Month: May 2015

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Review: Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School

Review: Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School

Submitted by Gerry Hess
Gonzaga University School of Law

James B. Levy, Teaching the Digital Caveman: Rethinking the Use of Classroom Technology in Law School, 19 Chapman Law Review ___ (forthcoming 2015) [Read fulltext at SSRN (579 KB PDF)]

In this engaging, clever, and thoughtful article, Professor James Levy demolishes the myths and conventional wisdom on how best to teach “digital natives” in legal education. It is a must read for any law teacher with an open mind who wants to make informed decisions about how to use (and not use) technology to help law students learn critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The term “digital native” was coined by an educational consultant in 2001 to describe a generation of students who have never lived in a world without computers. Educators at all levels, including law professors, make a series of assumptions about how “digital natives” learn, and consequently, how we should teach them. Those assumptions include:

  • Constant exposure to digital technologies has changed the way “digital natives” think and learn;
  • “Digital natives” are primarily visual learners – more so than previous generations of students;
  • “Digital natives” are tech-savvy and adept at multi-tasking; and
  • Most “digital natives” learn best through screen-based technologies.

Through careful analysis of cognitive science and empirical research on learning, Professor Levy reveals the flaws in these assumptions. First, the research shows that vision is the brain’s most dominant sense for most people and that “digital natives” are no more visually oriented than anyone else. Second, empirical research fails to confirm the assumption that a person with a “visual learning style” will learn best if the teacher uses visual modalities. Third, cognitive science and empirical research confirm that “effective multi-tasking” is an oxymoron. Multi-taskers, including “digital natives,” do a poor job of focusing on relevant concepts, ignoring irrelevant information, and efficiently performing any of the tasks.

Well then, what’s a conscientious law teacher to do? Professor Levy asks us to view the question of technology in legal education through the lens of cognitive science and empirical research on learning, rather than stereotypes about “digital natives.”

For example, Professor Levy offers the following approach to the questions of whether and how to use digital visual technology in the classroom, such as pictures and slides. The starting point is to identify the learning objectives we want our students to achieve and then to ask whether digital technology will help our students learn better than other methods. If the learning goals focus on critical thinking, will a visual presentation effectively communicate the complexity and nuance of the concepts and skills? Will a visual modality promote effortful engagement, necessary for critical thinking and effective problem solving? If the answers to those questions are “yes,” maximize the effectiveness of the visuals by making them concise, memorable, and meaningful. Minimize distractions, such as the bells and whistles available in most presentation software.

What policies, if any, should you adopt regarding student use of electronic devices in class? Should reading material be primarily print-based or digital? Should you recommend that students take notes by hand rather than on a computer? Should your course include both face-to-face and online components?

Read the article. Professor Levy addresses each of these questions. Based on cognitive science and data. Not based on assumptions and stereotypes.

Making Explicit the Link between Briefing and Exam Writing

Making Explicit the Link between Briefing and Exam Writing

May 2015 Idea

By Rory D. Bahadur, Washburn University School of Law

It is probably safe to say that most schools have some form of skills training or introductory training session for new law students during which students are taught how to brief cases. As the National Academic Consultant for CLEO and in my own classroom I have seen so much emphasis being placed on briefing that students sometimes mistake the completion or mastering of a brief as an end onto itself.

The truth is that while case briefing forms an integral part of lawyering and law school success, students often mistakenly believe that good briefs translate into good grades on an essay exam. However this belief is erroneous because it ignores outlining, which is the link between briefing and success on law school exams.

Most briefs consist of the following components: Facts / Issue / Rule / Analysis / Conclusion (FIRAC). Most law school exams contain: Issue / Rule / Analysis / Conclusion (IRAC). The structural similarity of the briefs and exam answers make it clear that the processes are related. The IRAC structure and organization of a final can only be automatic and natural if the structure is repeatedly practiced via the briefing process during the semester.

Additionally, if students are taught to brief in such a way that they compose the analysis section of the brief before composing the fact section, the meaning of a “legally relevant fact” becomes self-apparent. Only those facts used in the analysis section of a case brief are legally relevant. And only legally relevant facts need be in the fact section of a case brief. Similarly students should understand that a good analysis on an essay exam should contain enough facts for the reader of the analysis to recreate the essential facts of the question asked.

The difference between briefing and exam answer structure however is essentially issue spotting. The brief is based on a casebook section with a topic heading which gives a clear indication of what the issue of the case should be. On a final examination the challenge is to figure out what issues or rules of law are invoked by a set of facts with no topic heading attached.

This recognition of rules invoked by new facts is called issue spotting or more precisely rule spotting. It is mastered only by creating an almost reflexive association between certain types of facts and certain rules of law. Creating this association is the function of outlining.

Students should be taught that briefs allow them to practice an analytical structure or format. Outlining involves scouring those briefs for the essential facts which invoked the rule of law developed or taught in that case. It is this extracted fact nugget that should be put in an outline next to the rule of law related to it. This process of mining the briefs and juxtaposing essential facts with a rule of law results in a document called an outline.

Review of the outline and the associated repeated exposure to this juxtaposition of rule and fact results in similar facts on an essay exam invoking the relevant rule or issue. We call this issue spotting.

While briefing (and the associated paraphrasing or explaining of the court’s opinion in the analysis section) is an important aspect of teaching the structure of legal analysis and of long term memorization, students also need to be made aware that outlining or fact/rule association is a separate step in the process without which they will not be able to issue spot on the final examination.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning