Thursday, August 7, 2014

Achieving the new ABA accreditation mandate that law schools focus on student outcomes

The ABA House of Delegates is presently considering "sweeping reforms" to law school accreditation standards including a new focus on student learning outcomes and assessments.  In this manuscript recently posted on SSRN entitled Achieving the American Bar Association's Pedagogy Mandate:  Empowerment in the Midst of a Perfect Storm, Professor Cara Cunningham Warren (Detroit) discusses ways law professors schools can achieve this new "pedagogical mandate" based on a teaching  effectiveness framework established by the National Research Council of the National Academies.  From the abstract:

Ironically, successful implementation remains an open question, in part because of the traditional nature of the academy and its resistance to change, and in part because law schools may be ill-equipped to respond as a result of the crisis. 

This article seeks to change the dynamic. It begins by putting the 2014 Standards into historical context and explaining their impact on legal education. The author then moves to discuss full achievement of the mandate. First, law schools are encouraged to overcome their resistance to pedagogical innovation and to embrace the mandate and its benefits. 

At the same time, this article seeks to empower law professors to be a driving force for change. More specifically, under the ABA’s new “outcomes” approach, professors are expected to create meaningful learning opportunities for students and to assess and improve the effectiveness of those experiences. To assist law professors in this regard, the author introduces a teaching effectiveness framework that was created by experts in education from the National Research Council of the National Academies and adapts it for use in legal education. 

The legal community has relied on the NRC’s expertise for decades, in a wide range of fields, but the author believes this is the first time NRC expertise has been brought to bear in this context. The NRC is credited for its ability to bring the legal and scientific communities together and to make scientific theories accessible. In this way, the framework is a useful tool for law professors, especially those who are trained attorneys rather than certified educators, and improves the current state of our pedagogy scholarship by placing existing assessment and learning outcomes work in the broader context of modern learning theory and instructional design.


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