Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Earlier this week, I mentioned a new important article on teaching:
Fifty Ways to Promote Teaching and Learning by Gerald Hess, Michael Hunter Schwartz & Nancy Levit. Today, I will examine this article in greater depth.
The authors divide their suggestions into six topics: institutional and administrative support for teaching, adjunct professor support, infuse innovation in class, feedback from students, collaborations with colleagues, and self-assessment, reflection, and personal development as a teacher.
I. Faculty Hiring, Evaluation, and Compensation Policies.
The authors suggestions include hire good teachers, value teaching in promotion and tenure decisions, provide teaching mentors, fund attendance at conferences, etc. Most of these seem so obvious that one might wonder why the authors needed to mention them. However, the reality is that most law schools have not adopted these items. Being potential scholars is the most important criterion for hiring at most law schools, and law schools emphasize scholarship throughout a professor's career. Yet the principal reason for law schools is to turn out lawyers. Consequently, teaching ability should be as important as scholarly ability in the hiring, support, and development of law professors. The authors' suggestions go a long way to achieving this balance.
I would like to emphasize that good law teachers need to to be expert teachers, not just subject matter experts.
II. Adjunct Faculty Support.
Most law schools have a significant number of courses taught by adjuncts. Yet most law schools give little support to adjuncts, who are providing their students with a significant part of their educations. The authors have several suggestions on better helping adjuncts, such as offering training and mentors.
III. Infuse Innovation in Class.
We live in an age of innovation. Yet most law schools have not adopted the innovations proposed by education scholars. Among the innovations discussed by the authors is keeping the students' attention, playing games with students, etc.
IV. Feedback from Students.
Students know more about how their teachers are doing than the administration. (However, beware cognitive biases in evaluations.) As the authors point out, administrators can do much more with student feedback than they currently are.
V. Collaboration with Colleagues.
The authors have many suggestions for this one. I especially like "create a culture of conversation about teaching."
VI. Self-Assessment, Reflection, and Development.
The authors stress that self-assessment is important for teachers, but I wonder how many law professors actually self-assess their teaching. In any case, the authors have several excellent suggestions for doing so.
The authors conclude,
"The core idea is creating a culture of learning about teaching and continuous improvement of all faculty members as teachers. In other words, the more faculty colleagues think and talk about teaching and learning, the more institutional policy encourages faculty to grow as teachers, the more likely it is that the law school’s culture for teaching excellence will grow. That cultural shift can then feed on itself."
Our students today need for law schools to adopt better approaches to teaching and learning. This is not to degrade scholarship's importance for law professors. However, teaching and scholarship should be equally important for law schools, especially considering that students are paying tuition to become effective lawyers. Articles like the present one create many roads to better teaching. It is time that more law schools use them.