A Student’s Perspective on Technology in the Classroom

I have been a student at two law schools now: one is the well-established Albany Law and the other is a new law school in Tennessee that just graduated its first class in May, the Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law. There are, of course, vast differences between the two schools, but my post today is intended to talk about the relative approaches to legal instruction in relation to technology in the classroom. Of course, each professor has his or her own methods for teaching any given class; however, there are stark differences between the over-arching practices of each school. While Duncan may not have the longest history as an institution, the school was able to develop innovative techniques regarding the  use of technology and progressive teaching methodology without being burdened by “tradition” or resistance to change.

Priding itself on its technology in the classroom, Duncan professors made prevalent use of audio-visual presentations (charts, power point slides, etc.) and computer-aided instructional techniques. Among the practices supplementing traditional instruction methods were daily “turning point quizzes.” At the beginning of each class, students were electronically asked a series of questions regarding the materials covered in the previous class; some classes graded these quizzes, others were merely for instructional purposes. The students would respond (usually by answering MBE-style multiple choice questions), and their answers would be displayed in poll-results format. Based on the results, the instructor was able to spot where the students lacked a complete understanding of the material and was better able to proceed with the day’s class–building on previous understanding towards a more complete instruction method. These “turning point” quizzes are similar to “Clicker” quizzes, except that the turning point quizzes could also have varied answer formats (such as short answer and essay responses).

The instruction style at Albany Law seems to be more traditional, that is, the instructor usually uses a modified Socratic method. I have been in classes that have taken a more practical approach, even including simulated cases–this is a somewhat recent addition presumably brought about by our Best Practices efforts. Of course, once the class period is over, there is typically little “looking back.” While material certainly built upon previous topics, the process is sometimes less clear. During the previous year (my first year at Albany Law), I found myself missing the constant feedback of the “turning point” quizzes and the ability to go back and review slides to revisit lectures if I needed clarification of some topic that was covered. I do not intend to say that my education was somehow better at my previous school than it is now–I have had teachers so glued to the textbook and their powerpoint presentations that they barely took time to actually teach–but the use of technology in the classroom to further outcome-based learning techniques was a crucial instrument to my learning process.

Of course, Duncan is in its relative infancy. The students did not have access to the clinical and practical experiences available to students at a more developed school with a more extensive network of connections. I would suggest a blending of the two styles: student-oriented outcome-based learning (perhaps through the use of reviewable technology and turning point quizzes to supplement the more doctrinal courses) and clinical/practical experiences.

If anyone can think of some practical ways to incorporate the use of technology in a class to further outcome-based techniques, please share your ideas in the comments.

Maximizing Active Learning

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning has some fascinating ideas about getting students invested in the materials they are learning. Most recently, Sophie M. Sparrow at the University of New Hampshire School of Law wrote:

“Engaging students in active learning has long been one of my main teaching practices. As many of us know, educational experts have found that students learn more when they are actively engaged, such as by speaking, writing, or discussing, rather than listening to a lecture or discussion. Having just completed a three-day workshop with educational expert L. Dee Fink on course design, however, I learned that I should redesign my approach if I want maximize what students learn from their active learning assignments. This month’s idea is about how to improve active learning exercises.”

Continue reading here.

Flipped Learning for Legal Education

Hi Everyone! Mary just invited me to join this blogging community. Glad to be here.

For my first post, I’d like to think about how flipped or blended learning could be used in legal education. Flipped learning blends online and in-class instruction and has been used of late in lots of educational settings, including K-12 and undergrad. I think there is a place for it in legal education too.

The way I see it, flipping the classroom can take a lot of different forms.  I envision them along a spectrum, something like this –

At one end of the spectrum, it can be used to

1. Reinforce learning after class — professors can assign online videos for students to watch after class, to help clarify and/or reinforce the doctrinal concepts that were taught in class, and help to build students’ doctrinal knowledge.

2. Lay a foundation – professors could require students to watch videos that cover basic, foundational concepts – so classtime can start further along the learning process.

3. Supplement with different perspectives — Professors may also assign online videos (prepared by other professors) to supplement their own lectures, so that their students can hear different voices or perspectives on a particular topic or to have students hear from experts on topics beyond the professor’s own field of expertise.

4. Facilitate higher level Socratic dialogue – when professors assign videos for students to watch before class, students have time to think about and reflect on the lesson before arriving in the classroom. That way the videos may reinforce the concepts in the assigned reading and when students come into class – having heard the lesson on the reading before class — they will be ready and able to engage in a higher level of Socratic dialogue and discussion of assigned hypothetical and in-class problems.

5. Integrate essential lawyering skills — when online videos are assigned as homework, as a substitute for a professor’s own lecture — class time is freed up for more active learning exercises that incorporate some essential lawyering competencies.

6. Professor as Facilitators/Guides — Some professors may decide to use videos to help integrate practical lawyering skills in doctrinal courses. Students could be required to review videos on substantive law and on practical lawyering skills out of class. Then, classtime can be devoted to simulations or role plays in which the students use the material they learned on video to engage in essential lawyering skills – such as negotiations, interviews, or oral arguments.

In this way, the professor is moving from a position at the front of the class, to a coach who works one on one with students, or with small groups of students, during assigned classtimes. And it promotes collaboration and team building among students.

This last category would be at the other end of the spectrum and allow professors to bring more training in practical lawyering skills into each course.

What do you think?  Let me know if I’m missing something.  I am speaking about how to use technology in our teaching at the AALS Clinical Conference next week.  I’d love to hear your reaction to these ideas before then.

The Future of Legal Education: Ted Talks, Kahn Academy and LegalED Web


Live Blogging from the CELT Workshop


On April 17, 2013, Michelle Pistone, Professor of Law and Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) at Villanova University School of Law, spoke to the Albany Law School faculty on the topic of How Emerging Innovations Will Disrupt Legal Education:

Her engaging presentation began with a clip from 1994 of Bryant Gumble and Katie Couric from the Today Show debating the pronunciation of a mysterious keyboard symbol, the”@” symbol. From there and Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A Changin”), she reminisced about buying books and records at neighborhood stores, seeing movies in the theaters, and when TV shows only played once a week, and if you missed them, you had to hope they’d be rerun during the summer.

Yes, this has all changed. Books and newspapers are now digital. TV shows and movies can be watched at anytime and on computers and phones. These changes are result of innovations which have created a new world.

However, this is the only world that our students know!! They were born digital.

As a result, our students are visual, connected, relate to one another through technology, have an abundance of information that is available at any time from any place. They are used to convenience, speed, multi-tasking, immediate feedback and working together on projects, collaborating, sharing, and creating.

So the important question that Prof. Pistone raised was: In light of these changes, have law schools changed enough?

And her answer was: “Law schools have not changed much in the last 100 years.”

K-16 education has been changing. We have the addition of MOOCS (massive open online courses); Khan Academy which offers videos and quizzes that can being used alone or to flip the classroom. TED ED which makes videos for use in high school – students watch videos online for homework and then can come into class ready to do active problem based learning (thus “flipping the classroom”).

Prof. Pistone recommended reading the book Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clay Christensen. In it, he introduces the key concepts of sustaining technologies (those that improve the performance of established products) and disruptive technologies. Although “disruptive technologies” result in worse product performance in the short term, they are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use (Skype being an example.) So we need to adapt to them.

A study conducted by the Department of Education found that blended learning (a combination of online and face-to-face instruction) obtained better results for students and than either face-to-face or completely online learning. This is something to keep in mind.

So what is next for law schools?

Prof. Pistone recommends focusing on:

  • What we teach – in light of our changing, globalizing, interdisciplinary world
  • How we teach — to cover a wide range of competencies and reach different learning styles
  • How we assess what students are learning – supplementing the final summative exam with formative assessment
  • How we signal to others a student’s competencies


Lastly, Prof. Pistone introduced her new project called LegalED. LegalED is a web-based platform that will host teaching materials for legal education. The materials will include:

  • short videos made for internet viewing
  • problems and exercises
  • assessment tools

This online platform of teaching materials (esp. the short videos) can be used to supplement law school and to “flip” the classroom.


Prof. Pistone’s presentation concluded with a lively discussion by faculty on law school competencies that cannot be taught online (such as empathy), mapping competencies to the teaching process, mastery/adaptive learning, bar exam…

Revived CELT Website: Welcome to the Future!

Esteemed Bloggers and Blog Post Readers,

Albany Law School has redesigned the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching ( CELT) Website just in time to present you with videotaped presentations and materials from CELT’s Inaugural conference held last March 30, 2012  . If you are unfamiliar with the CELT website , I would like to introduce you to this clearinghouse of materials on teaching, , curriculum, and proposed revised  BA accreditation standards. If you  already are familiar with the website, I invite you to take some time to  re-acquaint yourself with the new organization and the wealth of information that is available for your perusal. (CELT)

Through this site, I hope you will be able to find learning resources, assessment materials and rubrics , syllabi from lawyering classes, PowerPoint presentations about different teaching techniques and links to other sources and resources.   In addition, you can access materials and presentations from the  CELT  March 2012 Conference, where innovative  thinkers attended and discussed current and proposed models for student-centered reform of legal education. (CELT CONFERENCE) This was in response to the changes students face in the profession and the new economy.  As a third year law student, I found this conference not only enlightening but reassuring. The materials that were provided to the attendees laid out ideas and suggestions to improve student  learning  and encouraged professors to take a more active role in design of the classroom experience and sequencing of the law school curriculum. .

As Special Assistant to CELT, I have attempted to organize materials on this website to make it simpler and more convenient for users to navigate.   I truly welcome your feedback. If there is something that you are looking for and cannot find, I ask that you let me know  and would be happy to direct you to the correct location of the information or figure out if there is additional material to be added to the cite.  In addition, if you have any questions about accessing the conference videotapes or materials, just send me an e-mail.

Finally, if you are interested in becoming a BLOG author or contributing a blog post to the Best Practices blog (which is housed within CELT), please let Professor Mary Lynch or myself know and we would be happy to assist!

Thank you for your readership and your loyalty!

-Stephanie Giancristofaro-Partyka

Building on Best Practices: Call for Ideas and Authors

The Clinical Legal Association, Best Practices Implementation Committee is planning a follow-up publication to Best Practices for Legal Education by Roy Stuckey and others.     The vision of the book is to build on ideas for implementing best practices, and to develop new theories and ideas on Best Practices for Legal Education.   If you would like to author a section in the book please let us know as soon as possible.   Then by December 1, 2011 send either of us a 3-5 page abstract identifying the knowledge, skills and values as well as the learning objectives and methodology of your innovative teaching idea.   The Editorial Board will meet at the AALS meeting in January to select pieces for inclusion in the book.


If you have any questions or thoughts about the project please feel free to contact either of us.


Looking forward to drawing  on the expertise of the legal academy to build on Best Practices for Legal Education!


Antoinette Sedillo Lopez ,Chair, Publication Committee

Deborah Maranville,  co-editor


The Center For Excellence in Law Teaching’s Inaugural Conference

Albany Law School’s Center for Excellence in Law Teaching (CELT) will host a national conference onSetting and Assessing Learning Objectives from Day One for law school faculty and administrators on March 30, 2012.

The conference, to be held at Albany Law School, will focus on setting and assessing foundational objectives for law students, as well as what some law schools have already done to better structure curriculum and prepare students to meet proposed new American Bar Association standards.

We encourage collaborative presentations from faculty teaching throughout the curriculum including those who teach in the first year, the upper level curriculum, the legal writing program, the lawyering program, and the clinical program. We also encourage collaboration between those who teach large doctrinal classes, perspective seminars, or advanced subject matter courses, with those who teach in clinic, in field placement, or in a capstone course. We welcome in particular those teachers and administrators who have experimented with school wide attempts to define and assess objectives.

 Visit the conference website at www.albanylaw.edu/celt2012

Interviewing and Counseling: A Teaching Workshop

From Professor Laurie Shanks, Clinical Professor of Law at Albany Law School

Albany Law School will be hosting a hands-on collaborative workshop entitled Interviewing and Counseling: A Teaching Workshop on November 11th, 2011 with an opening reception the evening of November 10th. The workshop is designed to address the significant challenges faculty face in teaching interviewing and counseling.

This event is a rare opportunity to collaborate on teaching methods specifically related to interviewing and counseling. The Workshop is designed for faculty who teach stand alone courses, clinicians who teach these skills as an integral part of preparing their students to represent clients, lawyering professors who introduce the skills to students in their first year of law school and doctrinal faculty who address these topics as part of their courses.

A unique feature of the event is the “swap meet” of written problems, syllabi, checklists, and teaching ideas, contributed by participants, that will be available to attendees. Additionally, there will be speakers addressing some of the most challenging aspects of teaching these skills, including how to create realistic simulations and proper assessment techniques.

For a more individualized experience, small groups will be organized to allow participants ample time to select from among various topics. These may include further discussion of large session topics as well as basics of course structure and content; choice of texts; and or other topics chosen by participants.

For more information, see the conference site: www.albanylaw.edu/clientteachingwksp

or email one of the Workshop organizers, Laurie Shanks lshan@albanylaw.edu, Harriet Katz, hnkatz@camden.rutgers.edu, or John Craft, jcraft@faulkner.edu.

New Article: An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers

Professor Robin Wellford Slocum from Chapman University School of Law posted an article on SSRN entitled An Inconvenient Truth: The Need to Educate Emotionally Competent Lawyers. The article is a very interesting read on the importance of teaching emotional competence as opposed to teaching emotional detachment. Particularly, the paper addresses the four “domains” of emotional competency (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) and how teaching students to develop each domain through skills training will create better prepared attorneys:

[W]e cannot expect our students to fully grasp the “bigger picture” or to appreciate the practical significance of their legal strategies if they share their future clients’ limited understanding of human behavior and their narrow worldviews. Absent some understanding of the complex nature of human behavior and how the emotional brain drives decision-making, students cannot fully appreciate how their clients, judges, juries or opposing counsel are likely to respond to their legal arguments or strategies.

Interestingly, the paper is not only about addressing the emotional needs of clients, but legal strategy and preparation for communication with the opposition as well. We do not realize in real time that our thought process is corrupted by emotions, but the article suggests that corruption awareness is trainable by pointing out “red-flags”. Such training would be useful, for example, in an exchange with opposing counsel where anger can cause the brain to activate pre-programmed responses rather than allowing for a rational argument on a point. Emotional competence seeks to prevent anger responses and promote rationality.

Read the article and tell us what you think!

Another Conference on Experiential Learning in a Specialty Area: International Law Clinics, Externships, Internships, and Advanced Research — Pace Law School, May 6

The day after the May 5 “Practically Grounded” conference, a joint project of Pace and Albany Law Schools to be held at Pace Law School in White Plains, half an hour north of New York City (see entry below), Pace Law will host another experiential learning-oriented conference, this time on behalf of the Teaching International Law Interest Group of the American Society of International Law and the American Branch of the International Law Association.  “Teaching International Law Beyond the Classroom: Engaging Students in Experiential Learning, in Web 2.0, and in Historical and Empirical Research”  will take place on Friday, May 6, 2011, from 8:45 am to 7:00 pm.

Noteworthy is the fact that at both Teaching Conferences, all participants will be offered a free copy of Best Practices for Legal Education: A Vision and A Road Map and the book will be referenced and used throughout by conference speakers and moderators.

The focus of this conference is getting both students and faculty involved in empirical research, historical research, Web 2.0, and experiential learning.  Beth Simmons of Harvard, one of the country’s leading empiricists in the field of international law, will be speaking along with Jordan Paust, Houston; Sital Kalantry, Cornell; Julian Ku, Hofstra; Peggy McGuiness, St. John’s; and Tom Lee, Fordham.  Anthony VanDuzer, of the Ottawa University Faculty of Law, will describe his NAFTA course, co-taught with a U.S. law professor and a Mexican law professor, using Skype to bring professors and students from the three countries together simultaneously.  Robert Van Lierop, former UN ambassador currently with the UN in Darfur, will discuss the externship program he supervises, in which Pace law students assist island countries with environmental issues at the United Nations.

A full schedule and additional information can be found here.

Course (Re)Design Conference

The research on change in higher education suggests that, in some settings, change only becomes likely when a significant minority of the faculty already has begun implementing change.  A two-day, forthcoming conference, co-sponsored by the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning and Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Northern Kentucky University, will allow faculty interested in change to make changes to their courses right now.  The conference is entitled “Course (Re)Design” and will be held March 18-19, 2011, at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law in Highland Heights, Kentucky. 

The conference will be of greatest benefit to professors confronted with teaching a new course and those who would like to reinvigorate their approach to a course they have previously taught. 

 By the end of the conference, participants will have engaged in

  1. setting course goals and learning objectives,
  2. designing formative and summative assessments,
  3. choosing teaching and learning methods, and
  4. selecting and creating teaching materials. 

For more information, please follow this link: http://lawteaching.org/conferences/2011courseredesign/.

On-Line Discussion Boards Create a New Arena for Engaged Learning Environments

What’s better than the Socratic Method to engage all students in a course?  On-line discussion boards.

One of the challenges in creating the virtual classroom is to strive for students to substitute time that would have been spent sitting in a seat in an actual classroom for time spent engaged in the discussion on-line.  In addition to viewing short slide presentations with audio, and participating in occasional other on-line instruction (for example, this week the students were registered for and participated in a 45 minute on-line ethics training program developed by the NYS Commission on Public Integrity; and they were registered for a one hour ALI-ABA teleconference on the attorney-client privilege), the remainder of our instruction hours for the week are spent on the discussion boards.

So far I have opted to post three questions per week, and I have required the students to respond to at least two of the three questions, and then post replies to at two postings made by their colleagues (requiring 4 postings in total).  With 22 students enrolled in the course, it would be near impossible in a seminar of this size to actively engage every student in every class hour.  With the on-line discussion board, however, each and every student is an engaged learner who must participate in the class discussion.  In other words, no one gets a “bye” for the weekly class reading, and everyone must learn to be reflective, analytical and articulate in the written postings they make to the discussion boards.  Not only do I read the postings, but every class member reads the postings as well.  By week two, I realized the power of the discussion boards.

The two discussions I opened were:

1)    Based on Chapter 2, it is fair to conclude that defining exactly “who” is the client of the government lawyer is a difficult and challenging task, yet one that it is extremely important (at least in terms of confidentiality of communications which we will discuss in another posting).  Please respond for making a case that one of the following should be appropriately viewed as the client of the General Counsel to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and explain why: 1) The Governor; 2) The Commissioner of DEC; 3) The Counsel to the Governor; 4) A high ranking official within the agency other than the Commissioner; 5) Anyone in the Agency who sits down for a conversation with the Agency Counsel; 6) The public; or 7) Other (be specific). Is your answer the same if the attorney is not the DEC General Counsel, but rather an Assistant Counsel who reports to a deputy counsel who reports to the general counsel?  What if you work in the attorney general’s office and your job, according to the New York Executive Law, is to represent the State?

2)    From reading both Chapter 12 and the article in the folder for week 2, it is apparent that the federal courts are in conflict as to whether a government attorney-client privilege exists. This is an issue that will likely get before the U.S. Supreme Court some day. Please explain why you believe there should or should not be an attorney-client privilege. Your answer may consider the following: Does it matter whether the underlying conversations and litigation involve civil or criminal matters? If a privilege exists, does it belong to the government official or some other office/agency in government? What type of legal and regulatory arguments can you make to support your policy position?

These questions were directed, yet open ended enough to allow students to craft carefully thought-out responses and to challenge and engage students with differing perspectives and interpretations.  In the classroom, students may have responded with short answers in a sentence or two and full explanations may have had to be painstakingly extracted. Using the on-line forum, however, I received outstanding responses that demonstrated students did the reading, applied the applicable laws and policies, and considered the legal and policy challenges in reaching conclusions.  Their responses ranged from one full paragraph to four or five paragraphs.

In short, the discussion boards are proving to be an excellent teaching tool.  

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

“I’d like to thank the Academy…”: Using Movies in the Law School Classroom

The conversation that follows reminds me that when we, those supportive of the Best Practice model, use words like “innovation” and “engagement,” what we really mean is effective innovation and efficient engagement. When venturing away from the traditional delivery methods in the name of engagement and innovation, the most effective and efficient delivery methods must be accompanied by clearly articulated educational goals.

On a Tuesday afternoon, early in the new semester, Professor Hillary Farber posted a short and direct question to the Law Clinic Listserv. She asked, “Does anyone have any good discussion questions for this film [12 Angry Men] you would be willing to share?

 These are the responses that were shared:
(please feel free to add your own comments) Continue reading

Course Design – Technology Meets Substance in On-Line Curriculum Development

After setting course learning outcomes for the on-line government ethics course, I had to revise my syllabus to better match my goals and desired outcomes mindful of the on-line format, and I had to develop creative strategies for creating a vibrant virtual discussion that would satisfactorily create a functional equivalent of an in-person classroom discussion.

To be honest, this was easier than I thought it would be using the functionality of TWEN.  I selected one soft cover book as the course text, and have supplemented that with readings mostly available on-line or in the public domain that are posted to the course site in weekly course resource folders.

I typically require students to complete assignments in my courses, and I wanted to find a way that these tasks could add to the vibrancy of the course by being shared with all  participants rather than being e-mailed only to me using the TWEN assignment drop-box. At the end of December, TWEN added a Wiki function to the site, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Each student was asked to sign-up for one state that they will follow through the semester.  I set up a series of Wikis where students will be posting short narratives and links to statutes, regulations and opinions from their state about subject matters we will be studying that particular week.  All of the states the students selected appear on the Wiki page for a given week, and each student accesses the Wiki and inputs the information for their state. So, for example, in week two, students have to merely find and post the on-line links to their state ethics commission, ethics laws and lobbying laws.  In week three, students will have to actually critically read and start to parse aspects of the state statutes in order to answer a series of questions about their state ethics commission.  The assignment reads as follows:

Using the state laws from the state you have selected for the semester (note: the following 10 states do NOT have ethics commissions – Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming), please find the applicable provisions dealing with the composition of the state ethics commission. Under your state listing in this wiki, please answer the questions below:

1. How many people are on the commission (board)?
2. Who appoints the members of the commission (board)?
3. What is the term of office for members?
4. Are there criteria/qualifications/disqualifications for members?
5. Are there provisions for removal of members?
 How is the chair of the commission (board) selected?
7. Who appoints the executive director of the commission (board)?
8. Is the executive director appointed for a term?
9. Does the law provide for removal of the executive director?
10. Does the commission (board) have subpoena power?
11. Does the commission have jurisdiction over both executive and legislative branch officers and employees; municipal employees; lobbyists?

Provide the on-line link to the applicable provisions of state law that support your summary.

When completed, the class will have a 23-state comparative overview of the differences and similarities of state statutes on this topic which will be the basis of a question on our Discussion Board (I’ll write more about the Discussion Boards in a future posting).

For those interested, my colleague Darlene Cardillo, our Instructional Technologist at Albany Law School has posted a summary of week one of the course from a technology perspective on her blog here. The results of our pre-course student survey about their familiarity with on-line learning and with TWEN can be viewed here, you can read about the only in-person class, a one hour orientation here,.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

Who are the “Best Law Teachers”?

In 2008, Michael Hunter Schwartz, of Washburn Law School, began soliciting nominations for a study of the Best Law Teachers in this country based on Ken Bain’s book, What the Best College Teachers Do (2004).  Professor Schwartz has recently enlisted Best Practices Blog contributors Sophie Sparrow of Franklin Pierce and Gerry Hess of Gonzaga as co-authors and investigators.

While more than 250 nominations have been collected thus far, there is only a short time left to nominate others at “Best Law Teachers.”  Deadline for nominations is April 1, 2010 (no joke).  Professor Schwartz and company have already begun studying several of the Best Law Teachers and expect to continue their examinations this spring. 

For general information about the study, a list of nominees, and a link to the nomination form, please go to http://washburnlaw.edu/bestlawteachers/.

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