Lasting Deep Learning

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

Here’s a scary thought. Imagine sending a survey to our former students three years after graduation from law school asking them to identify important things they learned in a course we taught. To make the survey a bit more precise, we could ask students to articulate critical knowledge, skills, and values they learned deeply enough to remember 3-5 years after taking our course.

Would we be pleased with the knowledge, skills, and values our former students recall? Would they be able to identify anything important that they learned?

Of course, not everything we teach is designed to create lasting, deep learning. Some of our course goals are more modest. We may intend portions of our course to prepare students for other law school courses or to succeed on the bar exam. But surely parts of our courses are designed to foster longer-term learning.

A valuable exercise for most of us would be to articulate the few aspects of knowledge, skills, and values for each course we teach that we hope our students will carry with them after graduation. Here are examples from three courses I teach.

» In Civil Procedure, the concept of “due process” provides an organizational theme underlying much of the doctrine we study.
» In Environmental Law, a critical skill is to use seven elements of statutory analysis to understand complex statutes and regulations and to effectively advocate for a client.
» In Litigation Skills and Professionalism, fundamental professional values include the three Rs – respect, responsibility, and reputation.

Did my students learn those items deeply? Would they identify them as important things they recall several years after graduation?

I don’t know. But the next time I teach my courses, I am going to identify for myself and my students the critical knowledge, skills, and values that I hope will stay with them into practice. And then I’m going to teach the course in ways expressly designed to lead to deep learning of those items. How? That will have to wait for another Idea of the Month….

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning