Monday, December 30, 2019
At the risk of stating the obvious (and insofar as that's not already so, studies like this help to shine a light on what some may not realize), the New York Times is reporting on a recent study published in the British Medical Journal finding that academics typically work weekends and holidays as dictated by their workloads. The study has limitations - it's confined to research scientists and bases its conclusions about the work habits of academics solely on the volume of scholarly manuscripts submitted and peer-reviewed over weekends and holidays. The "publish or perish" component of an academic's life is only one of the many responsibilities that consume weekends and holidays which the BMJ study does not account for like grading student work, prepping for class (or the new semester), committee obligations, extra-university service obligations, speaking engagements, etc., etc. But don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the workload since I feel truly blessed for the opportunity to work in academia, though concededly there are some malingerers and others who don't really work that hard (see Professor Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools for proof). Speaking for myself, however, I work nearly every weekend and most holidays so my reaction to the BMJ study is a shrug of "so what?" But at least it offers some hard evidence you can share with family, friends, and that very special someone who may now better understand and appreciate the pressures of the job and will cut you just a little more slack when you have to spend New Year's Eve or your Sundays working. ;-)
Anyway, below is an excerpt of the NYT's article; you can access the underlying the BMJ study here.
An analysis of submissions to two top journals showed that scientists in the U.S. were highly likely to be working during holidays.
Jay Van Bavel, a social neuroscientist at New York University, is vowing not to work during the Christmas holidays.
A few years ago, Dr. Van Bavel had agreed to conduct peer review on a couple of manuscripts before the end of the semester. But he got really busy and ended up having to do one on Christmas Day and another on New Year’s Eve, while his family was visiting.
“I felt like I let down myself and my family,” said Dr. Van Bavel, who gets asked to conduct peer-review 100 to 200 times a year. But he says he has now learned his lesson, and is not planning to do any work in the Christmas holidays this year, except perhaps the odd email.
If Dr. Van Bavel holds to his vow, he’ll beat the trend of many of his colleagues. While you might be setting an out-of-office message and backing away from your keyboard as the winter holidays set in, many researchers in academia can be found working straight through the season. Scientists based in the United States are, in fact, the third most likely to work during holidays, behind only their counterparts in Belgium and Japan, according to a study published Thursday in BMJ.
The study — aiming to quantify some of the overwork and burnout experienced by researchers in the sciences — examined nearly 50,000 manuscript submissions and more than 75,000 peer-review submissions to BMJ and its sister journal, BMJ Open. More than a tenth of U.S.-based researchers who submitted manuscripts and peer review reports to journals did so during the holidays.
At the same time, researchers in China lead the world in working on weekends, where more than a fifth of academics submitted papers and peer-review reports, followed by those based in Japan, Italy and Spain. More than a tenth of researchers in the United States turned in studies on weekends, and more than 15 percent conducted peer review.
Scandinavian nations had the best work-life balance. Scientists in Sweden were least likely to work during holidays, and those in Norway generally kept their weekends free.
Adrian Barnett, a statistician and metascience researcher at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who co-wrote the analysis, thought of conducting the analysis while submitting a paper on the weekend.
“This is a real marker of how hard I’m working,” he said.
The study has shortcomings. Among them, it only accounts for manuscript submissions and peer review, just two of many tasks on an academic’s plate, for instance.
Continue reading here (subscription may be required).
Friday, December 27, 2019
Thursday, December 26, 2019
Here is an interesting article I found in the mainstream press:
"We are at the borders of a new revolution, characterized by a range of new technologies that are merging the physical worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries. It merges the capabilities of both the human and the machine, encompassing a wide swath of areas such as artificial intelligence, genome editing, biometrics, renewable energy, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things. Tech optimists posit that the wave of exponential growth in smart tech, artificial intelligence, machines and the interconnectedness of all aspects of modern life through technology will bring profound changes to society, and creates an unprecedented shift from the way we are familiar with — how we behave, interact and think."
"Accordingly, education and training systems need to show adaptability in preparing individuals for the skills that are required in the workplace of the future. It is also important that governments and the legal system are not left behind in regulating the new fields, as this would lead to a shift of power towards technology and its owners, with the possibility of creating situations of inequality and fragmented societies. As the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues, the institutions that affect these innovations must revolutionize as well."
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
I have advocated stating the class goals in detail in the syllabus. This helps students focus on the proper things and gives them purposes with the course. Having a purpose aids learning.
Rick Garnett has posted an excellent class syllabus for criminal law containing course aims and goals on the PrawfsBlawg. I also like the fact that he has listed the reasons criminal law is a required course for everyone.
Friday, December 13, 2019
Professor Benjamin Barton (Tenn.) discusses his new book, Fixing Law Schools: From Collapse to the Trump Bump and Beyond (NYU Press), with Inside Higher Ed (including what he describes as the "original sin" of legal ed which was to exalt theory over practice).
The decade after 2008 was not a good one for law schools. Applications and enrollment fell. Some closed. This is the subject of Fixing Law Schools: From Collapse to the Trump Bump and Beyond (NYU Press). But the author -- Benjamin H. Barton is professor of law at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville -- also has a path forward for law schools.
He discussed the book via email.
Q: Can you explain what you call the "original sin" of law schools?
A: Law schools have long been criticized for failing to teach the nuts and bolts of working as a lawyer along with the more academic study of the law. These critiques are largely true but miss the point that the focus upon the academic study of the law was not a mistake or an oversight -- historically it is the key feature of our current model. That is because the current, Harvard model of law schools needed to triumph over two adversaries to become the dominant mode of legal education: apprenticeships and much cheaper proprietary law schools (often taught at night in YMCA gyms).
During the period from 1880 into the 1930s, it was not clear which of these models would triumph. The Harvard model won the day by emphasizing the scientific study of the law, basically steering into the idea that the academic study of law was preferable to more practical approaches. The key difference between the Harvard model and apprenticeships/proprietary law schools was the use of full-time faculty teaching via the Socratic method and from appellate opinions. The full-time faculty also often engaged in legal scholarship rather than legal work. As such, the choice not to emphasize the practicalities of the law was not a bug, it was a feature!
The irony, of course, is that because of clinical programs and the American Bar Association's new experiential requirement, law schools are now more committed to teaching the practice of law than they ever have been before. We are not all the way there, but progress has surely been made.
Q: What happened in 2008? Why was the decade that followed so hard for law schools?
A: 2008 is actually the wrong date. For the first few years of the Great Recession, law schools actually saw a rise in applications, as college graduates who worried about a weak job market opted for graduate schools of all types, including law schools. In 2011 the overall economy had started to improve, but job placement for law schools stayed very poor. Suddenly there was a flood of terrible press featuring how bad the job market was, how expensive law school had become and the doubling of student debt during the 2000s. Law schools entered into a tailspin: fewer applicants, fewer enrollees and much more discounting for the students who did come. Revenue and enrollment fell precipitously overall, by around 33 percent. Several law schools closed, and many, many more faced challenging times.
Q: Since the election of President Trump, applications have increased, but you say this is not (by itself) a sign that all is well for law schools. Why?
A: Applications have indeed bumped up after the election of President Trump. The media narrative changed from “don’t go to law school” to “law school is for the heroes of the resistance!” It also helped that placement numbers finally ameliorated a bit from 2017 forward. There are two reasons for continued vigilance. The first is that the Trump bump may not prove sustainable or permanent. If applications or enrollment slide again, law schools would be right back in hot water.
Second, even if the Trump bump proves lasting, law schools should not and cannot just brush themselves off and return to exactly the behaviors that led to the 2011 collapse in the first place. In particular, law schools must stop continuously ratcheting up tuition faster than inflation and saddling their students with more and more debt. And things that cannot go on forever will not go on forever, and the sooner law schools get a handle on the cost to the students (and eventually to the federal government in terms of loans), the better.
Q: How should law schools change?
A: I have three basic suggestions. The first is the simplest to state, but the hardest to accomplish: law schools must become cheaper, or at least stop continuously outrunning inflation. The current cost and debt levels make law school a much worse investment than it was a generation ago, when placement was stronger and tuition was radically less. In 1985, it cost an average of $2,006 for in-state tuition and $7,526 in tuition for a private law school. In 2018 dollars that tuition is only $4,713 in-state and $17,681 for a private school. The actual 2018 averages are $27,591 for in state and $49,095 for private law schools! Law schools must recognize the changing market and adjust. If they do not, state and federal laws, especially those that subsidize law schools through state support or fully subsidized federal loans, are likely to change, and not to the benefit of law schools.
The second is for law schools to be much more aggressive and forward looking in teaching how to use technology to practice law. This does not mean that law schools should teach every student coding (although having an elective coding class is a good idea). But the lawyers who make it in the future will be the ones who leverage technology to their benefit, allowing them to practice “at the top of their license,” to use Richard Granat’s famous phrase. Technology can replace more rote tasks and allow lawyers to do more highly sophisticated work for more clients for less money. Rather than fearing technology as a competitor, law schools much embrace technology as a key assistant. We need to start teaching students these skills.
Last, the ABA has moved to regulation that focuses more on law school outputs (bar passage, job placement, attrition, etc.) rather than input measures (the size of the faculty, the number of books in the law library, etc.). This is a good trend, and law schools should take advantage of it by trying different models. That said, there has been too much predatory behavior by some law schools in the last decade, so I’d also encourage the ABA to be ever vigilant. So, law schools should let a thousand flowers bloom, but make sure not to be evil!
. . . .
Continue reading here.
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Another article, this time from the New York Times, discussing the controversy over laptops, smartphones, and other digital devices in the classroom. The article recognizes a growing consensus in recent years among teachers reflecting a move away from classroom policies at the extremes (i.e., either a total ban on digital devices or, on the other hand, making no effort to supervise student use of them during class) and toward adopting a more proactive and thoughtful approach that recognizes these devices can be very effective learning tools when deployed strategically (while asking students to stow them away at other times).
Smartphones and other devices have long been maligned as distractions in university classrooms. But when employed strategically, many educators find them useful.
Karen Huxtable-Jester, who teaches in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, knows technology’s distractible downside. Once, while observing a lecture, Professor Huxtable-Jester discovered that a group of students had been watching a movie instead of their instructor.
“In years past, I was fully on board with the idea of banning technology use in my classes,” she said, making exceptions for students with disabilities who needed help. Over time, though, she became more flexible: “Every now and then, I could say, ‘Can we look something up?’”
The experience of Professor Huxtable-Jester, who is also the associate director at the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, demonstrates evolving debates on whether smartphones, tablets and laptops divert students’ attention from the lesson at hand. “People develop very strong opinions,” she said. “The dividing line is everyone wants to do what is right, but no one knows what that is.”
Many professors and education professionals are discovering that rather than distract, strategically applied devices increase engagement with students, especially those with learning disabilities, who are on the autism spectrum and for whom English is a second language.
Brad Turner, vice president and general manager of global education and literacy for Benetech, a nonprofit educational software company that creates tools for students with dyslexia and other reading issues, said “technology is the great equalizer” that allowed “every student to learn in the way they need to learn or want to learn, to the greatest extent that they want to learn.”
That is the experience for Pamela Stemberg, an adjunct assistant professor of English at City College of New York who also teaches at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. “My students were the reason I started using technology because they were actually using it to look up things,” she said, including words they had never seen before. She likened this to its old-school analog experience: “Weren’t you told when you were a kid, ‘Go to the dictionary’?”
“Using technology in the classroom really enhances the whole class,” Professor Stemberg said.
Diverse backgrounds and varied exposure to the English language are part of why her students seek auxiliary help. Many are immigrants or American-born children of immigrants speaking another language at home. Even those from English-speaking countries do not always understand word nuances in poetry and literature. By using devices, Professor Stemberg said, students “are taking control of their learning; they become more engaged with it and they have more skin in the game.”
Guli Rahimova is a sophomore psychology major in Professor Stemberg’s Writing for the Sciences class at City College. Ms. Rahimova, whose family comes from Uzbekistan, said she and other students did not drift off when using devices in the classroom. “We are so focused on the group work trying to make it during the class time that we have together,” she said, “that we don’t have time to text and talk. We are really engaged in our work.”
. . . .
“When you ban technology, you close off access between the classroom and the world outside,” Professor Greenhow said. “And on the other hand, when you open up the classroom with technology, you are giving students the ability to connect to translation services, with databases to do research in real time, with other people they can connect with to get questions answered, because the instructor is only one person.”
Would students’ attention still wander if they had a device in their hand? Professor Greenhow acknowledged that it could still happen, but added that educators had a say in the matter.
“If you are finding your students are being distracted on their cellphones or on laptops, you have to ask yourself: What am I doing in my teaching that is not engaging?” she said. “How can I give them opportunities to participate so they don’t feel the need to disappear down the rabbit hole?”
. . . .
Continue reading here (subscription may be required).
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Professor Benjamin Madison has an insightful post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog on active retrieval practice.
"Research on cognition demonstrates that meaningful learning in any discipline requires the learner to perform some form of active retrieval exercises to be able to use the knowledge in analyzing and solving problems. Active retrieval methods are ways in which the learner recalls knowledge and uses the recalled knowledge to solve problems or answer questions. Recalling for mere “knowledge checks,” sometimes called rote learning, is not effective. In the law school arena, a student can recite a memorized rule but not be able to apply it to fact patterns in a way that shows understanding. Effective retrieval-based learning activities require the student to solve problems or to answer questions. By doing so, the learner strengthens her understanding of, and ability to recall, the knowledge. In law school, mid-term exams require students to recall information at least in mid-semester. The problem there is that neuroscience shows a marked forgetting curve: if learning is not retrieved within a few days of its being stored, the knowledge is lost and must be relearned. Indeed, retrieving and using the knowledge are the critical parts of developing meaningful learning." (citations ommitted)
Monday, December 9, 2019
Here is an important article for legal writing teachers. I especially like it because it follows my first rule of legal education reform: use teaching techniques that are supported by cognitive science.
Why Legal Writers Should Think like Teachers by Laura A. Webb.
"Legal writing is fundamentally educative. To be a better writer, you must be a better teacher. To be a better teacher, you must understand the cognitive science behind how your reader learns: how the brain absorbs, accesses, and analyzes information. Then, you can use that science to guide your writing: Teach your reader. This approach helps students see why 4writing advice makes sense and remember how to follow it."
(Scott Fruehwald) (hat tip: Jesse Kirchner)
Friday, December 6, 2019
Do you have a great (or merely good) teaching idea that relates to legal research or writing? Are you a judge, legal writing specialist working for a law firm, or someone responsible for training recent law grads who has some insight into how new lawyers could improve their writing? Are you a law librarian working for a firm, court or other public office that has some ideas to share about helping your customers better find legal information? Those ideas or anything in between could be the acorn from which a mighty article can grow and if you're inclined to write it up, Perspectives: Teaching Research and Writing may be interested in publishing it. We are currently looking for a few good articles for the Spring 2020 issue. Here are further details:
The Fall 2019 issue of Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing is in final production with an anticipated publication date of January/February 2020. However, we presently have some spots available for the Spring 2020 issue and thus the Board of Editors is actively seeking articles to fill that volume. So if you’re working on an article idea appropriate for Perspectives (see below), or can develop a good manuscript in the next couple of months, please consider submitting it to us for consideration. There is no formal deadline since we will accept articles on rolling basis but the sooner the better if you’d like it published in the Spring issue.
As you may know, Perspectives is sponsored and distributed free of charge by Thomson Reuters as a service to the LRW community with a subscriber base of nearly 4000+ readers. The most recently published issue from Spring 2019 is available here for your perusal and the coming FAll issue will be equally interesting and with lots of good ideas you take into the classroom.
The target audience for Perspectives is anyone interested in the teaching of legal research and legal writing, including:
- Law librarians and law professors, including adjuncts;
- Attorneys who help associates or interns develop as researchers and writers;
- Writing specialists at law schools, law firms, courts, and other legal institutions; and
- Judicial clerks, court librarians or others engaged in teaching the public how to do legal research and related tasks.
In two electronic issues published per year (fall and spring), Perspectives articles explore a broad array of teaching theories, techniques, and tools. Articles are both short—typically between 1,500 and 7,000 words and lightly footnoted. They are highly readable and typically focus on curricular design, goals, teaching methods, and assessments. For example how to:
- Comment rigorously and encouragingly on student writing;
- Efficiently research;
- Collaborate in teaching;
- Design, create, and manage online teaching modules;
- Teach using insights from other disciplines;
- Use technology to enhance learning and teaching; and
- Engage today's law students, interns, and associates.
Monday, December 2, 2019
Below is a short description of how the brain learns, and how this relates to teaching and learning. It is from some materials I wrote for college students. You can find a more detailed discussion with endnotes in Chapter One of my book How To Grow A Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors, and Law Students (2018).
Here is a simple explanation of how learning works:
"Brain cells [neurons] fire in patterns." This process is both electrical and neurochemical. Neurons pass on electrical charges to other neurons that are connected to them by synapses. The firing neuron sends a chemical signal called a neurotransmitter across the synaptic gap to other neurons. These signals either excite the neurons by increasing their electrical activity (causing them to fire) or inhibit their activity. Neurons interact to create complex representations, concepts, and processes.
"Learning is a relatively permanent change in a neuron." Because neurons are changed by electrical activity, "learning occurs when the firing ability of a neuron is changed." Similarly, the synapses change with each firing, and linked neurons firing together strengthen the synapses. Importantly for learning, "Neurons grow or die and neural connections are created or eliminated based on which ones are active." In addition, practice gradually thickens the myelin coating of the axons ("long extensions connecting neurons from one area of the brain to another") "improving the strength and speed of the electrical signals, and, as a result, performance."
In other words, you should adopt study habits that help your brain learn effectively: 1) strengthen neurons by firing them, 2) strengthen synapses by using them, 3) create more synapses (connections) among neurons, 4) thicken the myelin coating of axons. On the other hand, if you do not use information, the neurons and synapses will weaken or disappear. (If you don't use it; you lose it.)
Based on the above, here are five rules of learning:
- New learning requires attention.
2. Learning requires repetition.
3. Learning is about connections.
4. Some learning is effortless; some requires effort.
5. Learning is learning.