Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Teaching -- What are we doing?

Today, we had a speaker, Prof. Roberto Corrado from University of Denver College of Law. He was speaking about how he re-organized his upper-level labor law course to incorporate simulation throughout the semester. Within the first five or six weeks, his class must vote whether to organize themselves as a union shop -- to negotiate with Prof. Corrado as management. The course changes depending on whether a simple majority of the students vote to join the union. Prof. Corrado initially implemented this change in his more typical substantive law class largely because he realized that very few of his law students had ever worked in a blue collar job or knew from personal or family experience about membership in unions. You can read several articles he has written detailing his experiences at:
A Simulation of Union Organizing in a Labor Law Class, 46 J. Leg. Ed. 445 (Sept., 1996).
On Teaching Goals, Education Theory and the Law School Classroom, (draft from author), and
Technology as a Lever for the Transformatino of a Simulation-Based Labor Law Course, (co-authored with Desiree H. Pointer) at pointer@carnegiefoundation.org.

I was interested in several aspects of Prof. Corrado's talk. But for this post, I'll focus on just one. Prof. Corrado pointed out that pedagogical theory holds that students learn better and retain better when they actively do and participate in the learning. This actually jibes with my own observations teaching legal research. It is notoriously difficult to teach research without practice in same -- witness all the arguments over pure bibliographic instruction. I long ago believed I could pour my knowledge into my students' minds. I worked hard and diligently to shovel the knowledge in there. But after a while, I became convinced that teaching and learning were joint enterprises that required the active participation of both sides -- teacher and students.

Coincidentally, my daughter, who volunteers at the Museum of Science here in Boston says the pedagogical theory underlying their programs is very similar. That teaching amounts to facilitating the efforts of the learner to construct their own model of reality. When the child drops the ball and sees it fall, again and again, she is testing and exploring the way that gravity works on the ball -- all you can do as a teacher is to help the child observe, test and generalize what they pick up. In the same way, when I teach my Advanced Legal Research class, all I can do is facilitate the students' exploration of ways to do research, and lead discussions of what they observed, and help them build their own models of the legal research universe. I finally gave up trying to pour info into their minds.

Wouldn't it be an exciting class to co-teach with one of the substantive faculty a course on research and practice, that incorporated simulations? I actually co-taught Tax Research and Practice for about five years. We did not incorporate any simulation. But it would be so cool to develop a law firm practice scenario and add research in context!

The decoration for this is actually supposed to be the earth goddess, Gaia, from http://www.earthrainbownetwork.com/medcorner.htm

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