Digital natives now comprise a major sector of law school entrants. Don’t be surprised if they appear in your Contracts 101 class this September expecting to use their Apple Watches or Google Glass in learning the law. Such a scenario raises a troubling discrepancy in legal education methodologies: while most students are quite adept with student engagement technologies (SETs) from undergraduate classes, the majority of their law school professors prefer the passive environment of lectures, podiums, and PowerPoint. There might be a variety of reasons for avoiding SETs: apprehension of the technology, the time required for set-up, or fears that techno-wizardry will bog down content-intensive curricula. Some might also hold deep ideological commitment to the timeworn Socratic method.
As the inventory of SETs increases to include both more functional clicker remotes and web-based mobile phones, as well as videos used in the flipped classroom, there is mounting empirical evidence that active learning can address alarmingly short attention spans, improve grades, and close gender and socio-economic gaps. Such benefits raise the ethical question for us all: are we not obligated as law teachers to employ active learning, including SETs, in the best interests of our learners?Read more
On May 7th, 2015, I had the pleasure of participating in the Estey Symposium on Experiential and Active Learning in Business Law, organized by Professor Rod Wood, my colleague at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, and this past year, the visiting Estey Chair in Business Law at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.
When we think of experiential learning, we tend to think of courses that offer students either actual or simulated experiences in litigation. For example, Prof. Wood, with experienced practitioner Rick Reeson, offers a course on restructuring in which students argue a multi-party chambers application (in front of a real judge!). For those of us teaching in the corporate and commercial law areas, it was interesting to spend a day talking about various ways to give students these kind of experiences in solicitor or transactional work.Read more
Is the Dress Blue & Black or White & Gold? Students Creating and Moderating Hypothetical Fact Pattern Scenarios in the Classroom
Teaching a one-year contracts course for the first time, I solicited feedback early on from my first year law students about the different learning approaches that I used in class. The students overwhelmingly loved the hypothetical fact pattern scenarios that I prepared for them from time to time, and which we discussed in class. Many students asked for more. The students were less enthusiastic about the short case comment that a student had to present every week.
Inspired by this feedback, I changed the format of the student presentations for the winter term (which was destined to change anyway). Under the new format, students would have to create hypothetical fact pattern scenarios and moderate a class discussion about possible approaches to resolve the legal issues involved. The goal of that change was to ensure a regular flow of hypothetical fact pattern scenarios for my enthusiastic first year students, and raise the bar of the presentation assignment of the second term. The new assignment would support some of the key learning objectives of the course and mimic what students would soon have to do own their own: apply their legal reasoning to solve real-life factual situations.Read more
As this term and academic year draw to a close, the thoughts of several Deans will turn to broader trends and lessons learned. I wanted to share one such development based on my experience at Osgoode Hall Law School. This year more than any other, it is becoming apparent that art in legal education is no fad but. Art no longer seems like an interesting distraction or peripheral gloss in legal education, but is becoming central to our mission and how we can best fulfill it.Read more
A tour of the law library is a time-honoured feature of orientation for first-year law students. At some point during their first week at law school, perhaps even on their first day, in between signing up for multiple extra-curricular activities and eating burgers deftly cooked by faculty members, students are shown the law library. If they are lucky, law librarians will take small groups and show them the important features of the library: case law reporters, statutes, gazettes, Hansards, and other resources which are infinitely useful for the legal research they will shortly be doing.
It’s not clear, however, just how much the law students actually take in on such tours. The first few days (and arguably the first year) of law school are stressful. Concerns about tuition, about how much smarter all the other students seem, and the increasing stress over job prospects (see, for example, Noel Semple’s blog posting of December, 2014) can all work to make the law library tour a distant memory. This year at the University of Alberta, we decided to introduce a Library Scavenger Hunt to supplement the orientation library tour.Read more
Examinations of board composition in public companies focus on the absence of women but rarely on the absence of visible minority directors (VMDs). In countries such as Canada, the United States and Australia, where visible minorities contribute significantly to GDP and represent a high growth segment of the population, a question arises as to whether boards should bear some demographic similarity to the society in which the firm operates. In order to understand board composition and its potential impact on a firm’s performance, more information is required about the complement of VMDs on boards of directors. We seek to fill this gap in the literature.Read more
In 1979, SSHRC received only two applications for funding from legal scholars. Concerned about the state of an academic discipline that was apparently disinterested in research, and with the endorsement of the CALT and the Committee of Canadian Law Deans, SSHRC appointed the Consultative Group on Research and Education in Law to investigate. The CGREL report, Law and Learning (1983), advocated the intensification of scholarly activities in Canadian law faculties. More specifically, it sought to legitimize and reinforce trends towards socio-legal teaching and research that had been developing in Canadian universities since the 1960s.Read more
“Will I find a job as a lawyer, and will it be the kind of job I really want?” Most law teachers have heard these or similar questions from their students. Anxiety about career prospects is neither surprising nor entirely new. However recent media reports and buzz within the profession have given tomorrow’s lawyers two additional things to worry about: offshoring and computerization.Read more
Clinical and doctrinal approaches to teaching and learning have not always been happy companions in the pedagogical life of a law school. Often cast as a-critical or a-contextual skills training better left to articling, clinical learning is seen by some to lack the gravitas of doctrinal approaches. In 2013, I began a series of interviews with clinicians and clinical law students across Ontario that very clearly showed the gap between doctrinal and clinical learning. When asked what knowledge and skill law students brought to the clinic, the most common response from both law students and clinicians was “none”. While this response might point to difficulties with knowledge transfer rather than the actual content of law school courses, these answers were – for me – startling. Clinicians also noted the difficulty in educating students on introductory skills (understanding retainers and interviewing clients, how to detect a conflict of interest, speaking to a motion). Many were eager to delve into critical lawyering and radicalized approaches to teaching and learning, particularly about ethics and professionalism, poverty, and social justice approaches to practice. However, the skills and knowledge barrier made such approaches more challenging.Read more
While there is much discussion about anti-bullying in schools, I think the focus needs to go beyond how to combat the menace of bullying and move to the next stage. My idea is to not just alleviate bullying and make the classroom a neutral setting but to create a pro-friendly classroom, one in which the focus is not just on being civil but being friendly. Also, I am very interested in exploring how to make classrooms a ‘safe space’ for the exchange of ideas and tolerance but also ‘friendly spaces’ in that creating a warm, happy environment for students might help to foster learning. This may be a tall order at a law school but I have hope. The idea that I am working on is something akin to anti-bullying but more along the lines of ‘pro-friendly’.Read more