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Going Back to the Basics, Low-Tech Assessment Methods in Large Doctrinal Classes

Going Back to the Basics, Low-Tech Assessment Methods in Large Doctrinal Classes

Teaching Idea for February.

By Sandra Simpson, Professor, Gonzaga University School of Law.

While teaching large, doctrinal courses, it is possible to engage and assess the entire class with low-tech methods.  I teach a Real Estate Transactions course to 60 plus students every spring.  One effective method is using 3M posterboards for groups to “publish” their work.  I used this method this week when we were reviewing contract concepts.  In reviewing covenants versus conditions, I needed to know where my students were in terms of understanding these basic contract terms.  To accomplish this, I returned to a basic, low-tech method of large 3M posterboards (poster-sized sticky notes) for this assessment.

Once I found the 3M posterboard pad (in a lonely, dusty corner closet), I posted 23 pieces of paper around the room before the students arrived.  Once the students arrived[1], I had them form groups of three.[2]  I asked the groups to read the following clause: “Seller to provide the buyer with a certificate of occupancy prior to closing.”  The students were then asked to determine whether this clause creates a promise or a contingency.  After five minutes of group discussion, I asked random groups to support whether it is a promise or a contingency.  We discuss why the distinction matters.  Students soon realize the clause can be argued either way, which is not ideal for a real estate contract; it can lead to litigation, affecting the parties’ contract rights.

For the next step, I asked the students to redraft the clause creating a promise, and then redraft the clause creating a contingency.  The students wrote the two clauses on their 3M poster paper.  After every group was done with the drafting and had posted their paper on the wall, I asked them to walk around reading the other groups’ drafted clauses.  Each group marked the one they liked best (they could not vote for their own).

After all the students sat down, we looked at the votes to ascertain the best clauses and debrief the exercise.  The voting showed two very different drafting techniques tied for the best clauses.  This highlighted some drafting issues and created a discussion of different methods to create a promise or a contingency.  The entire exercise took 30 minutes, but it engaged the entire class.  An additional bonus was that the posterboards remained on the walls for the entire class, allowing me to walk around (while students were working on another problem) and read all the students’ work, which created another opportunity to talk to the groups about their work and answer lingering questions.

[1] It was really fun to listen to their reactions to the paper being posted around the room.  They were very curious and excited.

[2] You can form the groups yourself, particularly if you want to pair strong and weak students.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning