Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Importance of Teaching in Law School

Today's edition of Inside Higher Ed features an article entitled "If You Teach Them, They Will Be Happy" that discusses a study, written by Kennon M. Sheldon, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri at Columbia and Lawrence S. Krieger, professor of law at Florida State University, published in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The study compares recent classes at two law schools, one in the second tier and one in the fourth tier. At the first law school, faculty scholarship was emphasized, which was why the school ranked in the second tier. At the second school, good teaching was emphasized. The students at both schools had similar undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores. What is interesting, however, is that students at the second school performed significantly better on the bar exam than did students at the first school. Professor Krieger, one of the co-authors, stated "that it was 'almost shocking' to see 'how significantly the fourth tier students outperformed the second tier law students on the bar.'" He went on to state that "'it makes sense psychologically--the students at the fourth tier school were happier--and it makes sense that they would have learned more from better teachers.'" Critics of the study, such as Professor Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin Law School, a well-known legal blogger, feels that although it is "'intuitively right that the school that emphasizes teaching is the one with students who are happier and score better,' those students may not be better off in the long run." A faculty that puts its emphasis on "'teaching students to be lawyers'" may not be teaching them to think like lawyers. Students comments are part of the Inside Higher Ed article. Several students felt that "faculty support was important for them and their peers," but that the best professor is "'someone who is a great scholar and who can teach.'" This study brings us back to the old dilemma of the high value placed on scholarship in evaluating law schools for the U.S. News and World Report rankings versus the lack of emphasis on quality of teaching, admittedly something that is difficult to measure.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Marie,
The authors are the same I quoted in an earlier (but recent) post (http://tinyurl.com/yv659m) titled Job Satisfaction and Student Happiness. They used a lot of theory called Satisfaction Theory to draw their conclusions. The article I was referring to is ("Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory," by Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger, in Society for Personality and Social Psychology (at http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/33/6/883 ) ). I think these must be two separate articles analyzing the same piece of research done by the same authors. So, if anybody wants to see more on their research, here are the links.
Interesting research, and thought-provoking. I am interested in the reaction you noted from Althouse. Thanks for an interesting post!