Enhancing our Syllabi

We’re going to be gathering next month at UMass School of Law – Dartmouth to join in a working session that focuses on our syllabi.  I believe we’ll be working primarily on syllabi for doctrinal rather than clinical courses. (See below for reference to prior blog entry about modifying clinical syllabus) Not only do we want to amend them to reflect incorporation of various aspects of MacCrate (and other) Skills and Values, but we also want to be more descriptive as to what we do in the classroom and what we expect our students to do. 

This project follows a year of regular conversations about Best Practices in general, and has led folks to ASK to come in during June to do this work!  During the year, we’ve hosted Sophie Sparrow to work with us on small-group projects (our first meeting next year will build on what she started with us).  We’ve also talked about and determined a list of Skills and Values we think are important to impart to all law students before they graduate.  From this, we’ve developed a document listing them that we’re filling-out on a course-by-course basis.  Once we’ve covered all the courses, we’ll be able to determine which Skills and/or Values we’re not covering.   

The second aspect of the June project is to develop more complete descriptions of both the substance that will be covered in our classes as well as what we expect from our students:  when we say “participate in class,” what does that mean?; what does it mean to “act professionally” in the classroom and generally?; what do “legal analysis” and even essay exam answers look like?; how will students be assessed?

While I teach Torts and hope to gain insight as to how to enhance that syllabus, I also run our Immigration Clinic, and believe I’ve already blogged here about changes I made to that syllabus that incorporate “competencies” and also that move away from the static syllabus to a more free-flowing concept of “units”; once the basic orientation and other foundational materials are completed, offering the course in units provides me with flexibility so that I can base the substantive aspects of the classroom component on the types of cases on which the students are working. 

The work I hope to accomplish in June is to apply the principles used in amending the Immigration Clinic Syllabus (and the Policies and Procedures Manual – as that explains my expectations to the students) to the Torts classroom.

I’d appreciate hearing from those of you who are either thinking about doing syllabus work or have already done it.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What great materials can we read in advance?

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