Faculty Teaching Exchanges Can Create a Teaching Community

During the past two weeks, many members of the Albany Law  faculty engaged in a series of  informal discussions about our teaching mission.   After surveying faculty interest , the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching  www.teachinglawstudents.com   hosted small meetings of 5-10 members focused on selected topics.  The intent was to stimulate conversation and unearth the collective  teaching wisdom too rarely mined.  Resource lists for each topic are provided before and at the meetings.  The sessions end with a written “One Minute Paper” to provide feedback to the Center about future activities. 

The first exchange focused on TEACHING DEVELOPMENT: Fostering Continued Skill Acquisition for New & Experienced Teachers.  It provided a natural opportunity to bring together the newest of our members with our most senior colleagues.  Facilitated by  Professor Nancy Maurer, faculty members inquired  about internal culture, the challenges that arise in and outside of the classroom,  and collaborative opportunities. Lively discussion about  teaching methods and engaged learning were examined over coffee, tea and scones. 

The second exchange focused on OUTCOMES & ASSESSMENT: Formative (Feedback) and Summative (Grades)  and was facilitated by Professor Kathe Klare, our Academic Success expert.   The participants were a mix of teachers  specializing in everything from constitutional law and jurisprudence to  governement and land use, from securities to lawyering.  The discussion centered on objectives, assessment methods, midterms, and  rubrics.  Questions were raised about the validity of grading class participation and the differing approaches to evaluating seminar papers.  

Today’s exchange, faciliated by our Academic Dean Connie Mayer, was entitled “BEYOND LECTURE: Course Design, Active and Engaged Learning Methods and Activity Design v. Assessment Design. ”  It focused specifically on how to engage in such methods in classes with large numbers of students.    Teachers who employed methods such as  small group work,  role plays and practice exams exchanged syllabi, tips and pros & cons of attempted experiments. 

Some faculty members found that the time spent on creating the problem activities for class were well worth the effort in future semesters. Professor Evelyn Tenenbaum discussed the need for appropriate case/problem books.   She discussed her work with the Context and Practice Casebook series developed by Michael Hunter Schwartz and  brought with her a copy of the first book in the series, Contracts.   These books are intended to “guide students’ development of self-directed learning strategies; include questions that prompt readers to question, reflect, and analyze as they read; integrate self-regulated learning skills and exercises; and include teachers’ manuals that make it easy to use multiple methods of instruction and to emphasize active learning.”

Three thoughts occurred to me during these exchanges: 1)  a number of my colleagues have been engaged in “best practices” long before more elite schools discovered them but we haven’t known how to capitalize or market the special worth of these teachers; 2) we do need better methods for warehousing and sharing faculty wisdom and  materials; and 3) faculty members truly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss teaching with each other in a safe and supportive setting.

Our final Teaching Exchange scheduled for this coming Monday is entitled CURRICULAR DEVELOPMENT:  Outcomes, Learning Competencies, Progression &  Capstones.  It will move our discussion beyond our individual goals and methods to our collective ones.   After that, we will see where the conversation leads us……

2 Responses

  1. Mary – these sound great. Building community around a shared enterprise of teaching is really rewarding in so many ways. At CUNY, we started a Rounds on Teaching last year that meets 3xs per semester and focuses on teaching issues that are raised by faculty much like our rounds in clinics. Faculty seek input to better understand the teaching issue and suggestions for how to plan differently and/or respond in the moment. I enjoy getting to know colleagues who teach in other parts of the program and we all learn something applicable to our teaching. I would love to get your reading list.

  2. Mary – I look forward to the visit you and Carrie will be making to Southern New England this month to that our faculty can be made aware of these types of efforts that are being engaged at other schools. I’m confident that through this in-person “connection” with the Best Practices movement, faculty will naturally become more engaged in efforts to improve the legal education they provide their students.

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