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Using Backward Design in Course Development

There are different methods instructors use to design their courses. In his book Creating Significant Learning Experiences, L. Dee Fink identifies three major approaches:
In the first approach, the instructor picks out some number of major topics within their course subject matter, then preps lectures for each topic. Then he or she adds in a final exam and sometimes a midterm, and the course is ready to go.  Fink notes that this approach is less time-consuming, but "pays little or no attention to the quality and quantity of student learning." [1] He explains that this type of learning "has a relatively short half-life and, more significantly, does not meet the educational needs of students and society today." [2]In the second approach, instructors still designs their course around major topics, but rather than focusing solely on lectures, he or she incorporates a variety of active learning opportunities. This approach is more engaging for students, but it still does…
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Helping Students Learn to Learn

One aspect of learning that I see students struggle with the most is applying the skills they have learned to new scenarios or situations. It is critical that students are equipped with the ability to continue to advance in their profession and in their knowledge after they have left our courses and law school altogether. This is true for two reasons. First, it's not possible for students to learn everything there is to know about the law--or even one topic within the law--during the course of law school. There's simply too much content to learn; the best we can hope for is to identify the fundamental knowledge for our subject areas and do our best to make sure our students know that material. Second, even if they could learn everything, they would have to be able to continue to learn as new areas of law emerge and preexisting areas of law evolve.

In his book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences, L. Dee Fink identifies three different meanings for "learning how to l…

Four Aspects of Effectual Teaching (& Why Instructional Design Is the One Missing In Many Law Courses)

There are four general components of teaching, which all must come together for a teacher to be successful:
Knowledge of the Subject Matter: Most instructors in higher education have this covered. The largest potential hurdle of this aspect of teaching is perhaps remembering to view the material from the perspective of the beginner learner, as opposed to from the teacher's own advanced learner status. In my first year of teaching, I found this to be an issue, as I jumped over steps that were so obvious to me that I didn't even notice them anymore. It was only by students asking questions that illustrated I was missing an important step in their comprehension and by watching the legal writing professor I co-taught with that I began to break down my material into pieces that were more digestible for my students.

Interaction with Students: Instructor-student interaction can take a myriad of forms. As L. Dee Fink writes in Creating Significant Learning Experiences,

"Teacher-stud…

How Having a Textbook Can Help Law Students Be More Engaged Learners

In my time teaching legal research and analysis, I have gone back and forth on whether to have a required textbook or any required readings. For me, research courses are most effective when they are practice-focused, but the right textbook or readings can help students prepare to use the resources we are teaching. But it can be frustrating to plan a class on the basis that the students have actively done the reading, only to find out that they at best skimmed it. As I look forward to next year's classes, I have once again begun to contemplate whether or not to require a text. 

For legal research courses, a textbook can help the course have legitimacy. The optics are good; law students may see the course as more substantive and therefore more worth their time. But requiring a textbook (yet another expense for students) is superfluous if the students aren't engaging with it effectively, or at all.

I started doing some background reading on the value of utilizing textbooks and the …