Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category
posted by Christine Chabot
Historically, skills training was not part of the education students received in law school. Things have changed, of course, and recently many have emphasized the need for practice-ready law grads. Incorporating skills training in substantive courses offers one promising option for improving students’ education. I’m prepping Sales (UCC Article 2) for the fall, and the course seems to lend itself well to a more skills-oriented approach. I plan to use problem-solving exercises and assignments which will not only teach students the law governing sales of goods, but will also enhance their statutory and contractual interpretation, drafting, and client-counseling skills. I have extensive experience litigating contractual disputes, so I know these skills are essential for commercial litigators. And they seem equally important to transactional lawyers.
July 31, 2013 at 11:23 am Tags: practice-ready law grads, Reforming legal education, skills training Posted in: Contract Law & Beyond, Law Practice, Law School, Law School (Teaching), Teaching, Uncategorized Print This Post 6 Comments
posted by Deven Desai
Writing well requires attention to style and execution, but it also requires interaction. John Gardner’s works on writing explains his views on temperament and talent. In On Becoming A Novelist he also addresses training and education. What he says about writers workshops applies for classrooms, conferences, and more:
In a bad workshop, the teacher allows or even encourages attack. … In a good workshop, the teacher establishes a general atmosphere of helpfulness rather than competitiveness or viciousness. Classmates of the writer of the writer whose work has been read do not begin, if the workshop is well run, by stating how they would have written the story, or by expressing their blind prejudices on what is or is not seemly; in other words, they do not begin by making up some different story or demanding a different style. They try to understand and appreciate the story as it has been written. They assume, even if they secretly doubt it, that the story was carefully and intelligently constructed and that its oddities have some justification. If they cannot understand why the story is as it is, they ask questions. … It takes confidence and good will to say, “I didn’t understand so-and-so,” rather than belligerently, “So-and-so makes no sense.” It is in the nature of stupid people to hide their perplexity and attack what they cannot grasp. The wise admit their puzzlement (no prizes are given in heaven for fake infallibility)… John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist, p. 81
This attitude reminds me of my introduction to rhetoric class. We had to re-state what the author said for our first essay. We lost points for doing anything more. Saying “I think…” was not allowed. We were not ready to have an opinion. As Philippe Nonet used to say, “That you think it does not matter. Only what you show matters.” Tough advice. But good. He also said we have to let the idea present itself. We have to let it be.
A good workshop is a place where we let the writing be. Take it at face value and root around to see what is being said. Some will be good, some bad, some confusing. We will not agree with all that is said. But as Garder says, if we admit our puzzlement and share well, the writer may see how to improve or explain what was missed. Then all will have learned and constructed a new way forward. I think this approach applies to much more than writing, but leave that for another time.
posted by Deven Desai
Yes, more from Hemingway. I am reading others as well and may share from those if so moved. For now I will say that few have what he describes here. I will say it can be developed. And I will say I am most grateful to two people who have read my work, shredded it, but did so with love. Love here was the willingness to take the work on its terms and dig and hack and purge. That is why I think the skill can be learned or rediscovered if lost. I will not name them here. I have told them. Anything else is gossip and name-dropping. That would be unseemly and share a personal moment that is for them and me. Still, I thank them. And now for the quote:
A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the yearbook of a school for exceptional children than writing novels. Another generalization. You see; they are not so difficult when they are sufficiently obvious. The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it. Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction, No. 21, Paris Review
posted by William McGeveran
Thanks so much to the Concurring Opinions gang for having me back for another guest blogging stint. My semester has ended, so let the blogging begin!
Except … even though I have not received my students’ exams from the registrar yet, I am grading. Why? Because I assigned group projects during the semester and have not completed marking the last one. This raises an uncomfortable question for me: have I done the students any good by giving them a graded assignment during the semester if they don’t receive feedback on it until they are on the cusp of taking the final exam?
That really depends on the reasons for requiring “grading events” such as group projects, short papers, quizzes, midterms, or oral presentations during the semester. Like many of my colleagues, I have increasingly moved away from the traditional law school model that based the entire course grade on a high-stakes final examination, perhaps with some small adjustment for class participation. It seems clear to me that this is a good decision — even though it has meant a lot more grading (every professor’s least favorite task) and even though the institutional incentives for law faculty don’t really encourage or assist us to do depart from the tradition of the all-or-nothing final exam.
But I have to confess that my views of the reasons for continuing assessment are unsettled and even a little muddled. Here are the main candidates in my mind:
- Earlier graded events give students feedback about their understanding of the material and performance in the course while there is still time to correct it.
- Basing the course grade on more than one event reduces the “fluke factor” of a student who is ill or overtired or just not in top form the day of the final exam.
- The events themselves — say, a group project — serve valuable pedagogical goals and making them part of the grade ensures that students will take them seriously.
- Educational research shows that students learn more effectively if they synthesize knowledge as they go along rather than just doing a big outline at the end of the course, and graded events spur them to synthesize earlier.
- Basing the grade on different types of exercises rewards varied abilities beyond the particular (and slightly bizarre) skill set that excels at law school issue spotter exams.
Only the first of these requires me to return students’ grades sooner than I’ve managed to do for this group project. Of course, I am saying this partly to assuage my guilt over my own tardiness. But I also wonder how well we articulate the reasons for continuous assessment to our students — or even, frankly, to ourselves. I have now more carefully engaged in the sort of reflection about these goals that I should have gone through before the semester started. Now I know for next time that my answer is: all of the above.
Uh oh. I better get back to grading those group projects right now.
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
RIP to Ed de Grazia, my 1L Criminal Law teacher and later colleague at Cardozo for a decade, who passed away at the age of 86. As the NYT puts it today, Ed was a “fierce civil libertarian.”
Landmarks of his outstanding career as a lawyer who opposed government censorship include his 1964 SCOTUS victory on behalf of the publisher of Henry Miller’s sexually explicit book Tropic of Cancer. Ed’s own 1994 book, Girls Lean Back Everywhere, was a stirring defense of artistic freedom against state power.
Ed, who spent most of his career at Cardozo with shorter stints at Catholic, Connecticut, Georgetown and Yale, was an impressive teacher. He presented material and led students through discussion with total objectivity, with no assumptions or pre-judgments.
He insisted that we students explain why any given alleged behavior violated a particular criminal law. That went as much for arson, burglary, and homicide as it did for cannibalism, incest and necrophilia. Ed’s method was demanding, leading a class that sharpened legal minds. He also taught a special seminar as part of Cardozo’s prosecutor internship program where his pedagogy and philosophy instilled a deep sense of obligation to think and explain rather than blindly pursue and enforce.
Ed was also a passionate proponent of privacy before the modern era developed such an intense interest in the topic. For example, as the NYT notes today, Ed argued that newspapers had no business reporting on the romances of political figures, such as Gary Hart’s affair with Donna Rice that doomed his political career. Ed preferred not to judge his fellow human beings, leaving that to the inner tribunal of the conscience and above all keeping the state’s role in people’s lives as limited as possible.
Ed was also a great colleague for the same reasons: he welcomed all forms and manner of scholarly inquiry and loved learning about why any one of us found our subject so interesting. Ed was cool, smart and earnest. We will all miss him but always remember his spirit.
posted by Deven Desai
It dawns on me that Turing tests may have a role for the future of education and MOOCs. In short, can one create a Socratic style system that automates probing what a student knows? A combination of gamification (not a great word) and machine learning might allow a system to press a student to express more than “I memorized X” and move to explaining why in a discussion. If I understand the simple idea of Turing tests, one should not know that the other side is a machine in a conversation. It should be a discussion. That is what a professor does in Socratic method. There would likely be a wall of sorts where the student has no more questions or perhaps the machine determines that some level of mastery is in place. To me, a key reason to press questions is to see whether the student can answer why their claim or understanding is correct. When they can do that they may at last “own” the idea and then do something with it. Insofar as the key is to keep questioning, this approach will hit a different wall where a person may need to engage with the student. In addition, when a student asks something the teacher has not considered, a “does not compute” response will likely be a let down. Assuming one solves that personal dimension, that moment would be a signal to shift to other resources including instructors to go deeper into the issue. Otherwise we are left with test passing equals knowledge. As Erika Christakis put it, we have:
a broken system built on the dangerous misconception that testing is a proxy for actual teaching and learning. Somehow, along the path of good intentions, testing stopped being seen as a diagnostic tool to guide good instruction and became, instead, the instruction itself. It’s as if a patient were given a biopsy, learned she had cancer and was then told that no further medical treatment was necessary. If that didn’t sound quite right, we could just fire the doctor who ordered the test or scratch out the patient’s results and mark “cured” in the file.
Although I am leery of easy solutions, I think that a system that may prod a student to see what they know and then come to a teacher to gain further insight and evaluate what they grasp would be great. It might be a step away from a system that asks students to jump through a hoop and receive a star or treat for performing a trick without knowing why the words or ideas coming from them matter or how to apply the words and ideas to new contexts, which I think would be knowledge rather than inert data.
posted by Sarah Waldeck
Today “smart” e-books are in the news. These books give professors access to a stream of data about how individual students are using their e-books—whether they are skipping pages, highlighting specific passages, or taking notes in the book. The software that makes such monitoring possible even provides an “engagement index” for each student. The news stories I’ve encountered have mostly focused on how the data enables professors to identify and then reach out to students with poor study habits.
I don’t know how to spell the sound I made when I first heard this particular news angle, but it was something close to the classic UGH. The company that created the software says its surveys indicate that few students or colleges have privacy concerns. But I know I would feel like I was spying on the adults I teach.
Which is not to say that I couldn’t put the data stream to some use, at least in an aggregate form. If a meaningful portion of my class does not appear to be reading the textbook but is nonetheless performing well in class and on exams, then my course is too easy or the textbook is a dud, or some combination of the two.
The data stream may also be of interest to the institutions that employ professors. Every university, college, or graduate school has at least a couple gut courses—classes in which students can do very little work and still get good grades. One concern in law schools is that GPA-conscious students will flock to a gut course instead of one that would better prepare them for the bar and eventual practice. A dean who is trying to convince a professor that her class needs to be harder could put the data from smart e-books to very effective use. In fact, some professors will be disinclined to embrace smart e-books once they realize that students aren’t the only ones who can be watched.
Last, I am struck by the connection between the emergence of smart e-books and a post Larry wrote a few weeks ago. Larry’s post laments that as e-books become increasingly dominant, he will no longer be able to peruse the bookshelves of colleagues or friends as a means of sparking a connection or sizing them up. E-books do not serve the same (often inadvertent) signaling function as a print book. E-books mean that no-one can get a window into my interests by scanning my shelves or seeing what’s open on my coffee table. They also mean that I can no longer pick out law students on the subway by looking for a telltale red binding. But with smart e-books, a select group will know more about these students’ reading habits than most of us would have imagined just a few years ago.
posted by Aaron Saiger
Last week both Frank and I blogged about the MOOC, the “massive open online course.” Also last week a substantial and prominent group of academics posted an open letter to the ABA that urged legal educators to consider, among other reforms, “building on the burgeoning promises of internet-distance education.” (The letter garnered positive press in diverse fora.) Might the MOOC platform be part of that “promise”?
posted by Frank Pasquale
Last month, I noted some important innovations in teaching, while striking a cautionary note about massive, open online courses (MOOCs). But for those who prefer MOOC-thusiasm, Tom Friedman’s recent column delivers:
You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform. When he met me at the airport I saw he was wearing some very colorful sneakers.
“Where did you get those?” I asked. Well, Sandel explained, he had recently been in South Korea, where his Justice course has been translated into Korean and shown on national television. It has made him such a popular figure there that the Koreans asked him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game — and gave him the colored shoes to boot!
Friedman spends much of the remaining column arguing that universities need to a) get rid of “sage on a stage” lecture courses, while substituting in for them b) sages on YouTube like Sandel. The critical link to Education 2.0: intensive, individualized assessment & problem solving. So in Friedman’s ideal world, philosophers like Sandel would teach all the intro “Ethics” or “Justice” courses for millions, while local adjuncts would apply them to particular dilemmas (such as: should columnists disclose if they are “heirs to a multi-billion-dollar business empire”?).
The irony here is twofold. Read the rest of this post »
posted by Frank Pasquale
Gary King and Maya Sen have argued that traditional universities “can build on our tremendous advantage in research to improve teaching and learning.” In a recent article entitled “How Social Science Research Can Improve Teaching,” they give more details:
We marshal discoveries about human behavior and learning from social science research and show how they can be used to improve teaching and learning. The discoveries are easily stated as three social science generalizations: (1) social connections motivate, (2) teaching teaches the teacher, and (3) instant feedback improves learning. We show how to apply these generalizations via innovations in modern information technology inside, outside, and across university classrooms. We also give concrete examples of these ideas from innovations we have experimented with in our own teaching.
I don’t think all the ideas they propose in the piece could work in a law school context, but several seem well worth trying. I have found, for instance, that teaching a course in Health Data Analysis & Advocacy with a professor from my university’s math department has been a good “stretch” exercise for all involved. In other courses, I’ve tried to introduce students to various online communities that encourage learning about health law. (I’ve found that Twitter may well be the best place to keep track of what’s going on in the law and policy of health information technology.) The King/Sen paper offers many more ideas for promoting new kinds of learning, particularly for those willing to buck the MOOC trend with FASOCs (focused and small online courses).
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
I am dividing my Corporations casebook to fit the fourth different classroom schedule I’ve had this decade. It is a taxing but valuable exercise, from a pedagogical standpoint.
At Boston College from 2002 to 2005, my 3-credit class met twice weekly for 90 minutes and I tailored my syllabus accordingly. From 2007 to 2010, at George Washington, my 4-credit class met thrice weekly for 75 minutes, and I re-sliced, and slightly expanded, my course.
Visiting at Fordham this term, my 4-credit class is meeting twice weekly for 100 minutes; the syllabus I’m designing this week is for my visit at Cardozo in the Spring, where my 4-credit class will meet once per week for 110 minutes and twice per week for 50 minutes. And at Cardozo, the Corporations course includes a mandatory separate sequence on Accounting, so the syllabus design is a bit more complex yet, as I incorporate material from another book.
In each exercise, the task entails assigning a set of materials, each defined as a teaching unit. The pros and cons of the various combinations emerge, revealing how a given topic can be either expanded or contracted or linked in new ways with other units. The exercise adds perspective on the materials for the teacher which should enrich the student experience.
Particularly interesting is how, at least as the book is designed, some topics are best suited for 50 or 75 minute units while others are better suited for the longer 90 to 110 minute slots. That knowledge will help me as I revise the book for its 8th edition next summer, trying to provide materials that can be readily sliced into separate series of 50 versus 75 versus 100 minute blocks.
As you can guess from the fact that I just diverted 20 minutes to writing this post, syllabus redesign to accommodate teaching minutes is not the most stimulating of activities. It is less interesting and less valuable than switching books, and is hardly as taxing. Still, the exercise shows the value of variety. Time to get back to it.
posted by Frank Pasquale
As I teach in some technical fields, I often get questions from students about “how much tech do I need to know to succeed in this field?” For example, the Health Law Survey includes many complex medical situations; my seminar Health Information, Privacy, and Innovation covers standards for certifying “meaningful use” of health information technology; and even the intro to IP course tends to include some forbidding patent cases in it. I think this advice from Michal Tsur and Leah Belsky is reassuring:
[S]uccessful tech companies require a variety of skillsets – from design and community management to operations and business development- both at the entry level and in leadership positions. Significant technical skills can also be learned both on the job and outside of traditional academic education. Take Marissa Mayer vs. Sheryl Sandberg. While Mayer, the current CEO of Yahoo may have graduated Stanford with a CS degree, Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, rose through the business ranks at Google, gaining enough product knowledge on the job to become one of the leading operators and innovators in the space.
Having just reviewed the offerings at Coursera this fall, I can definitely vouch for the idea that many tech skills are “on offer” outside the classroom. I’ve also heard from former students who picked up some tech management skills; for example, one learned software programming skills in order to deal with the massive paperwork in a litigation involving many small disputes. I’m also hoping to teach law students how to work with computer scientists and quantitative analysts in a spring course on data analysis and advocacy for attorneys (which I’ll be co-teaching with a professor from my university’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science). I know that Michigan State & Daniel Katz have really blazed a trail here; I’m hoping to apply some computational legal studies ideas in courses on health and IP law. If anyone has any suggestions on doing so, I’d love to hear them.
posted by Dave Hoffman
For uninteresting reasons, I just read Indiana University’s Strategic Plan for Online Education. Here’s a fact I didn’t know, and haven’t seen well-advertised in the blog discussion on the cost transformative effects of distance learning:
IU (and the remainder of higher education) needs to educate policy makers and the public that online education generally is more, not less, expensive than on‐campus education at both undergraduate and graduate levels. The biggest reason for this is that a universal experience is that equivalent quality online education requires greater individual student attention than on‐campus education at all levels. Units deal with this either by decreasing class sizes, increasing the credit given to faculty teaching online in calculating their teaching load, or providing additional instructional assistants; all of these increase cost per student.
Additional factors that increase the cost of online instruction are the technological infrastructure needed to support it, the need to support student access 24/7, and the greater costs to develop and maintain course materials. The main factor that generally is cited for a decreased cost of online instruction relative to on‐campus is that it doesn’t require classroom space. This is valid; a careful computation by Associate Vice President Steve Keucher calculates this savings at $8.68 per credit hour, or roughly $26 per three credit course. While significant, this savings is not enough to offset the additional costs of online education, such as class sizes that often are 20‐35% smaller.
As pointed out by IU Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Neil Theobald, an important factor in pricing online education is pricing by peers in this market. As shown by the pricing summary for other universities in Appendix B, this pricing offers some guidance but is highly variable.
This seems to pose a challenge to those who would say that distance learning will drive costs out of higher education, no?
posted by Danielle Citron
What are we really teaching our students? Those of us who complain that our students are too focused on learning rules and doctrines should read a provocative empirical study recently published on SSRN by my colleague Don Gifford, Villanova sociologist Brian Jones, and two of Don’s former students with expertise in statistical analysis, Joseph Kroart and Cheryl Cortemeglia. Donald G. Gifford, Joseph Kroart, Brian Jones & Cheryl Cortemeglia, What’s on First?: Organizing the Casebook and Molding the Mind, 44 Ariz. St. L.J. ___ (2013) (forthcoming). The article describes an empirical study suggesting that whether the Torts professor begins with intentional, negligent, or strict liability torts affects the students’ understanding of the role of the common-law judge in a statistically significant way. The authors argue that the judge’s role in deciding intentional tort cases is at least to some extent more rule-based than her role in negligence and strict liability cases. Applying the work of sociologist Eving Goffman, they posit that beginning with intentional torts frames the judicial role in this manner. Further, they hypothesize that once frequently anxious first-semester students latch onto one particular conception of the judicial role during the initial weeks of the semester, it becomes anchored and resistant to change even after the students have studied other categories of tort liability.
Gifford et al. surveyed more than 450 first-year law students at eight law schools that vary widely in terms of their
reputational ranking. The students were surveyed at the beginning, middle, and end of the first semester. The survey results supported the authors’ hypothesis that students who begin their study of Torts with strict liability experience a greater shift toward understanding the judge’s role as being influenced by social, economic, and ideological factors and a sense of fairness and less as a process of rule application than do students who begin their study with either intentional torts or negligence. Even when the authors controlled for the ranking of the law school, topic sequence still generated a significant effect on students’ perceptions of the role of the common law judge. Nor did the effect of topic sequence vary by gender. The authors were surprised to find that students who began with intentional torts experience a greater attitudinal shift toward perceiving the judicial role as being policy influenced than do students who began with negligent torts.
Despite their disclaimers, the authors implicitly criticize the overwhelming majority of Torts professors who begin with intentional torts. Most Torts casebooks begin with intentional torts, at least after a brief introductory chapter. Their editors claim that these cases are “accessible,” “memorable,” and provide “a nice warm up” for studying other torts. Some of these same editors admit that intentional torts comprise a “backwater” in modern tort practice. Gifford et al. suggest that the real reason for beginning with intentional torts may be because that is the way it always has been done. They note that the first Torts casebook, edited by James Ames Barr, Dean Langdell’s colleague, began with intentional torts. They provocatively suggest that Ames may have begun with intentional torts in part precisely because these torts were most rule-like in nature and furthered Langdell’s mission to make the law appear “scientific” in order to justify its inclusion within the university curriculum. If this is true, note the authors, then most modern-day Torts professors are “unwitting conscripts” in the Langdellian mission. Read the rest of this post »
posted by Kyle Graham
By way of seconding Gerard’s comments regarding resume (and CV) creep and its baneful effects, let me share with you the rather short resume of an incredibly well-accomplished person: Alex Kozinski, circa 1984, as he was applying for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Note that Judge Kozinski’s resume back then (as taken from the files of the Reagan Library) was all of two pages long, and that he didn’t go on and on explaining precisely what he did as a clerk for Chief Justice Burger, Judge Kennedy, or even as a judge on the Court of Claims. He didn’t even mention that he was once a contestant on “The Dating Game.”
Given that it’s interviewing season, this also might provide a good opportunity for me to offer a couple of resume tips to law students. I enjoy reviewing students’ resumes, and see a number of recurring errors along with what I consider to be poor judgment calls. I’ll offer a few suggestions, for what they’re worth, after the jump.
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
As new 1Ls begin to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of law, we welcomed them here on this blog recently with an overview of the first-year curriculum that has been in place for ages. It concluded with a particular reference to the course on Contracts, about which I’ve recently published a new book connecting its classic cases and doctrines to contemporary contract disputes in popular culture and covered in the media.
From that book, Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter, the following continues to provide a gateway into that field by introducing two legends whose venerable work on the subject continues to define the boundaries of recognized debate on most of the issues. The legends are Samuel Williston and Arthur Corbin.
In 1920, Williston, a Harvard professor, published a monumental treatise on the entire law of contracts, and updated it until his death in 1963. In 1950, Arthur Corbin, a professor at Yale, promulgated an equally magisterial and comprehensive treatise, based on earlier writings throughout his career.
These works—still kept up-to-date by successor editors—influenced generations of lawyers and judges addressing contract disputes. Williston’s philosophy dovetailed with that of the eminent jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Corbin’s resonated with that of the esteemed judge, Benjamin N. Cardozo.
Williston epitomized a formalist approach to law and reflected what some call the “classical” school of contract. It looks to whether parties in a transaction were giving and getting something, emphasizing a concept called “consideration” as the signal of an enforceable contract. This school of thought held unenforceable not only promises to make gifts or attend dinner but promises merely inducing another party to take some action.
In this view, the remedy for breach of a bargain is to pay the injured party money to put them in the same economic position they would have enjoyed had the other performed. This classical conception of contract law dominated well into the twentieth century, and remains a force today.
Corbin took a realist approach to law and offered a more pragmatic conception of contract. Though agreeing with Williston on many points, Corbin recognized, as courts increasingly did in the twentieth century, a wider range of circumstances that create contractual obligations. Williston’s bargain model of consideration remained, but loosened so that even some promises to make gifts could be enforced, so long as there was an identifiable return, like naming a college endowment. It recognized reliance on a promise as a basis of contractual liability, in a novel doctrine commonly called “promissory estoppel.”
Compensation for disappointed expectations remains the primary measure of remedy. But recognizing promissory estoppel gave equal dignity to measuring remedies by out-of-pocket costs incurred relying on a promise.
These twentieth century developments that Corbin captured, and helped to shape, reflected broader social developments as well, moving law’s orientation from a formalist to a realist conception. For example, classical contract’s relative strictness, limiting the scope of contractual obligation, was accompanied by an equivalent strictness of enforcement: if a contract was hard to get into, it was also hard to get out of. People could be bound to contracts that were made based on mutually mistaken assumptions or even where performance became impossible.
But as the ambit of contractual obligation expanded, so did grounds for excusing it, like mutual mistake about the terms of a trade, or impossibility of performance, such as a power outage in a rented banquet hall. Similarly, classical contract law venerated written records, limiting the scope of obligation to what was plainly meant within a document’s four corners. Corbin and his realist descendants were more willing to consider evidence supplementing these written expressions. Read the rest of this post »
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
Welcome all first-year law students to the wonderful world of law! I teach Contracts at George Washington University (though I’m visiting at Fordham University this fall). My students find it useful to begin our journey into that subject–which many find can be difficult–with a step back to look at the shape of the first-year law school curriculum.
It has not changed much in a century and does not vary widely among law schools today, from Cooley to Columbia. I also try to be sure to connect the topics and examples appearing in today’s casesbooks (which have also not changed much over time and do not vary from school to school) to current topics in the news. Students at other schools can share in these stories by obtaining a copy of my book, a fun supplement to the Contracts course, Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter.
Some thoughts about the shape of today’s 1L curriculum appear in the beginning of the book, including the following excerpt. I summarize this for my students on our first day of class to give a sense of why today’s curriculum looks as it does and where contract law fits within it.
The curriculum dates to a legendary figure of nearly a century and a half ago. In the 1870s, C. C. Langdell, as Dean of Harvard Law School, designed a simple way to organize the vast field of law still used to this day. He thought that underlying law’s complexity were a handful of basic ideas. Examining leading cases organized around these ideas would reveal law’s elements and rhythms.
Common law actions, meaning those courts resolve one by one, were of greatest interest to Langdell and dominate many 1L courses, including Contracts. In the United States, following English traditions, common law is developed by state courts as disputes arise. Originally referring to law “common” to all citizens, today this system yields some variation among states, but general principles tend to prevail. Though the common law evolves as society and the economy change, judges draw on precedents when evaluating new cases—under the principle of stare decisis.
Langdell organized the welter of cases on numerous topics according to basic questions: how, what, and why. The question of how isolates the procedures private parties follow when resolving disputes using civil litigation. This is the practice of the lawsuit, arranged into the sub-field of study called civil procedure. Read the rest of this post »
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
It was a terrible thing to say, an awful attempt at humor. A tenured professor at the Merchant Marine Academy, cuing up a documentary film before leaving a class, alluded to the orange-haired man who, 11 days earlier, had massacred a dozen people in a Colorado movie house and wounded five times more. (The teacher reportedly said: “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit.”)
The associate dean promptly filed a recommendation of termination, classifying the action as notoriously disgraceful, a ground for firing in the school’s rules. The head of school followed suit, putting the professor on administrative leave and halting his teaching.
The teacher, who made the statement without any bad intent, immediately apologized to everyone concerned, including especially one student, whose father was a victim of the Colorado gunman. According to sources I contacted who know the teacher, he is a first-rate, solid person who simply made a crude comment.
Having been an associate dean myself, I have heard many worse jokes spoken during class by professorial comedians manqué. Occasionally I did consult with a colleague after students reported such episodes and even felt constrained to confer with my Dean once. But I never thought to suspend a teacher or suggest a suspension or termination over blundered, insensitive, stupid but innocent or naïve attempts at humor.
In such cases, I came to realize that it has been difficult for many teachers in recent decades to sustain a sense of good humor in the classroom without offending the sensibilities of at least some. Classrooms are not comedy clubs, of course, but humor can be a valuable pedagogical supplement. We must weigh our words in class, true, yet classroom colloquy is more robust when the scales are more forgiving than shackling.
The associate dean and head of school seem to be overreacting. They can admonish and berate the professor in many other ways than suspension or threatened termination. A similar bit of overreaction is how the New York Times decided to report this story in today’s paper. At least the writer had the good sense to quote tenure guidelines that cast doubt on the proportionality of the administration response.
I hope I never say anything so dreadful in my classroom. If I do, however, I hope that my associate dean, dean or president would not rush to punish me or have the New York Times add injury to embarrassment. The self-loathing is enough.
posted by UCLA Law Review
Volume 59, Discourse
|To Show Virtue Her Own Feature||Pavel Wonsowicz||162|
|The Pseudo-Elimination of Best Mode: Worst Possible Choice?||Lee Petherbridge & Jason Rantanen||170|
posted by Deven Desai
Costs of education need to come down. Open course materials are growing. Maybe education will indeed undergo a transformation in the next ten years. There are many things that will need to change for true education reform to take place. But better resources matter. Enter Rice University. Its OpenStax College initiative tries to address the problem of source fragmentation. In other words, resources, resources everywhere but no time to synch may be less of a problem than it has been so far. One nice touch is format flexibility: web, e-textbook, or hard copy options are available. “The first five textbooks in the series–Physics, Sociology, Biology, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology–have been completed, and the Physics and Sociology textbooks are up at openstaxcollege.org. The model is curious:
Using philanthropic funding, Baraniuk and the team behind OpenStax contracted professional content developers to write the books, and each book went through the industry-standard review cycle, including peer review and classroom testing. The books are scope- and sequence-compatible with traditional textbooks, and they contain all of the ancillary materials such as PowerPoint slides, test banks, and homework solutions.
So there is professional level seeding of content while also allowing for wiki-like contribution:
Each book has its own dashboard, called StaxDash. Along with displaying institutions that have adopted the book, StaxDash is also a real-time erratum tracker: Faculty who are using the books are encouraged to submit errors or problems they’ve found in the text. “There’s also the issue of pointing out aspects of the text that need to be updated,” notes Baraniuk, “for example, keeping the Sociology book up-to-date as the Arab Spring continues to evolve. People can post these issues, and our pledge is that we are going to fix any issues as close to ‘in real time’ as possible. These books will be up-to-date in a matter of hours or days instead of years.” When accessing a book through its URL on Connexions, students and faculty will always get the most up-to-date version of the book. Faculty can, however, use the “version control” feature on Connexions to lock in a particular version of the book for use throughout a semester.
If you thought that keeping up with authoritative versions of an ebook and citing it (trust me it is odd to cite to a location in a Kindle book) was messy, this new model will throw you. Then again, that is a small issue.
Group contributions for the latest on an issue and the ability to choose versions is a great idea. Law texts that could update the latest cases or a change in legislation as they happen and then be refined overtime would be wonderful. Of course teachers use other ways to reach these goals. But if crowds/commons style approaches to texts work, we may see better and less expensive versions of textbooks. How the system will mangage disputes about content and education boards’ issues with approval remains to be seen. Still, the promise of this approach should make the miasmic aspects of education boards look silly and create a press for improved ways to have quality content available for educators and most important, for students.