Collaborative Learning and Teams

The value of active, collaborative learning is a key “best practices” theme.  And it overlaps with a major theme we heard from employer representatives in a series of listening sessions my law school held a few years ago.  Public interest, government,  firms  — they all wanted our graduates to know how to work in teams and manage complex projects.

Law schools have traditionally given students few opportunities to work in teams.  And even the few opportunities available –moot court or clinic partnerships– typically haven’t come with instruction on how to work well in teams.  With the help of our wonderful reference staff — a shout out to Mary Whisner, just awarded the UW’s Distinguished Librarian award —  I’ve been trolling for resources for instruction on teamwork.  So thought I’d share a few finds:

MIT’s Teaching and Learning Laboratory has several useful handouts “developed for an undergraduate course in professional communication in which students work together in teams of three or four on semester-long projects.”


Working in teams is much more common in business schools and there’s a literature on it, including:

Hansen, Randall S.,Benefits and Problems With Student Teams: Suggestions for Improving Team Projects. Journal of Education for Business; Sep/Oct2006, Vol. 82 Issue 1, p11-19

Vik, Gretchen N., Doing More to Teach Teamwork Than Telling Students to Sink or Swim., Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 6, Issue 4, pp. 112-119 , Dec. 2001

And, of course,  it’s a big item in the business literature.

Polzer, Jeffrey T, Making Diverse Teams Click. Harvard Business Review; Jul-Aug2008, Vol. 86 Issue 7/8, p20-21

One Response

  1. Why don’t law schools require law students to work in teams? Like most good curriculum changes, it requires a little imagination. So, let’s imagine what would occur starting in the first year.

    In the first year courses, each law professor would have students participate in at least one team project that the professor would access. It could be a writing project or a simulation that is connected to the substantive material. This approach would continue throughout law school, and professors would share their team problems and exercises with each other much like business school professors do. Casebooks would include questions that require discussion with at least one other student in the class, and the professor would call upon teams for their responses. Seminar courses could require team papers. At most law schools, some professors do at least one of these things, but I don’t know of any law school that focuses on team learning. With over 200 ABA-accredited law schools, one would hope that at least a few law schools would decide that it is time to be the leaders in team learning and education. Who knows, perhaps some employers would want to recruit their students.

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