The Presentation -- Theme 1: Student Accountability
The first of three themes from our presentation. Ethan's previous post on the Socratic method serves as a prefect lead in to this topic--student accountability. The notion that we students don't take enough responsibility for our education. Many students will echo this sentiment. And, E, you'll probably agree with me that this is the
most common thread that runs through the feedback we have received.
Is this a curricular issue, rather than an admissions issue or a generational issue? Absolutely I think it is about the curriculum. Almost all of the changes that I would make to the law school curriculum would be designed, at least in part, to restructure the learning environment so that the learning becomes more active. So, in other words, I don't see myself as putting the "blame" on students in this post.
Part of the problem is a lack of taking into account different learning styles. (seems obvious but there you have it.) Ultimately a "mix of methods," as pointed out in yesterday
's post, has got to be part of the solution.
But there are other less-complicated changes to be made. Simple example (imagine me taking the Faculty by the shoulders and shaking it): Give us midterms! Give us midterms now! That one minor reform would move mountains.
Feedback in any form is welcome and would, I think, go a long way toward improving student accountability. Although far too often students are handed nothing more than a number at the end of the semester: (congratulations: an 86--what am I supposed to do with this?), there are examples out there of professors giving constructive feedback to their students during the semester (some teachers have writing assignments or oral presentations and give feedback, others set up systems of peer review). It would be a challenging but good exercise to put together a list of best practices.
Smaller class size(*) is another way of building in accountability. When professors are more accessible to students and when learning is more individualized, I guarantee that we'll be more engaged.
And hey, coming at it from a different angle--how can we students be motivated to take a greater responsibility for our education? Put the fear of God in us.(**) I'd like to see a nice chunk of students flunk out each semester. Merciless, I know. But that's what I was expecting when I came to law school, and was surprised (and a little disappointed) when I came here and discovered that it wasn't
I would also be in favor of requiring attendance. (I know that's a very controversial view--please be gentle on me. Hey, I'm not in favor of banning laptops.)
* Let us put off the "efficient allocation of resources" discussion for now.
** Full disclosure: I am big fan of the Socratic method, because it keeps me engaged. But Ethan, your point is well taken (--this from the comments yesterday
--) that we should "consider how to best educate everyone when we are thinking about how to improve the curriculum." The Socratic method is not a good way of motivating large numbers of students, I think, because (1) it only works during the first year when students haven't yet realized that they can just say "pass" and (2) it takes an extremely skilled instructor (such as our own professors William Whitford or Neil Komesar) to tap into its potential.