. Deep work is when someone takes long uninterrupted time to contemplate a project. Hours of preparation and thought to innovate. Hours? I hope I get double-digit uninterrupted minutes to work on a task. His book is great at illustrating the problems with the constant interruptions and how societal breakthroughs are more difficult without high levels of focus.
Newport advocates for everyone to engage in deep work. He concedes that most people can't spend 4-5 uninterrupted hours on a project every day. However, we can only look at email at specific times. Creating routines that eliminate distractions for set periods of time can help. The goal is to not let anyone intrude on deep work time to enable quality thinking. The more time, the more we can accomplish.
Our students could use this information as well. I went to law school prior to smart phones, so I didn't have that distraction. However, the internet was enticing. One of the best things I did in law school was not connect my computer to the wifi my first 2 years. When I was studying, I couldn't check email, browse facebook, or do anything online. I read and briefed cases. I would check email when I got home. My focus during law school was probably my best focus ever. Most people don't have the willpower to not use technology. Putting phones in the other room or turning everything off is good. Eliminate distractions to improve focus.
I am working on trying to block out more time during the day for focus. Finding the time is difficult, but if I want to continually improve my programming, I need the time to think about it. Just like I tell my students, I must intentionally create quality time.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
The calendar turned to July. The heat index is climbing over 100 in Oklahoma, which also means it is time to plan the fall semester.
The difficult part of July is everything happens at the same time. The bar exam is still 3 weeks away, but I can’t wait until after the bar to plan for the fall. The semester will start only a couple weeks later, and in an attempt to follow my own advice, I take time off right after the exam. The timing means fall planning must happen now.
I am sure many in ASP have a similar timeframe. When thinking about the fall, I wanted to pass along a few tips:
- Look back at the AASE materials. AASE presenters provide numerous ideas. Implementing the great ideas is the more difficult part, but one way to increase the chance of implementing them is to re-read those ideas now.
- Review feedback from last year. If students provide constructive feedback, then look through the feedback prior to creating syllabi or programming. Small changes each year can make a big difference. However, ignore any non-constructive criticism.
- Analyze notes and materials from last year. I suggest writing down what works and doesn’t work throughout the year. Look at those notes to see what changes are needed.
- Decide on a few new things to integrate. Don’t try to remake the entire ASP program in one semester/year.
The summer is winding down, fortunately or unfortunately depending on who you talk to. Many professors are planning for the fall. Spending the few extra minutes looking at great ideas, feedback, and notes can gradually improve programming.
Monday, June 3, 2019
Don't let compliments get to your head and don't let criticism get to your heart. -- Lysa TerKeurst
The other day we held a bar workshop at my school. At the end of the session we collected evaluation forms from the students. I could hardly wait until the students were all out of the room to look at their written comments. A colleague and I sat at the edges of our seats to read what the students wrote about “our” workshop. As we thumbed through the evaluation forms, we read an abundance of smile-generating comments like: Good, Good, Excellent, Learned something new, Would recommend this session to others, and Glad I came. But our smiles askewed when we reached the one comment that read this session was longer than I expected and the presentation was poor.
Of the many laudatory comments, only one offered anything other than praise. And yet that one evaluation form is all that we focused on for the rest of the afternoon. My colleague and I became defensive and responded to the anonymous feedback as if talking to the student who submitted it. I suspect that our reaction was not atypical in the academic support teaching profession. We probably reacted in the same manner that many professors do as we review our course evaluation forms, student emails, or other summative feedback. We focus almost blindly on what someone did not like at the expense of commentary reflecting the effectiveness of our teaching and service.
So many of us in academic support or other teaching professions may put too much weight on the criticism and not enough weight on the compliments. Perhaps it is because we invest so much in the success of our students and the excellency of our programs that we forget the role that criticism can play in our own professional development. As this summer’s bar prep gets rolling full throttle, I’ve made a promise to myself to not let my view of the forest be impeded by one tall tree. While I am providing my students with daily affirmations, I pledge to affirm and nurture myself and my wellbeing. In doing so, I will be better able to service my family and my students who depend on me. As you read your course evaluations and performance reviews this summer, challenge yourselves to take criticism with a grain of salt (or a bottle of wine) and be thankful for the wonderful learning opportunity that the feedback provides.
Monday, May 20, 2019
As my career in ASP winds down, I have reflected on what I have learned over the years. Here are a few things that strike me as important lessons learned from discussions with my ASP/bar prep colleagues, observations of our profession over time, and my own experiences:
- ASP and bar prep work have gained more recognition through the years. LSAC supported us early on. AALS recognized our efforts with a section designation. Changes to ABA standards brought more attention to our roles. More law schools now have programs, but there is still work to be done if all law students are to have access to full-time, funded services.
- ASP/bar prep started its work to increase academic and bar success for minority students. With the pressures of stigma and backlash, many ASP programs opened services to all law students. Although programs may still have minority components within the services, the broader law school population has now become the focus. Declining admissions (and the resulting decline in applicant credentials in some cases) and ABA emphasis on bar passage rates have continued the pressure for services to be available to all law students. Let us not forget our original purpose of supporting diversity as our roles expand.
- The work we do is not just about grades or bar passage. We teach skills that impact our graduates throughout their lives. We teach skills resulting in better lawyering and more satisfying living. Among the skills we teach are learning strategies, legal reasoning, problem solving, organizing work, managing time, managing stress, and avoiding procrastination.
- We need to be careful that we do not just jump from the "hot topic or solution of the month" to the next hot topic. It is tempting, but ultimately shallow. There is no magic wand available for ASP or bar prep. Learning, memory, and legal reasoning are complex topics with layers of nuance. To those three, we must add the topics of diversity, motivation, procrastination, learning disabilities, time management, work management, stress management, resilience, grit, mindset, and mental health - also very complex and nuanced. I could easily list another dozen topics that relate to our work. We need to investigate deeply to understand the nuances, remain open to intertwined concepts, and build successful strategies over time.
- The numbers game is not all that matters. It is nice if large numbers enroll in courses or attend workshops, but numbers alone do not tell the story. Our work regularly impacts on an individual level. We need to remember that assisting one student at a time is valuable. Let us not forget the merit of one-on-one assistance during our law schools' demand for numbers to tout.
- We need to provide alternative methods for students to access our services. Some services may involve mandatory appointments, workshops, or courses. However, even mandatory offerings may not reach all students who need help or may fail to reach them at the time when they are most receptive. We need to continue to explore different ways to reach students where they are and when they are receptive to services. The possibilities are endless, but include appointments, workshops, packets, handouts, email tips, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube videos, Facebook, Twitter, intranet pages, pop-up events, and walk-abouts.
- We need to remember that each student is unique. One size does not fit all, no matter what theory suggests. Each student comes with individual strengths, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, educational backgrounds, and experiences. We cannot forget the individual when we consider our repertoire of theories, generalities, and strategies.
- We need to ask questions and listen to the answers. I learn some of the best strategies from students explaining what they have discovered. In the search for the combination of strategies for each student, we need to explore with the student what works, does not work, needs to be modified, or needs to be tossed.
- We want students to succeed and are personally involved in their learning. However, ultimately the student must implement the strategies, eschew bad habits, and work to achieve success. Despite our best efforts, some students will not reach their full academic potential and may even fail academically or fail the bar repeatedly. It exemplifies the old adage of leading a horse to water.
- Working 60-70 hours per week (and often more) is the temptation in ASP/bar prep because we want to implement new programs, stay up with professional development, be available to students, show up at events to support them, and answer emails at all times of the day and night. However, working at such a pace leads to burnout and ultimately does not help us or our students. We need to model the work-life balance that we regularly recommend to our students.
- Have faith in your own expertise and the" best practices" that match your law school's culture. The variety of law schools means that one size does not fit all. Be open to ideas and weigh their value for your law school situation. ASP/bar prep colleagues are willing to share ideas and expertise - usually for free. Read the Law School Academic Support Blog, post queries on the Law School Academic Support listserv, attend AASE and AALS conferences or other regional workshops, and reach out to experienced colleagues. However, be wary of anyone who tells you there is one and only one (that is, the individual's own) path to "best practices" in ASP/bar prep; that viewpoint is just not accurate.
- No matter how dedicated and expert we are in our work, our law schools have to provide the facilities and resources for us to do our work well. Without commitments for space, budget, staffing, support services, and equal status, we will be limited in achieving the greatest results for our students. Talk is cheap. It takes actions from each and every law school in support of our ASP and bar professionals to make a difference.
ASP/bar prep work is challenging, impactful, rewarding, and gratifying. We can be proud of what we do each day. What we accomplish is important. We need all law schools to recognize how important our work is for our students' academic success and for their futures. (Amy Jarmon)
Sunday, April 21, 2019
The NY Regional ASP Workshop is a leader for many reasons. If my history is correct (which it may not be), NY was the first of the regional ASP workshops. I remember asking Kris how it started and for any advice in starting one in the southwest, and she said to just do it (which we did). This year, they had another great idea to collect thoughts on what ASPers wish they had known when they started. With Kris' permission, I combined her emails and posted the responses below so we can forward the information to new people in the community each year. Here is the list they created:
- There is a big and supportive academic support community. Use it!
- You are valuable. You bring knowledge and expertise that students—especially contemporary students—need to not only succeed in law school, but in the practice of law. Don’t underestimate the impact you have on students, whether or not you see an immediate outcome.
- No two students are the same. It’s fun to try to figure out each one, and to create an individualized solution and plan with him/her.
- Don’t try to do everything at once when building new programming—choose one thing at a time; focus and develop it, and then add more. Meet 1-on-1 with faculty to learn more about students and about faculty concerns about your students.
- Don’t shy away from hard conversations with both students and Sometimes you are the one who can see the realities of a situation, and your opinion is important. And one they need to hear.
- Realize exactly how time-consuming ASP is and how hard it is to get to the point of having individual trust and a personal relationship with every student. But just know that the payoff of getting a phone call (not an email) from a student saying “THANK YOU, I PASSED THE BAR” is so incredibly rewarding.
- I wish I had a better understanding of the politics of legal education in general and as it relates to ASP in particular. As a new person, it’s important to learn some of the history without taking on battles that belong to others. Give yourself space to listen and learn, but be a neutral observer for as long as you can until you get a sense of the politics and can begin to develop your own vision.
- Don’t remain in the ASP silo—make faculty allies! But do learn from all the ASPers who came before you. Read, read, read.
- Know the budget! I wish I knew more about resource allocation.
- Help students place class exercises in context. Meet with 1L professors, sit in on their classes, and develop an understanding of when they are doing and why. Where needed, translate for students so they can grasp what they are being asked to do and why.
- I wish I’d known how much patience, stamina, and support from my family and partner I would need for this work, even more than I expected. And I wish I had known how much technology can bolster information transmission and learning.
- Don’t let your students’ issues become your issues.
- Don’t give away your skills, value and expertise. Ask for status, security, and money. Really.
- That doing ASP work can be even more rewarding if you’re doing it at a school that has a mission you feel inspired by and aligned with.
- Students in a panic are usually looking for a strong voice pointing out a clear path. Don’t be afraid to tell them the work they have to do.
- Students feel so much more overwhelmed and intimidated about managing their time than I would have guessed!
- Don’t underestimate the power of anxiety and lack of confidence in undermining student success.
- Without failure there is no learning. Share your own humanity and failure. Students see you as human, fallible, and successful.
- You will burn out if you try to bring the “magic” to every student. Don’t neglect your own soul. HOLD BOUNDARIES, respect yourself, respect your students.
- Never forget the importance of building relationships and culture with your students. Your upper-class peer models are extremely valuable and get you insights on your students’ experiences that you will never have on your own. (And seeing them is another reminder that you can, indeed already have, made a difference.)
- “It takes a village” really applies in ASP. I was expecting more of a competitive attitude, and I pleasantly surprised to find out how willing other ASPers were to share their strategies. Ask others what they are doing, what has worked, and what flopped—they will tell you!
Monday, April 1, 2019
ASP hiring season is in full swing. Some schools are adding a new position while others are just adding a new person to a current position. Schools will start planning the tasks and projects for new hires. Many plans will focus on immediate needs of bar takers or the upcoming 1L program. Don’t forget to also plan for observation and feedback from this new outside perspective.
We have all heard stories about outside ASP faculty coming to a law school and basically telling the faculty the same thing the internal ASP director said for years. The outside perspective grabbed them though. The same thing happens with students. Other faculty, students, or bar prep lecturers can say the same thing as the bar prep director, but students have an epiphany talking to someone else. Outside perspectives have influence. Nancy did a great job discussing the phenomenon in her post last week.
Schools can utilize the outside expert experience to evaluate our programs. Outside sources’ unbiased perspective can provide unique insight for program improvement. Business leaders say a new employee’s view is the most valuable the first 2-4 months. They aren’t entrenched in the status quo or how programs always run. They bring in insight from previous experience and tend to ask why we do certain actions. The insight and questions can help shine light into areas for improvement in our departments.
Many of us have a great opportunity. When new people arrive in our department, have them provide observations after their first month or two. Encourage them to evaluate the program and provide their perspective. The insight could illuminate some of our blind spots.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Researchers using advanced technology discover more about how we learn all the time, and non-stop communication disseminates the information almost immediately. ASP conferences are rich with presentations of new understandings of how to study. The new research and the ability for all of us to access it invites integration to our programs and communication to our students. Is it possible to over rely on new theories to our students’ detriment?
I wrote a blog post last year within the first couple months of contributing discussing how I conveyed learning theories to my students and my thoughts on how the communication would help them learn. The feedback from students and my experience teaching the course a few times demonstrated to me the message may not be sinking in.
Understanding and communicating learning theory to our students shouldn’t be detrimental, but I encourage everyone to use moderation. Just like most things in life (carbs, chocolate, Netflix, Facebook), too much can cause problems, except the chocolate of course. I more than doubled my understanding of how we learn in the last couple years, and I probably overshared the information to students. I thought students wanted to understand why I recommended certain actions, so I assigned articles about the different concepts. The response was almost universal disdain, which was a little surprising. To be fair, a few articles were extremely long, but most of them were only a few pages.
I experienced a phenomenon we already knew, and I should have approached the solution slightly different. In general, people believe they know how to study and learn. Students believe if they were successful in the past, what he/she did was correct. Trying to tell law students in their first semester prior to grades coming out that what they did in the past to achieve A’s wouldn’t work did not cause students to follow my advice. Providing the research to back up my recommendations only frustrated students because they didn’t want additional reading because they already believed they knew the best way to study for them.
If students are resisting, then is communicating the information a waste of time or even detrimental? I believe the answer is still a clear no. My class probably moved too far away from the practical into the justification and theory discussion. Students want what will help them now. Study techniques won’t impact grades tomorrow, but we can integrate interleaving, spaced repetition, testing effect, self-regulated learning, and any other research without over-emphasizing the theory behind the recommendation. We can also integrate activities into our classes using those theories without explicitly justifying the activity. Our approach will make the difference.
In academic support and education in general, many discussions revolve around outcomes. What do we want our students to know or do when they leave the classroom? I would argue we want our students to use proper study habits based on the theories throughout law school, not just understand the concepts. Demonstrating how to study and walking students through the process will most likely produce that outcome more than students merely understanding the why behind the study technique. When students start to question recommendations, then we can refer students to resources or provide supplemental material. I found a handful of really short youtube videos that explain concepts much better than long articles. Even those are still too much if students don’t need the additional information. We can also focus on fewer techniques. Instead of trying to make our students perfect learners, we can strive to make them better learners. Small incremental changes for them can have a lasting impact.
Students in our classrooms are faced with information overload. They have access to more information than ever before, and they encounter new legal information daily. Adding to the deluge of information may not be our best approach. Practical application is what I plan to strive for going forward.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
One of the most stimulating -- though, at times, overwhelming -- aspects of working in Academic Success is the necessity of performing in all the rings under the law school circus tent. In the same day, we can be teaching substantive law, providing feedback to help improve a student's writing and legal analysis, coaching another student on skills like time management or effective study, and counseling other students who are anxious, unmotivated, discouraged, or overconfident. To me, the counseling portion seems to be the most draining. Even when it is not taking up the greater part of my week -- and that is not always the case -- working with students' emotions, their self-awareness, their conceptions of what they are capable of, and their unrecognized assumptions requires high levels of energy and attentiveness. Anything that might make that part of the job easier without shortchanging my students would be gratefully welcomed.
To that end, I've been reading an interesting article called Wise Interventions: Psychological Remedies for Social and Personal Problems, written by the psychologists Gregory M. Walton and Timothy D. Wilson (Psychological Review (2018), 125(5), pp. 617-655). The authors explain that much of what either restrains or enhances our achievements does so because of how we perceive it, ourselves, and/or our place in the world. For example, a student who perceives her professor's probing Socratic questioning as demonstrating confidence in the student may learn more, and feel more confident about what they have retained, than another student who perceives the professor's intense questioning as disdain or ridicule. Much depends on the subjective meaning that a person has assigned to himself ("I am clever/I am stupid/I am not good at math"), to his environment ("The professor doesn't like me/This subject is useless in the real world/That law firm only hires students in the top 5%" ), and to the interactions between the two ("I always screw up on multiple-choice questions/There's nobody in this class who would be willing to share notes with me/If I go to office hours the professor will think I can't handle the material.") The article points out that many of the techniques that have been demonstrated to produce lasting behavioral change with comparatively little effort on the part of coaches or intervenors do so because they help to change ineffective subjective meanings that the student had used previously into meanings that are naturally more likely to produce good results. For example, incoming African American college students participated in a one-hour discussion section at the start of the school year, in which stories told by former students were used to convey the idea that it is normal to feel, at first, that you "don't belong" in college, and that after a while that feeling goes away. Participating students had higher grades over the next three years than did similar students who did not join the discussion session. Walton and Wilson call these techniques "wise interventions" because those who used them are aware of ("wise to") the maladaptive meanings that some subjects have adopted, and therefore can more successfully change those meanings.
This is a dense and rich article, one I will have to return to a few times here, but today I wanted to point out three of the five general principles the authors suggest characterize a "wise intervention". These three principles are all about how to effectively change maladaptive assigned meanings, and I think they can help us in Academic Support as we try to find new ways to help our students make the most of themselves and their environments.
The first principle is that in order to effectively alter ineffective perceptions, the explanations we offer in exchange have to be detailed and specific. It was not enough, for example, to say to incoming college students, "College is tough on everyone. You'll get over it." Instead, researchers used the detailed stories of former students to illustrate the specific feelings that incoming students often experience, and the journey that those students went through, so that the incoming students could more clearly relate to and remember those stories when they encountered similar feelings. Similarly, in law school, it may not be enough just to tell 1L students that law school is going to be harder than any educational experience they've had in the past. Instead, we need to tell our own stories, and the stories of other law students and alumni, to better illustrate some of the specific obstacles that were faced and then overcome. Having those details to recall can help insure that 1L students will interpret their setbacks and difficulties as part of the usual law student experience.
Another principle is that, once we help students to generate more useful interpretations of themselves and their environments, these interpretations can lead to further recursive change in the future. A student introduced to the concept of the "growth mindset", for instance, may at first only accept its existence in a certain context, like the ability to memorize content. However, as the student experiences success in that context, it becomes more likely that she will start to apply the growth mindset concept in other realms, such as making oral presentations or writing effectively under time pressure. This is one of the chief benefits of a wise intervention: because of the possibility of recursive change, a comparatively small effort on the part of a counselor or coach can produce a lifetime of benefits.
However, the possibility of such recursion depends in part on a recognition of a third principle: the fact that the meanings that people assign to themselves and to their worlds all operate within complex systems of past experiences, present conditions, and future expectations. In practical terms, this means that merely changing a student's meaning-making is not likely, by itself, to take root and produce extensive future benefits; there must also be some kind of change to the system in which the student operates. It is not enough, for example, to get students to see that they have the analytical tools they need to respond properly to multiple-choice questions, and that such questions are not simply an opaque collection of "tricks", unless we also provide those students will access to practice questions upon which to apply their new view of the genre, along with answer explanations so the students will be able to confirm that the analytical approach is indeed the most effective. Changing your students' interpretation of themselves or of the law school environment should always be either in response to, or accompanied by, some kind of practical change to the rest of the system in which they operate, in order to give the students the opportunity to test and cultivate their new understandings.
This last bit is the part I want to incorporate more into my own teaching and advising. Whenever something seems to click for a student and they seem to recognize a possible new way of interpreting the world, that's a spark. Academic success depends not just upon generating such sparks, but also upon providing kindling so that the spark doesn't go out.
Monday, March 11, 2019
St. Mary's did an excellent job hosting SWCASP and the UBE conference last week. Zoe Niesel and Mike Barry put together a great slate of presenters and provided awesome Texas food staples. I wasn't able to make the UBE portion, but I will pass along a synopsis of the SWCASP presentations in case you missed it.
The theme this year was collaboration, and the presenters showcased a range of collaboration ideas. I personally liked the theme and ideas because I take on more classes, projects, etc. than reasonably possible. The ideas were great for trying to get others to also use academic support to help students.
Zoe and Mike started the workshop with a discussion of how they integrated ASP with the 1L LRW class. Instead of having a LRW class and a separate ASP skills class, they combined the two into one class. They created consistent dialogue and terminology for students. The collaboration also influenced more of the 1L curriculum.
Halle Hara described a great way to get different departments discussing student needs. She created a committee consisting of everyone with individual student interactions. The committee meets once a month to discuss specific student needs. I saw 2 big takeaways from this presentation. The first was the committee created communication channels to provide context to everyone helping students in his/her office. The second takeaway was how to make referrals more efficient. I send students to other people throughout campus for financial aid help, discussions with Associate Dean, etc. However, following up with every other administrator is difficult. The committee is able to quickly determine if students followed up with the referral.
Jacquelyn Rogers uses outside professionals to help her students more effectively. She brings in performance coaches to help with attention training and mindsets. Listening to her, I immediately thought about issues we see in millennial students and how an outside professional could help our students thrive. I also liked that her mental health professional was setup in a suite type setting with other offices so students could not tell who other students were visiting.
Wendy Scott, Mindy Cyr, Charles Splawn, and Jenny Lane discussed Elon's program for inter-department interaction. Their bar mentorship program is much better than the mentor programs I tried in the past. Faculty, alumni, and career services are paired with students to help them throughout bar prep. Students can send essays or ask general questions throughout the summer. Faculty hold in-person or call in office hours for specific subjects. The substance paired with the general checking in seems to generate more participation. I definitely want to use a few of these ideas to get more individual student interaction with faculty during the summer.
Preyal Shah and Meijken Westenskow demonstrated a great self-assessment exercise. Their exercise used different colored highlighters for the different sections of an essay answer (pink for rule, blue for conclusion, etc.). Students would highlight each sentence of both their work and a model answer. The visual differences help students see where they need to improve. UNT uses this exercise 1L year and returns to it during the 3L bar prep class to help self-assessment during summer months.
Cassie Christopher presented her upcoming article titled "Normalizing Struggle." Her presentation and subsequent paper describes how students should struggle through the learning process and how we can help approach teaching to help students understand struggle is normal. She referenced an article I will definitely read titled "Unskilled and Unaware of it." That article describes the challenges and deficiencies of current education, which is now our incoming students.
The next session included a panel moderated by Sara Berman. Sara asked Jennifer Carr and Staci Rucker questions about how academic support could team with student affairs. They discussed the need to help students with issues beyond academics. Working with student affairs, ASPers could focus on academics while still helping with other issues that affect academics. Student affairs professionals can use their contacts with financial aid and other departments to help with all aspects of students' experience.
The last panel finished the collaboration theme with Marsha Griggs, Goldie Pritchard, Toni Miceli, and Cassie Christopher discussing their victories and mistakes working with faculty, commercial vendors, and students. It is always good to see that others have similar struggles with different constituencies within the law school. They had great ideas for getting faculty involved from small efforts of holding office hours during the summer to providing short lectures. Toni's commercial vendor guidelines are great if you are looking to create new guidelines for vendors on campus.
Just like every year, SWCASP was a blast. I have a list of ideas to consider for the summer and next year. If any of the programs sound interesting, definitely contact the presenter. They are all open to discussing their programs further. As many of us know, don't reinvent the wheel each year. Use others successes (and failures) to help your students.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Here's a great opportunity for academic support professionals interested in serving on the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Per the ABA announcement, there are both at-large positions and leadership positions. https://www.americanbar.org/councilnominationinfo. If interested, here's the link to nominate yourself or others: https://americanbar.qualtrics.com/. Nominations are due by Monday, April 1, 2019. (Scott Johns).
Monday, December 3, 2018
Finals are starting, and if your office is like mine, most students only come around for emergencies. I may have a few students asking doctrinal questions or for a few more tips, but in general, my office is quieter during finals weeks. I use that time to finish grading and reflect on my classes to try to improve them for the next iteration.
I tell students about self-regulated learning at orientation. I implore them to constantly evaluate their progress and make improvements. Studying isn’t the only area where the steps of self-regulated learning is applicable. We can use those steps when developing and improving our classes.
Finals weeks and the week before Christmas break is a good time for reflection. With a little quieter office, analyzing courses is easier than when attending to constant emergencies. Finals time is also good because classes just ended. You may remember a little better what worked and what didn’t work. I find it difficult to remember what I didn’t like if I don’t teach the course again until the following year. Right now is much better for evaluating courses.
I suggest analyzing the course structure, in-class exercises, and the homework. Categorize each activity or course choice as works great, decent, and failed miserably. I know variations among those categories exist, but the idea is to identify what you must keep, what must go, and what could be better but not necessary to change now. I provided a few considerations below when looking at the 3 categories. Make sure to specifically write down the assessment and note the changes now before forgetting them.
Course structure is the big picture of the class. Some considerations are:
- Did the course achieve its objectives?
- Did the course flow logically through the semester?
- Should the topics be in a different order?
- Do students need context or other knowledge to better prepare for the topics?
In-class exercises are great when they work well, but sometimes exercises fail miserably. Think about each exercise and consider:
- Did the exercise achieve its purpose?
- Did the exercise further the lesson/topic of the day?
- Did the exercise need additional instructions to run smoother?
- Did the setup take too long?
- Did it take too long to get the class back on task after completing the exercise?
- How many students completed the exercise poorly or failed to complete the exercise?
- Was there ample time to achieve the goal of the exercise?
- In a perfect world, what would I change about the exercise?
Many professors, including myself, spend significant time preparing for class instruction but don’t think as much about homework. Sometimes homework is reading cases or rewriting essays. Homework should further our goals within the class. Being deliberate with each homework assignment can help support learning in the classroom. Analyze:
- Does the homework flow with the class discussion?
- Is there good formative assessment in the homework?
- Did the homework integrate spaced repetition?
- Did the homework further the class discussion or improve skills?
- Did the course assign too much writing homework so the instructor couldn’t reasonably provide feedback on the work?
- Was the instructor able to provide any feedback using homework?
- Did students understand the homework’s purpose?
Now is the time to evaluate our courses and write down what we should change. I forget the changes I want to make until I see the problem again the next year, so I start making notes and changes earlier. My suggestions are not a comprehensive list. The goal is continued evaluation to make courses better. We can all do that.
Monday, October 8, 2018
Sputnik changed teaching forever. Falling behind the Soviet Union in the race to space caused people throughout the US to evaluate how we were teaching science and math. Numerous theories ignited thought, and many individuals wanted the US to be the world leader in technology. Unfortunately, we never fully realized our potential. The US continually lags behind on the international math exams, and we are at fault.
Japan is widely seen as the technology innovator. They continually score higher than all the other counties on the international math exam. They use a unique form of teaching focusing on one problem, but the hardest aspect to swallow is Japan’s success is primarily built on the US theories developed after Sputnik. The US failed to deploy the new theories throughout the country. Japan capitalized on Americans’ work to produce a technologically advanced society. Sputnik changed teaching, but unfortunately, the changes happened in Japan. Now, we need to look to them to train our teachers.
Elizabeth Green describes the American failure and Japanese success in an article in the New York Times Magazine. The Japanese practice of jugyokenkyu, translated lesson study, could help law schools improve. Jugyokenkyu is when “[a] teacher first plans lessons, then teaches in front of an audience of students and other teachers along with at least one university observer. Then the observers talk with the teacher about what has just taken place. Each public lesson poses a hypothesis, a new idea about how to help children learn. And each discussion offers a chance to determine whether it worked.” Jugyokenkyu approaches teaching as a collaborative effort with feedback.
Obviously, law schools don’t need specifics for teaching math. However, numerous reports, recommendations, and standards haven’t changed legal education. Maybe it is time for law schools to embrace jugyokenkyu.
The foundation for jugyokenkyu is deliberate preparation with goals; performance for students and colleagues; and feedback from experts. In ASP, we know that process works. We tell students to take practice exams, seek feedback, and make changes for the next exam. In LRW, professors tell students to put down papers for a few days because individuals tend to read over errors in his/her own work. If those are true for our students, then those statements are true for us. We need feedback from someone who understands teaching law students to know whether our methods are working. We will miss our own mistakes just like reading over an error in a brief. We need deliberate practice with feedback as much as students.
The amazing transformation of Japanese math teaching is the anomaly, but we should attempt to follow that trend in legal education. Theories, ideas, and published articles didn’t change America after Sputnik, so continuing that failed practice won’t change legal education. I know I am saying this in a blog. However, let’s consider how we can take steps to make lasting improvements to help our students.
My first suggestion is work within our own law schools. Find a group of individual professors who are determined to help students learn better. Start small with each person in the group deliberately planning a lesson. The rest of the group observes the lesson, or someone can record the class for observation. Everyone should then meet and talk about the lesson. If each person in the group does that twice during a semester, the evaluation and critiques would help everyone.
My next suggestion is to work with ASPers at other schools. I know the quickest response to the last suggestion is “no one at my school would do that.” While I believe there are at least a couple professors who want to improve teaching at every school, inter-school feedback can work. We could create a TWEN page or page on the AASE site where we post videos of our teaching. Others within the community could then watch and provide feedback.
ASPers posting lectures would provide an additional benefit for the annual conference. We could see others’ lectures we hear about at AASE. Some of the presentations always talk about how he/she teaches students a particular concept. If that lecture was already posted, we could watch the lecture prior to the presentation and have a deeper discussion of teaching. We could also have round table feedback sessions on teaching from lectures posted. As we change our area, we could talk about it in our law schools to get other professors on board. We can spread jugyokenkyu throughout law schools.
We continually hear that legal education needs to change. Similar to k-12 education, entities demand we use better practices. Demands generally don’t lead to widespread change. Feedback from experts, who are our colleagues, is how Japan became the best country for math in the world. We should try a model that works instead of continually following the same failed practice.
Monday, September 17, 2018
“If you build it, he will come,” is a line from great American folklore, or just an 80’s sports movie. Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams heard one of the classic sports movie lines of all time. Kevin’s character builds a baseball field, and players from the past (ghosts) come play ball. He didn’t invite or encourage any of the players. They just showed up.
Many ASPers, including myself early on, have a Field of Dreams mentality for programs and workshops. We build the most innovative workshop with great pedagogy. We advertise a little so students know about it, and then, we expect everyone to show up. Sometimes that works, but many times, the students who need the workshop the most aren’t in the room. We then reevaluate to determine the best way to get at-risk students in the room.
As an early ASPer, my next idea was to bribe students to show up. I thought if I raffle a nice item off to students who attended most of the bar review workshops, students who needed it would show up. I was right. Over the next few years, I raffled iPads, full bar review scholarships, apple TVs, and other new tech on the market. Students who needed help showed up more. I started reaching more students, but a huge problem arose. Over 75% of the raffle winners failed the bar exam. The winner seemed to be cursed with a new gadget and no bar license. Bribes produced my basic goal, but the bribes did not produce the ultimate goal of helping students succeed.
I stopped incentives a few years after offering them. Law school budgets grew tighter. I changed my program with more for-credit offerings, so I wasn’t incentivizing attendance any more. I always wondered if the incentives really failed or if the low pass rate was a coincidence since my sample size was small. I didn’t think free items could possibly hurt someone’s chance of passing the bar.
Helping Children Succeed by Paul Tough provided a small glimpse into what may have occurred with my incentives. Tough cites Roland Friar’s research where he paid kids to do educationally beneficial activities like reading books. Friar concluded after 4 years that incentives didn’t change long-term student behavior or improve test scores. Jonathan Guryan paid students to read books over one summer. After the program, most students’ reading comprehension levels stayed the same. Students who were high achievers prior to the study saw moderate increases in comprehension, but the most at-risk students didn’t improve. The incentives failed to produce long-term educational improvement for Friar and Guryan.
The findings sound eerily familiar to my experience. Students who needed it showed up, but they didn’t end up improving very much. Most of my award winners failed the bar. Tough would probably argue that while students are exposed to the material, the lack of motivation to do the tasks originally makes long term improvement unlikely. Once the incentives cease, students stop working. In the studies he cites, some students even adopted the mindset that work must be rewarded or the work wasn’t worth completing. The reward system didn’t work.
I watched that happen to my students numerous times. The incentives or drawings stopped, so they stopped attending additional workshops. They didn’t pay as much attention as they should have during the workshops, and many times, those students didn’t complete the work required for the bar. Unfortunately, the incentives I tried did not lead to lasting improvement.
Simon Sinek’s marketing perspective may have an additional answer to the incentive puzzle. He discusses why companies need a “why” to inspire employees and build brand loyalty with customers. He argues that constant discounts and coupons can get some short term sales, but customers don’t become loyal enough to wait numerous hours for a brand new phone that is full of glitches due to discounts. Discounts lead to commodification, and customers don’t become brand loyal to basic commodities. Once the discounts end, customers find a new product.
Providing incentives for our programs can have the same commodification problem. I believe the key to success in ASP is not getting students into workshops. The key to success is getting students to take our workshops home to use on their own time. What students do when we aren’t looking has the biggest impact on his/her chance of success. Students won’t be loyal to our program, vision, or idea if they are showing up for a t-shirt. They won’t follow our lead if the only reason for showing up is winning an iPad. Incentives run the risk of making our program a commodity, and students won’t do the work outside the classroom that is necessary if our program is a commodity.
Incentives may not always be bad. Incentives to fill out surveys or complete simple tasks may not risk the same problems as the studies. Providing food prior to an event can build relationships among the students. If the incentive isn’t attempting a long-term behavior change, then the incentive is probably fine.
The studies were also conducted on school age children, so the applicability to adult learners may be limited. Comparing these results to incentive studies for employees could help. Some incentive studies for employees produced better results.
Raffles and drawings with great prizes seems like a great idea. I thought the same thing and gave away thousands of dollars of items. In my experience, the incentives didn’t work. The recent research seems to indicate long-term improvement requires more internal motivation that cannot be achieved by paying someone to study.
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Radical. Bold. Ambitious. And shocking too. Until I read the research. But first, the country-wide experiment in learning...
As reported by CNN, starting earlier this month with the new school year, France has banned, I mean completely banned, student cell phone use in all primary, middle, and high school campuses throughout France (and throughout the entire school day (lunch included)): https://www.cnn.com/france-smartphones-school-ban-intl/index.html
As detailed by CNN, there's research to back up the educational benefits. As described by CNN, the research evaluated the relationship between cell phone use and academic achievement for 130,000 UK students. The researchers "found that following a ban on phone use, the schools' test scores improved by 6.4%. [And,] [t]he impact on underachieving students was much more significant -- their average test scores rose by 14% (emphasis added)." https://money.cnn.com/smartphones-schools-ban/index.html. Citing research authors Dr. Richard Murphy and Dr. Louis-Philippe Beland, CNN reported that just by prohibiting cell phone use in schools, "[s]chools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap...."
That's big news - that ought to make a big splash in legal education - because the research suggests that a low tech solution might help law schools too narrow the achievement gap for those most at-risk of not doing well in law school. So, as you meet with students who are struggling this semester, you might ask your learners about their cell phone habits. No need to be pushy. Instead, just show them the research and then let them make a decision. http://cep.lse.ac.uk/publishedresearch
Based on my own review of the research, here's my recommendation to my students: "For one week, just leave the mobile phone at home...or in one's school locker...or tucked away with the power off in one's backpack. Even if it doesn't lead to better learning, you'll find that you'll quickly put a quash to those never-ending furtive glances at one's phone to see if someone has tried to connect with you. And, more importantly, you might find that you are actually making better connections with the materials (and others) by not connecting to the digital world while at law school. In short, you might reap the same educational benefits as those documented in the UK." That's a great educational goal for all of us. (Scott Johns).
Monday, July 23, 2018
July is almost over. The hard work over the summer comes to an end, which means, it is time to ramp up for the fall semester! As one chapter closes, I will usher in a new 1L class and begin bar prep with the rising 3Ls. I must have ignored the post from a few weeks ago about taking a break.
The last few days have not felt like the end of summer in Oklahoma with a triple digit heat index every day, but I consider the bar exam the end of summer. I will teach legal analysis to all the entering 1Ls and also a year-long bar prep class to rising 3Ls. This will be my 4th year teaching legal analysis and my 10th year teaching a version of the 3L bar class. After that many years, the easy route is to pull last year’s syllabi, change the dates, and post it for students. However, I encourage everyone to consider adding something new.
Adding new items to a course or program seems daunting. There are always more pieces than originally considered. Between meetings, normal preparations, and taking a breath before the semester begins, adding something new seems difficult. I have a couple suggestions that may help all of us do a little more this year.
- Schedule time for new ideas. We implore our students to schedule everything. I encourage all of us to do the same. Block out 30 minutes to an hour each day prior to school beginning. Use that time to implement 1-2 new ideas.
- Look back through AASE materials. The great ideas from AASE get lost in the summer shuffle sometimes. Make a deliberate effort to look at those materials for new ideas.
- Check your sticky notes. This may be more for me, but when I think of new ideas, I write them down on sticky notes on my desk. Looking through those may jog your memory of what to do. I also write down activities that didn’t work as well or slight modifications needed for class. Keeping a running list is helpful because remembering the next year is difficult.
- Choose something small. You don’t have to transform your class, workshops, or department in 1 semester. Most of us tell students to get gradually better through practice. 1% better every day makes a huge different in the long run. The same is true for our courses and workshops. A little better each time will make a huge impact.
The last few weeks before classes begin is normally a mad dash to get everything ready. Try to spend a little time adding a few new ideas to make the coming year just a little better. Enjoy the next few weeks.
Saturday, May 5, 2018
There has been a good bit of buzz about AccessLex, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. AccessLex has been mentioned in some postings on the listserv in the past months. Kirsha Trychta recently posted on the Blog about her takeaways from the AccessLex bar exam research forum; the link to her post is here.
You may remember Sara J. Berman, the Director of Programs for Academic and Bar Success at the Center for Legal Education Excellence at AccessLex Institute. Sara wrote the book published by the ABA, Pass the Bar Exam. Sara was part of the ASP/bar law school community for a number of years having worked at Nova Southeastern and at Whittier. She started her position at AccessLex this spring and is working hard to bring to the forefront issues that concern the ASP/bar profession.
The URL for the AccessLexCenter for Legal Education Excellence is https://www.accesslex.org/accesslex-center-legal-education-excellence.
There is a new Bar Success Research Grant Program accepting letters of inquiry May 1-31, 2018: https://www.accesslex.org/bar-success-grant-program. See the website or the May 1st posting to the ASP listserv for more information.
And there has even been a recent job posting for an academic and bar success research analyst at AccessLex: https://accesslexinstitute-openhire.silkroad.com/epostings/index.cfm?fuseaction=app.jobInfo&version=1&jobid=76.
There seem to be a number of potential resources for the ASP/bar profession that AccessLex can provide. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 30, 2018
The best plans don’t always work out as intended. Trying something new with a course or activity may sound groundbreaking. However, the reality is sometimes it doesn’t work. Students may dislike the program and not engage in the work or the message doesn’t click with students. Our response to those difficulties can help train our students to overcome similar occurrences.
I had one of those groundbreaking failures this year. I planned to create super-learners. I completely agree with Louis Schultz’s arguments in his article and have implemented similar programs throughout my tenure at OCU. The art of learning can make a huge impact on students, and the earlier students understand how to learn, the better they can perform in school and on the bar. I took that idea a step further. I heard presentations and read articles about Millennial students. One tidbit I latched onto was the notion that Millennial’s won’t do what they are told “because I said so”, but they want more information for why they are told to do something. I knew I could provide them that information, so I started planning to assign learning articles.
I teach Legal Analysis to every 1L. I found good articles about spaced repetition, testing effect, reading on a screen, self-regulated learning, mindfulness, and growth mindset. I thought reading the articles combined with short discussions and activities related to those topics would produce better learners that remembered significantly more than ever before. I was wrong.
Students despised the new readings. To be fair, I chose longer articles that took a while to read. Legal Analysis is 1 credit hour and credit/no credit graded, so they felt the reading was disproportionate to those facts. My philosophy was the reading benefitted them and provided the why when I told them to start outlining early in the semester or study a certain way. However, the students were probably correct. The amount of reading was long, so many of them didn’t do it.
In essence, my new idea and integration failed. I am sure that happens to everyone. However, our response to our own failures is the best way to model improvement to our students. As a former type A law student who did well in law school, I don’t handle being wrong very well (or at all really). My frustration was that I knew the science, which is clear that certain activities are best for students. Anecdotally, I have seen our best students use these methods for years. From a learning science perspective, I did know more than most of the students, as do many of you. That knowledge doesn’t matter though if the students don’t receive or internalize it. Being substantively correct doesn’t help students succeed if they ignore the message. Frustration or complaints about students not showing up to sessions, doing the reading, or putting in the effort are legitimate, cathartic, and unproductive. If we want students to overcome their failures, creating a new solution can model that behavior.
Constant improvement is critical to success in law school and the practice of law. We all know that is true in Academic Support as well. New students, research, and technology make change inevitable. I will rely on much shorter articles or more excerpts next year to decrease the amount of reading. I will utilize more of the learning science during the spring after students receive a set of grades and realize they need help. My hope is to balance the need to convey the information with the willingness of students to acquire the information.
My planned changes will help the new group of 1Ls but also show the 2Ls that their opinion matters. I ask students every July to analyze their own BARBRI MBE report to find improvement areas before the bar. They are much more likely to follow that advice if they already saw me make changes based on their experience and suggestions. Modeling improvement can encourage others to also seek improvement, which can make a huge difference whether some students succeed.