Sunday, January 26, 2014

Teaching Evidence as an Experiential Course

When I took Evidence in law school, I was bothered by the fact that it was taught like any other course--like a casebook course.  More than any other basic law school course, Evidence is a practical course.  It should be taught by first learning a rule of evidence, then applying it like a student would in the court room.

Steven Friedland has just posted a course portfolio in which he shows how evidence can be taught as a specialized form of applied trial advocacy.  (here)  Notably, Evidence is a required course at Elon.

Professor Friedland teaches Evidence as "learning by doing": "I approach this course as a specialized form of applied trial advocacy, using the trial context as a vehicle by which to teach the course objectives. The engaged and experiential dimensions of the course regularly incorporate a blend of simulated trial techniques, evidentiary objections, and courtroom settings. In essence, there is an emphasis on learning-by-doing. The in-class learning-by-doing contexts include group strategizing and problem solving, direct and cross examination, refreshing recollection, the examination of expert witnesses, laying evidentiary foundations for exhibits, hearsay statements and other rules, and, time permitting, student participation in a final trial prior to the end of the semester."

He notes that "While embedding the rules of evidence in their natural context of trial practice can be more challenging for students during the semester – given the speed and extended skill sets required for knowledge and technique acquisition – the trial context creates relevancy for students and deeper learning, both immediately and in the long-term, with numerous opportunities for feedback. It also helps the process when a group of students is engaged, participating, and challenged on a regular basis."

He describes his teaching methods as: "Students are required to write out answers for to up to a half-dozen problems in the course book prior to discussion in class. Sometimes, students are asked to post a problem response on the course Web platform. At other times, students are asked to collaborate in small groups after they have written responses to a problem and to create an agreed upon structure for an answer that is then written on the classroom marker-boards. With up to ten groups writing answers on the front boards, the structures can be readily compared and discussed. On occasion, I ask students to bring in current events involving evidence for classroom discussion. Students also are assigned to observe a real trial proceeding or participate in a mock trial. If students observe a trial or proceeding, they are asked to write about it and post their reaction on the Internet."  He also stresses formative feedback in his class.

In sum, a class like this produces more retention of knowledge and deeper learning than traditional law school classes because it is active, engaging, challenging, collaborative, and transparent.  As Professor Friedland has declared, "When teaching, I would advise instructors to have fun; it is contagious. Be transparent. Let students know what the outcomes are for the main segments of the course and how to get there. Establish by word and deed that the course is collaborative, with student participation an essential component. Keep class challenging; if it is too easy, students will split their screens and pay partial attention. Be relevant to them, using props, videos, music, and more to draw them in."

You can find the materials that Professor Friedland uses in teaching his course here.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S. The Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers website has many more portfolios on teaching experiential courses here.  Experiential teaching can be used in any doctrinal area of law.

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