Saturday, January 23, 2021
Education week interviewed students and posted their responses to the question "What was the best moment you ever had in the classroom?" You can read the 3rd part in the series here. It has 3 students' responses, and I think they are illuminating. Here are quick excerpts:
Student 1 - Something teachers or students can learn from my experience is that we have to overcome our fears and not let them control ourselves because we can’t know our capabilities if we are afraid.
Student 2 - When I wrote my first poem in freshman year. I realized that it was fun and unique. I felt like I wanted to write more and more. When I performed my first poem to that class I found my passion.
Student 3 - This experience showed me the extent a relationship with your classmates and your teacher can go....
While not surprising, I noticed that none of the students talked about a specific piece of information. Only one of them referred to teaching style (#3), and even that student came away highlighting the relationship with students and the teacher. I wanted to highlight these responses as we enter our classrooms (many of which are virtual). Students will need doctrinal information, but in the end, they will remember more about the relationship and human skills we helped them build. They probably won't remember all those rules after the bar exam, but they will remember the time we took to help them prepare. None of our classes will be perfect this semester, but we can be the professor that makes a lasting difference with the connection we make with them. Have a great semester!
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
ASP Foundational Scholarship Series: This series focuses on the seminal ASP/ Bar Exam scholarship that contributed to the development of academic and bar support best practices.
For the first-ever post in this series, I was stuck between two choices. So, I chose both:
1. Knaplund & Sanders, The Art and Science of Academic Support, 45 J. Legal Educ. 157 (1995).
This article was one of the earliest and most robust empirical analyses of law school academic support programs. It helped ASP faculty defend the then-controversial pedagogy of "contextualized academic support" and answer the question "Why should we spend money on an ASP?"
From the introduction:
• Our analysis of seven distinct academic support initiatives at UCLA shows that support can substantially and demonstrably improve both short-term and long-term academic performance, but the effects vary markedly across UCLA's programs.
• The variation in academic effectiveness across UCLA's programs follows distinct patterns that yield definite guidance on the pedagogy of academic support.
• We found some evidence that academic support programs can have valuable benefits apart from their impact on grades.
2. Russell McClain, Helping Our Students Reach Their Full Potential: The Insidious Consequences of Ignoring Stereotype Threat, 17 Rutgers Race & L. Rev. 1 (2016).
Coupled with Professor McClain's conference presentations on this subject and a related TEDx Talk, this article was the first to analyze the phenomenon of stereotype threat specifically as it pertains to law students. It serves as a crucial resource for ASP faculty, and all others, to understand their potential in ameliorating the effects of implicit bias in the law school classroom.
From the article abstract:
A psychological phenomenon may be a significant cause of academic underachievement by minorities in law school. This phenomenon, called stereotype threat, occurs as a result of the fear of confirming a negative group stereotype.... When subject to this threat — as a consequence of being confronted with environmental or explicit triggers — people do worse in academic settings than they otherwise are capable of doing. In this article, I explore the implications of the research on stereotype threat for law schools and make several recommendations to deal with the threat.
There are natural implications for law school admissions, of course. If a portion of our applicant pool is affected by stereotype threat, then we cannot trust the accuracy of the metrics we typically use in law school admissions, i.e., prior academic performance and LSAT scores of law school applicants. Indeed, those credentials actually may under-evaluate the academic potential of these applicants, who are often minority students. This should cause law schools to reevaluate their admissions policies.
After students are admitted, law school provides fertile ground within which stereotype threat can flourish. This, of course, means that the performance of minorities in law school — in class, on exams, and in other areas — is likely to be diminished, such that many minorities will not perform up to their academic capacity. And, obviously, we would expect this same dynamic to play out on the bar exam.
Law schools can address stereotype threat at each of these levels, and they should do so. This article lays out a framework for understanding and dealing with the threat.
(Louis N. Schulze, Jr., FIU Law).
Thursday, January 14, 2021
I just got out of class. An online zoom class, not surprisingly. But, in reflection of the first class, I had a bit of a surprise. I did a whole lot of talking and talking and then, even more, talking. You see, I took a glance at the audio transcript file. And it was quite an eye-popper.
I did most of the talking, which means that my students did very little.
It makes me wonder whether I left enough time in the midst of my words for my students to learn. I once heard a brilliant teacher say something to the effect that "the less that I talk the more that they [my students] learn."
Of course, as the saying goes, the "proof is in the pudding."
Which leads to my next surprise. I try to end classes with asking students one thing that they learned along with one thing that they didn't understand. Well as you might expect, I didn't leave enough time for the last question because, you guessed it, I spent too much time talking.
But, in response to the first question, what they learned, well, they learned about what I liked (snickers!) and where I ate lunch on the first day of the bar exam (the liquor store since I forgot my lunch), etc. In other words, it seems like they learned a great deal about me but perhaps not as much about bar preparation, which is the subject of our course.
Lesson learned, especially for online teaching...speak less and listen more. In short, trust them to learn by learning together, as a team, rather than just trying to pound information into their heads. I sure learned a lot today. Next class...my students are going to learn plenty too! (Scott Johns)
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
It is AALS Annual Meeting week and the Section on Academic Support is holding 3 programs and the business meeting. This year the section is holding 1 main program and 2 co-sponsored programs.
Wed, Jan. 6, 2:45 pm - 5:30 pm EST - Section on Academic Support and Real Estate Transactions Joint Program: "The Changing Architecture of Legal Education: Real Estate Transactions as a Case Study."
Thurs, Jan. 7, 2:45 pm - 4 pm EST - Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession, Academic Support, PreLegal Education & Admission to Law School, and Student Services: "An Empirical Look at Influences on Access to Legal Education & the Profession."
Sat, Jan 9, 1:15 pm - 2:30 pm EST - Section for the Law School Dean and Academic Support: "COVID-19 and the Bar Exam: Supporting our Graduates."
Section Business Meeting
The ASP section business meeting will be held on Wed., Jan. 6, at 5:30 pm EST immediately following the main program. The business meeting is NOT part of the main program login. The main program platform does not allow for discussion.
Friday, December 18, 2020
As we enter the holiday season, we seem to measure things in dozens. To that end, and in that spirit (and as a respite from grading…), here are the 12 Students You Meet on Zoom:
1. The First One There: this student comes before I have even poured the coffee I will need for the class. And then they leave because they are alone. And then they come back. And now I have four separate recordings for the class-three are about 38 seconds long.
2. The Gamer: he (or she) has the headphones/mic combo and gamer chair set up like all the folks on YouTube videos that your 15 year old son watches. They may actually be playing a game online with your 15 year-old son during class…..
3. The Snuggler: she (or he) is all comfy cozy in their fluffy bed during class. Their face is sideways because sitting up is a lot. Probably not taking any notes….
4. The Snacker: they did bring enough to share but….
5. Video off/audio on: Um. We can hear their mom telling them something even if we cannot see them (rolling their eyes no doubt). No worries, I muted you both.
6. Computer only attending class: no video, no audio, no student. I called on them after asking them to turn on the video three or four times. No answer. I ended class but didn’t end the meeting and they were still there-or were they ever there? The emailed questions later in the week make me believe not…..
7. The Chatter: the syllabus actually says that any private chats will show up in my transcript of the chat. I don’t care if you think my hair looks weird today. Actually, I do. Ouch.
8. The Harry Potter Painting: they are off screen and then they are back and then they are off again. I am waiting for them to show up in another person’s square…with a sword….and a pony.
9. The Traveller: they are moving from room to room hunting the elusive wifi. Wascally wifi….or walking around outside and taking us with them. Sadly, it will not count towards my daily steps…
10. The Mobile Classroom: They are in a minivan-in the driver’s seat, but when we go into breakout rooms I have a weird vision of them physically driving over to another parking spot. I’m actually impressed at how spacious and clean the van is compared to my house.
11. The Pet Sharer: I love your dogs and cats. I had no idea you had a whole bunch of birds until you unmuted yourself and the noise made all three of my cats come running to my laptop. Still, it was a delightful chaos.
12. The Student doing the best they can under the circumstances: that’s everyone. I would like to thank my students for their patience and understanding during the garbage collection/mail or package delivery/fire engine barking as well as the occasional meowing and tail in your face. This is hard-and we made it work.
(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)
Friday, December 11, 2020
The Legal Skills Prof. Blog had 2 great posts recently that I want to pass along. The first is about a piece written by Deborah Jones Merritt. She advocates for a new bar exam that would be significantly more statistically valid. The Legal Skills post is here. You can also read her full article Building a Better Bar: The 12 Building Blocks of Minimum Competence.
The other post relates to cognitive challenges in teaching. It begins with "I have a feeling my co-blogger Scott is going to love this one (it's right up his alley). It's a new article I stumbled across called "The Cognitive Challenges of Effective Teaching" by Professors Stephen L. Chew (Stamford) and William J. Cerbin (U. Wisc.) that pulls together an extensive body of cognitive science research into a nine point framework to guide and inform classroom teaching." The post is a great summary of the 9 points, and the full article is worth the read.
Sunday, December 6, 2020
One of the books that I have read with my children (and without them because it is that good) is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. It is the story of a child with significant facial abnormalities and how he navigates attending school for the first time as a fifth grader. It is not a great book to read on the subway if public crying is not your thing. One of the things I loved about Wonder was that it was full of warm-hearted quotes, but the ones that really resonate with me in these pandemic times are about kindness, "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind," (Dr. Wayne Dyer) and a variation of this quote from J.M. Barrie, “[b]e kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
I have about seventy-five students I am responsible for this semester: sixty are undergraduate law majors and the rest are law students. Throughout this entirely remote semester, and especially as we move into exam season, I am trying to live by the words quoted above. What does it mean to be kind in these unprecedented days of legal education? Sadly, the answers are becoming clearer as we get closer to not needing to know anymore.
I wonder how to balance teaching important material, assessing learning of that material and yet not causing any additional stress to students who are already in uncharted waters. I do students no favors by not teaching the subject because, after all, this pandemic will end someday and not knowing what they should know after taking my class is not ideal. I also do students no favors by being rigid for what seems to be no reason other than to maintain the usual power dynamic in a “classroom.” Nothing usual is going on right now, and yet the normalcy of learning may be comforting. How can I make what I teach relevant in a topsy-turvy world?
I will preface my argument for extra kindness with the recognition that I am a bit of a mush even in the best of times: I will accept late work (if students ask for the extension prior to the due date), I will find ways to add extra credit for students who really need more points to pass and I will meet with students really early and fairly late in the day. I am not a doormat though: if you lie or cheat, the well of good will runs dry.
Here’s the thing though, the battles that students have been fighting since March are both obvious and hidden. There is the elephant in the room (wearing his mask and six feet away from the other battles in the room): Covid-19, but there are also so many other occupants of this space. There are students who don’t have the equipment, wi-fi, personal bandwidth or private space to be productive in remote classes. There are students who are ashamed of their living space, or who are sharing that space with siblings, parents, and roommates. There are students who are learning while parenting students who are also trying to learn remotely. There are students with executive function issues who are really struggling to stay organized and focused when the class content is coming from so many different sources. And then there is the student who attends class from inside his car because he needs to drive his grandmother to chemotherapy (public transportation and taxis are not safe at the moment) and our class is during her regularly scheduled appointment. There is the student who lost a close family friend to suicide the week before a scheduled oral argument about a case involving bullying another person to commit suicide; a student who had to fly home to Ghana due to a family emergency; a student whose wife is immune-compromised who was exposed to the virus at work and they live with her older parents, and so on.
I would argue that kindness is the only answer to balancing all the competing interests in teaching in these times. Asking for and accepting help teaches students maturity. For pre-law and law students, learning to advocate, even if for themselves, is a skill that is absolutely necessary but hard to assess. Understanding that most people will do the right thing given the necessary information is also an imperative, and yet ephemeral, lesson. This is where modeling kindness can be an unexpected but powerful aid to teaching.
So, I am doing my best to teach and model kindness as part of the hidden curriculum in these classes. I am accepting all work until the last minute. If you ask me to turn it in late, the answer is yes and there is no penalty. I may even track you down to make sure you ask. If you need to do your oral argument about a different case because the assigned one is too hard to read about, then so be it. I’ve stopped using a virtual background because I want students to know that I am sitting at my kitchen table in my messy and chaotic house. My students have seen (and mainly heard) all my pets and children. I am not pretending that anything we are doing is normal, but I am teaching within this paradigm and not despite it. I want my students to learn that there are some things that are more important than classroom hierarchy, and yet I also want them to learn that being an attorney means that, for the most part, you will be working with and for humans-who all have battles. When our class could be an immersive escape from the world, I hope it was; but where it could be an oasis acknowledging the reality of this time, I hope it was that too. When we get to a point in this pandemic where we can safely be caught crying on public transportation, I will have to find a new balance and I hope my students will have acquired the resilience to find one as well.
(Guest Post - Elizabeth Stillman)
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Many of us try to help students with imposter syndrome. A colleague from CALI (Hat tip to Deb Quentel) passed along an article about imposter syndrome in the classroom. Check it out here.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
This is a scary time of year – a time of growing cold and darkness. The terror of the unknown, of loss and calamity. The young ones, they don masks – smiles or stoic glares – to hide their fear. They binge on the distracting delight of sweets. But the elders know. It is the time of the season. Days are shorter. Workloads are increasing. Midterm grades are coming in. Soon it will be winter, and with winter come final exams. Minds once lit and warmed by the excitement of a new school year are feeling fatigued and worn, craving respite, giving in to torpor. And the sleep of reason breeds monsters:
Witches: Dazzled by the apparent power of the esoteric words wielded by the great jurists of the past, these students become convinced that the path to glory is paved with sorcerous phrases. They fill notebook after notebook, or thumb drive after thumb drive, with quotations of passages from lectures and cases and textbooks, daring not to cut a single word, sparing not the time for reflection or comprehension, merely hoping that they when they need it most, they will choose the right magic portion to make their professors fall in love with their essays.
Ghosts: These poor souls are caught between worlds and have not found a way to move on. In a former life, they were happy and successful. Maybe this one was a college student, coasting through noteless classes on innate brilliance and heady all-nighters. Maybe that one had prospered at work, a wizard with people and systems but never paying too much attention to the written word. Perhaps another one came from a truly different world – another country, another culture, another field of study – where things just work differently. We must all pass through the veil of law school admission and climb the stairway to replevin, but a few of us are held back, tethered to our pasts.
Werewolves: The most unexpected of all monsters, these accursed brutes look and act like happy-go-lucky, indifferent law students . . . most of the time. But every month or so, as the glare of an impending exam or deadline grows increasingly full, they undergo an uncontrollable metamorphosis! Their mild-mannered calm deserts them, and they howl like beasts as they despair over the seemingly impossible task before them. Raving overnight in the darkness, they may teeter on incomprehensibility until the magic hour finally passes, and, exhausted, they tumble into bed – awakening the next day with no apparent memory of the horror they are thus doomed to repeat.
Zombies: Once ordinary scholars, these creatures have been blighted (some say through contact with other zombies) and are now driven by a single impulse: BRAAAAAAINS! MUST HAVE BRAAAAAINS! Their every conscious (term used loosely) moment is devoted to consuming books, lectures, outlines, practice tests, flash cards, supplements, mnemonics, YouTube videos, omega-3 fatty acids, and biographies of Supreme Court Justices. And they will pick at their professors’ brains if they can. They have little time for other sustenance and none for camaraderie.
Vampires: The wampyr is a tragic being, at once part of the human world and cleaved from it. Rarely seen in daylight, it hides in the dark corners of the classroom, feeding off the thoughts and words of others, but fading, like a mist, when its own opinions are sought. The vampire does not project an image, so it can be seen neither in mirror nor in Zoom class. What keeps it from the fellowship of humanity? Is it anxiety? Indifference? Misunderstanding? Perhaps this spirit feels that it is the one who is misunderstood.
Yes, this is the moment to meet the mysterious menagerie! And you might fear, as Ichabod Crane discovered, that a teacher is no match for a spectral fiend. But remember, every monster is merely a suffering human. We do what we can to restore them. We teach the witches that the power they seek is not in the words, but in what they can learn to make with them. We show the ghosts how to take the best parts of their old lives with them as they rise to face their new ones. We help the werewolves release themselves from their curse by breaking the waxing and waning cycle of rising anxiety and falling productivity, through the mystical art of tempus administratione. We demonstrate to the zombies the benefits of a more balanced diet, one enhanced with practical experience, meaningful relationships, proper recreation, and appropriate amounts of fiber. We reach out to the vampire, drawing it into the light, the better to see what is keeping it at bay and to see to what degree they bring an affliction to school, and to what degree the school imposes an affliction on them.
Happy Hallowe’en to all!
“There is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures--provided we will but take a joke as we find it.” – Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Monday, October 5, 2020
Trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances . . . experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening[,] and that has long-lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” With the pandemic, resulting recession, and ongoing social unrest stemming from racial injustice, if the year 2020 doesn’t fit this definition, I’m not sure what does. I am navigating a lot right now. We are all navigating a lot right now. There is so much uncertainty in the world and many of us have been socially isolated for more than six years months. Though trauma is centered in an individual’s experience, I think it’s safe to say that current circumstances represent trauma for many folks.
Many of my students seem to be faking it until they can make it taking the current situation in stride (at least on the outside). However, I have found myself wondering how well they are really doing with focus, learning, and managing any stress, fear, and anxiety they may be feeling. I also keep thinking about what else I can do to help them. In seeking resources responsive to this moment in history, I stumbled upon several articles about trauma-informed teaching and learning.
Trauma-informed teaching prioritizes helping students feel safe, seen, empowered, and connected. This approach recognizes that, because of the current convergence of crises, students may have more difficulty: completing tasks; finding the motivation to complete reading assignments, “show up” to class, and participate in class discussions; completing writing assignments; effectively managing their time; and, more generally, staying engaged with their legal education. If you’re looking for ways to provide additional support for students during these difficult times, consider the following trauma-informed teaching practices:
- Work to create safety for your students. Think about what makes you feel safe when you feel most vulnerable or are facing uncertainty, and consider sharing your vulnerability. Be honest with students about how you have been affected by current circumstances and tell them how you are doing. By naming your emotions in this way, you are modeling for students that it is healthy to share and process emotions in a community setting. Accordingly, ask your students how they are doing and solicit their thoughts on how you can create a feeling of safety for them in your course. Suggest that they journal as an outlet to express their feelings and create/offer a space for students to share if they feel comfortable doing so.
- Foster relationships and facilitate peer support. Relationships are a key to resilience. Encourage students to check on one another, if they are comfortable doing so, and promote storytelling. The act of sharing their stories with their peers can help students better cope because it creates a feeling of shared experience and fosters a sense of community.
- Create a sense of trustworthiness and transparency. Be clear, transparent, and reliable in interacting with students. Creating and maintaining trust can help lessen stress and anxiety. Adopt and adhere to routines to create some level of predictability for students.
- Empower voice and choice. Validate and normalize student concerns by talking to students about fear, anxiety, stress, and trauma. Empower students who may feel a diminished sense of control to advocate for themselves. Ask their opinions, survey them about how you can help them learn during these difficult times, and brainstorm ways for students to play a role in creating or structuring assignments.
- Understand that students are not a monolith. View student challenges through the lens of intersectionality. We are all trying to navigate the trauma of 2020. However, not all of our students are experiencing this trauma in the same way or to the same degree. Many BIPOC students, for example, may be experiencing trauma much more severely because of intergenerational trauma, ongoing oppression, and structural inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Interrupt microaggressions in the classroom. Microaggressions are a daily source of traumatic stress for students with marginalized identities. Commit to learning more about how to identify and respond to microaggressions in your classroom. Navigating multiple crises and online learning as a law student is traumatic enough.
- Emphasize the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose. Share your passion for teaching, learning, etc. with students and invite them to reconnect with their sense of purpose.
- Re-emphasize concepts and scaffold. Trauma can affect law students’ self-regulation and executive functioning skills, which means they may have a more difficult time planning, remembering, and focusing. Consider providing more reminders about dates and deadlines, what was covered in prior classes, and how it connects to what students are learning next. Build these additional guideposts into your syllabus, learning management system, class meetings, etc.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the need for us to also prioritize care for ourselves. Doing this work, in addition to everything else we’re trying to navigate in 2020, is not for the weary. In addition to adapting and adopting trauma-informed practices to better support students, we must also carve out time to unplug, unwind, and de-stress. We and our students will be better for it.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Mays Imad, Seven Recommendations for Helping Students Thrive in Times of Trauma, Inside HigherEd, June 3, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/06/03/seven-recommendations-helping-students-thrive-times-trauma.
Natalie B. Milman, Yes, You Can Do Trauma-Informed Teaching Remotely (and You Really, Really Should), Educ. Week, Apr. 3, 2020, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/03/yes-you-can-do-trauma-informed-teaching-remotely.html.
Beth McMurtie, What Does Trauma-Informed Teaching Look Like?, Chron. Higher Educ., June 4, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2020-06-04.
Kara Newhouse, Four Core Priorities for Trauma-Informed Distance Learning, KQED, Apr. 6, 2020, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55679/four-core-priorities-for-trauma-informed-distance-learning.
 BIPOC means Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
For many, the summer and early fall is a time to evaluate lectures and programming. I teach a required 1L class, and one of the upcoming classes is on outlining. For a couple years now, I have not liked my outlining class. I tried to integrate or use exercises from other ASPers and ASP books, but in the end, students still struggled with outlining. I didn't like the way it flowed. My basic assessment is I understand the context and what I am trying to teach, but the students don't have the same context. I needed help.
I sought help from an expert and someone I trust, my wife. She is an communication professor and has unique expertise in argumentation. She coached numerous highly successful individuals at the national high school speech and debate competition prior to becoming a professor (along with her own collegiate national championship). She has expertise in speech and argumentation structure but is not entrenched in law school terminology. I explained my problem, and she understood what students needed to do. However, she could explain it as an outsider who never created a law school outline. The experience was enlightening.
My experience helped me in a couple ways. First, I believe I improved my outlining lecture. She discussed underlying communication problems for untrained individuals. A person without context for a task becomes overwhelmed when given multiple steps even when he/she works through those steps with guidance. First semester students don't have much context for law school outlines, especially not this early in the semester. Giving them a 3 or 4 step process for creating an outline won't help many students because they still don't have the schema to assimilate the information. ASPers discuss schema in relation to doctrinal material, but outlining and skills have similar requirements.
She suggested a basic format for how she would teach the process. She encouraged re-framing the discussion around 1 idea. She called it a visual framework. Students won't complete 4 tasks. They will create a visual framework that includes a few components. Students won't get as overwhelmed with the steps since it is essentially 1 task. She suggested examples and activities that many of you utilize. She used her argumentation and speech outlining background to say students should create instructions, outlines, or steps for common practices like making spaghetti. Many of you utilize similar activities. Also, providing a fill in the blank form and examples of completed outlines helps. I was glad that I do many of the activities she suggested, but I appreciated her fully walking through how she would approach teaching the skill. For me, the communication and framing piece is helpful since she approached it from a non-legal perspective.
The second big takeaway for me is to seek help both inside ASP and outside the law school. Our Universities have experts in areas that could help us reach students. The obvious example is the education department for teaching, but we should look beyond even that department. Communication scholars have significant knowledge on how people receive information. We need students to understand and incorporate our teaching, and communication classes could help with basic speech/lecture organization to presentation techniques using technology. Psychology departments can help with understanding motivation and human behavior. The business school can help with marketing. Athletic Departments and coaches focus on maximizing potential. Our Universities have abundant intellectual resources. From my experience, I think we should seek them out even more. I know I could learn from those around me, and it would probably be quicker than the usual trial and error method in my programming.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
I enjoy describing the seasons changing and how it relates to where we are in law school. Normally, I would write about the hot summer days and getting back to work with new students. However, my description this year would be close to the cool breeze from my air conditioner permeates my home office setup, which is really a laptop at my kitchen counter. Not quite the same imagery as previous years.
The imagery is not the only thing different this year. Many schools are online, while others created numerous sections to stay in-person. Some schools are using so many sections non-class activities will not happen live. Not only that, ASPers are always the big draw. We couldn't possibly social distance with our crowds, or at least that is my optimism at the beginning of the year. Most of us will need to change our programming to reach students.
Everything seems different. The images, programs, students, and classes will be new experiences. Many of us will continue to try to make our program the perfect hybrid, online, asynchronous, etc. experience possible. I commend everyone for that. However, let's not forget a sound piece of advice we provide our students every year. Don't miss the forest for the trees. Fundamentally, we are trying to help students succeed to his/her best ability. To do that, most of them just need a guide with solid directions. Becoming a guide or coach comes from building relationships with our students. They understand the difficulties of the current crisis, and most of them appreciate what schools are doing to be both safe and provide quality education. We can build those relationships in classes, zooms, teams, and imperfect workshops. You will have amazing opportunities this year to empathize and be present for students. Embrace those opportunities.
Nearly all ASPers are building amazing workshops, and keep doing it so I can continue to borrow your ideas. Don't spend so much time on those workshops though and miss the chances to reach students. Embrace your new relationships!
Sunday, June 28, 2020
About six weeks ago, I posted a question on Twitter: “Students, assuming we’re all doing online learning again in the fall, what do you want your profs to keep doing/stop doing/start doing?”
The tweet got a lot of comments from students, faculty, and parents spanning many disciplines and education levels. Naturally, plenty of responses were unhelpful (“Stop charging full tuition”), others were contradictory (“Synchronous classes!” “Asynchronous classes!”), and some had suggestions that I assume by now are obvious (“Provide closed-captions or transcripts for prerecorded videos.”) Some interesting themes and tidbits did emerge, though, and I thought I’d share:
Course materials. Students were enthusiastic for faculty to upload as many materials as possible as soon as possible—suggestions included scheduling material uploads (e.g., next week’s materials will be posted on Wednesday mornings) and uploading your lecture notes before class so students can follow along. Please don’t use slides that are only photos—when reviewing later, it’s difficult for students to know what the intended content was. Also keep in mind that students have limited access to printers at home; format accordingly.
Communication, in class and out of it. Clarity of assignments and expectations is paramount. Use the course homepage to post announcements, rather than expecting students to sift through their emails for course updates. Polls and discussion boards are largely ineffective for student engagement or facilitating conversation. Instead, encourage students to pose questions using the chat feature (which TAs can monitor for you, if you have a TA.)
Assessments: There were several calls for more frequent, smaller assignments rather than big assignments during the semester. Graduate-level students in particular requested final papers over final exams, to demonstrate depth of learning and thought rather than memorization. Students appreciated flexible deadlines where possible, as it relieved students of having to request (sometimes multiple) extensions. One commenter pointed out that middle-of-the-night deadlines do not necessarily benefit students residing in other time zones. When a timed final exam is necessary, make sure students can see the entire exam at first—it’s impossible for students to triage or manage their time effectively if the software shows only one question at a time and doesn’t allow a student to go back. For exams that inevitably go for many pages or include multiple questions, a cover sheet can help by explaining how many questions there are and how much each question is weighted.
Tech hacks for video transcripts: Faculty posted various suggestions to get transcripts of pre-recorded videos. Write out a script for yourself, which reduces your ums and ahs and also serves as a transcript after the recording is finished. Software-generated transcripts are generally pretty good, though you’ll have to edit them. Various platforms were suggested: YouTube, Kaltura, and Screencast-o-matic, along with the dictation functions on Microsoft Word, Google, and Google Slides. (If you’re not comfortable with your content being on YouTube, your videos can de-listed so they’re accessible by link but not by searching; you can also upload a video, download the transcript, and take down the video.)
Ask the students for feedback: They’re digital natives, plus they’re the ones taking your course. Professors have gotten good feedback from students, particularly when they explain why they’re asking (“My colleagues and I all noticed that by the end of the semester, few students had cameras on. This was very difficult for me as an instructor, because I realized how much I depend on non-verbal communication. Not seeing faces was really hard for me. On the other hand, there's clearly something going on. Research has shown that having cameras on can be stressful, and it's obviously not just one or two students without cameras. So what insights do you have? Should I not even bother trying to get people to connect with cameras? Should I leave it as an option? Why weren't most students turning their cameras on?”)
(Cassie Christopher - Guest Blogger)
Sunday, May 24, 2020
The Learning Curve released the Spring 2020 issue. It has a number of great articles that will help us all teaching next semester. Kevin Sherrill posted it on the Google Group.
As a reminder, they are also seeking submissions for the next issue. This installment will focus on the issues we all face going forward this summer and fall in this very challenging time. Many discussions have begun on this listserv and in various webinars on these issues, so the foundations for many useful articles are out there already.
They hope to have this issue published by mid-June so that it can hopefully serve as a useful resource for everyone. Therefore the submission deadline will be May 31. They will accept articles on a rolling basis and begin editing as soon as we accept in order to move this along. Please send your submissions to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com.
Friday, May 1, 2020
The Learning Curve sends out the call for submissions for the next issue, which is looking to turn around very quickly. This installment will focus on the issues we all face going forward this summer and fall in this very challenging time. Many discussions have begun in various webinars on these issues, so we think the foundations for many useful articles are out there already.
The hope is to have this issue published by mid-June so that it can hopefully serve as a useful resource for everyone. Therefore the submission deadline will be May 31. We will accept articles on a rolling basis and begin editing as soon as we accept in order to move this along. Please send your submissions to LearningCurveASP@gmail.com.
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Toni Miceli invites you to a virtual conference/discussion about Lessons Learned from Pre-COVID Online Teaching. The conference/discussion will take place on Friday, May 1 at 2:00 PM EST.
You can register for the discussion here: https://nova.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEodu-rrjopEtE5Hc2rC41ZD5kFzJgkFEIU
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Toni will be moderating a panel discussion of our colleagues who were presenting online ASP programming prior to the recent shift to remote learning. Panelists will share their experiences and lessons learned that they have used in making the more recent transition.
Panelists will include:
- Dr. Susan D. Landrum, Assistant Dean for the Academic Success and Professionalism Program at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law
- Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law
- Quentin Huff, Associate Director of Bar Success at Wake Forest Law
- Anne Johnson, Adjunct Professor of Law at Mercer University School of Law
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Law school and the bar exam require immense mental toughness during regular preparation periods. Online learning combined with the stress from uncertainty magnifies that difficulty. Dr. Travis Bradberry wrote an article for Success magazine in 2016 describing 15 qualities mentally tough people exhibit. The list includes:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Neutralizing toxic people
- Embracing change
- Saying no
- Fear leads to regret
- Embracing failure
- Not dwelling on mistakes
- Others won't limit joy
- Won't limit the joy of others
- Get enough sleep
- Limit caffeine
- Relentlessly positive
All those qualities may not apply to law school or the current situation, but many of us could benefit from doing more of a few of them. Most of us should be more confident, say no more, embrace failure, not dwell on mistakes, exercise, get sleep, forgive, and stay positive. Check out the article for advice in each one of these areas. Most of us are trying to do much more now than a couple months ago. Be reasonable and take steps to stay mentally fresh.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
COVID-19 dramatically changed the way we all experience life. Social distancing and quarantines require using technology for work and education. Most of us utilize technology regularly through email, word processors, databases, etc., but fully online working and education is not the norm. Everyone will need to adjust to a new normal.
The new normal requires new engagement methods and instruction. I downloaded a free trial of a program to create interactive online lectures because I worried zoom wouldn't engage large classes. However, my attempts will probably have flaws. Many instructors will use zoom, and students will learn the material. They will also probably make some mistakes. The reality is everyone, instructors and students, will make mistakes.
Most of us know mistakes will happen. We even say we will cut students some slack. Will we cut ourselves slack though? In the past week, I saw more emails on the ASP listserv about online tools, best practices, conference calls, etc. than any other given week. I am overjoyed that our community is willing to help each other reach our students. The amount of information though is overwhelming. In the constant drive to reach every student and be flawless in our instruction, we may have unleashed an overwhelming flood of information. The tools are limitless, and instruction is happening now. Some may try to accumulate and evaluate all the tools to pick what will work best. I am not sure if that is the best practice in this moment.
Right now, our students need us mentally ready to help them through a difficult situation. We tell students to stay mentally fresh throughout a semester and the bar exam. We need to take the same advice right now. No system or tool is going to be perfect. Find one that will accomplish your goals, and commit to that for the rest of the semester. Students don't expect any of us to be perfect or have all the answers right now. What they expect is someone to help and be available. I am not discouraging seeking information. I heard the conference call last week was amazing. Definitely pay attention to information. Just don't overindulge to the exclusion of other important mental health activities during this crisis. Being present and there for each other and our students will have the biggest impact on their education.
I hope everyone is safe and healthy.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Just to be clear, law students are not dogs. Law students are people, full of humanity, volition, self-awareness, and agency. Dogs, in contrast, are full of caninity, impulsiveness, incomprehension, and opportunism. If a dog sees you after a one-week absence, she will yelp and leap excitedly, as if witnessing your literal resurrection from the dead. A law student, on the other hand, will just shrug, or perhaps nod, understanding that class only meets once a week, and that you are not killed and eaten by bears in between meetings.
Nevertheless, learning to be a better dog owner had helped me learn to be a better law student teacher, too. This is *not* because law students and dogs are similar. Law students have never bitten, drooled upon, or shed on me, and they do not think of squirrels as morsel-toys. No, what has helped has been the realization that I make some of the same mistakes with my puppy that I sometimes make with law students, but with dogs the consequences are more readily noticeable. Tula provides me with an immediate feedback loop that helps me realize the errors of my ways more quickly:
- Using inconsistent language. When I am walking my dog and she pulls ahead of me, I invariably find a variety of ways to show my disapproval. "Tula, come here." "Tula, back it up!" "Tula, no pulling." These all mean essentially the same thing to me, and, in a sense, they mean the same thing to Tula, as well, except from her perspective what they mean is nothing. Why? Because when I taught her to walk next to me, I told her to "Heel!". When I say "Heel!", she knows to walk alongside me. When I say "Back it up!", I might as well be speaking Orcish, and she merrily ignores me. Students are not so obvious when they are puzzled by a change in vocabulary, so I might not notice that I have confused them if I switch spontaneously from "meeting of the minds" to "mutual assent" without explanation. But an overeager German shepherd quickly promotes consistent terminology.
- Failing to spot trouble coming. A peaceful walk around the neighborhood can become a nerve-jangling melee of barking, yanking, and tangled leash if I do not notice the squirrel that my pooch has fixed her gaze upon or the approaching tween walking her poodle. Tula means well, but her fervent enthusiasm would lead her into trouble if I had not quickly learned to watch out for temptation. Law students, too, face hazards to their success -- substantive misunderstandings, time management issues, overconfidence, etc. --- but these dangers can smolder, unaddressed, for weeks or even months before finally leading to very visible, and sometimes catastrophic, misadventures. Having to learn to control a fanged furry beastie has impressed upon me the importance of spotting and dealing with trouble before it generates an emergency.
- Ignoring personality and mood. Every dog owner dreams of having the perfectly-behaved pet that responds instantly and consistently to every command, like a fuzzy predictable robot. I have seen a few of these animals -- they are really scary, like police K-9 dogs, trained through thousands of hours of repetition to such automaticity you can practically hear them barking, "I'll be back!" The rest of us all have to contend with real dogs. They mean well, really they do; but if your dog (like mine) is just a quivering bundle of excitement, then you have to accept that you cannot always turn your back on them after commanding them to sit. And if they are tired, or hungry, or frightened, then you have to adjust your expectations and adjust your guidance accordingly if you want to see the behavior you are used to seeing. If you don't, then you will see things go awry very quickly. Law students are not dogs, which have no control over the expressions of their moods or personalities; people, sometimes with very good reasons, can subdue their reactions. But those reactions matter -- they affect perception, motivation, and intention -- and their effects might show immediately, or might not make themselves clear until much later. A good teacher will attend to each individual student's personality and mood and adapt their teaching strategies to take them into account.
Dogs are terrible models for law students -- they do not read books, once one of them starts yapping they all have to jump in, and they would probably sleep through every class. But dog owners might have something useful to teach law professors.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
I love youth activities because they start out so spirited, often with a riddle, a challenge, or a song.
Recently, I realized that my some of the difficulties that students face is that they can easily avoid the obvious. That's because many students often lack confidence that they actually belong in law school, seeing themselves as imposters.
In working with children, youth leaders understand that the sense of inadequacy is omnipresent, especially with middle schoolers. So, in order to help build community and break down barriers to learning, leaders often start youth meetings with some adventurous fun. Call it team building if you want.
As academic support professionals, perhaps it might be helpful for us, likewise, to kick off workshops and classes with an "ice-breaker" of sorts because, let's face it, law school can share many of the insecurities of teenage life. So, below, is an exercise that might help your students relate to each other, laugh a bit, and learn perhaps even a little too.
As background, this week, most of my students missed a relatively easy essay issue dealing with consideration, even though it was right under their noses. That's because we really do often believe that we aren't smart enough to solve the problem or that they must be tricking us. But, sometimes the answer is right in front of us, if we just take the time to ponder it a bit. Nevertheless, we are often in a rush, because of time pressures, to start working on the problem at hand before we even understand the problem at hand.
With that background in mind, let your students know that you'd like to take a breather, and oh, let's say, work on a math problem for a moment. Not one that is too difficult, mind you. Just one from back from the days when you were taking algebra.
Then, scribble on the board: "Find x." Follow that with the equation: y = 2x/3 + 25. Then let them have at it. Oh, and make sure that they know that they are free to work in groups, after all, its a math problem!
At this point, a few engineers and scientists will be plugging away but most students will be frantically trying to figure out: "How do we solve for x?"
But note the "call" of the question. It's not to "solve" for x but rather to "find" x. And, just like that, one of your students will scream out I've got it! I've found x! That's when you ask the student to come to the board, with a marker in hand, and explain what they came up with. Watch with amazement as the student circles on the board where x is!
Back to my essay problem involving consideration. Based on a past bar exam essay, the problem involved a person who immediately risked her life to save a dog from a burning house. After the dog was rescued, a conversation ensued between the rescuer and the dog's owner with the owner learning that the rescuer wanted to go to paramedic school but couldn't afford it (no contract yet!). That's when things got exciting. The owner promised that she would pay for paramedic schooling because she wanted to "compensate" the rescuer for his heroism in rescuing her dog. Well, as things go on bar exam problems, the owner didn't pay and the rescuer, who was denied admission to the paramedic school, pursued a different line of education.
Most students explored lots of issues, including offer, acceptance, statute of frauds, mistake, conditions, anticipatory repudiation, and you name it. But, the key was in writing the issue: "The issue is whether the rescuer has any contract claims when the owner promised to pay for paramedic school to compensate the rescuer for a past act of heroism." In a nutshell, there was an issue concerning whether there was consideration based on the pre-existing duty rule and there was an issue concerning whether, assuming no consideration, whether the promise could be enforced under the material benefit rule and/or promissory estoppel. That was it. Once the students saw the answer, they then saw the facts that triggered that answer, and it all came down to writing the issue statement.
That's when I brought out the math problem below. Using this challenge, students were reminded that it's important to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. And, in order to ask the right questions, we have to take time, before we write, to think. It was one of the most memorable learning exercises of all for my students because they all knew the rules of consideration and promissory estoppel but in their haste to solve the problem...they missed the problem. Love to have your thoughts on how the "Find x" exercise goes with your students! (Scott Johns)