Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
John Mayer (Executive Director, Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI)
As the Executive Director of CALI, I read a lot of feedback from students that pertains to their perceptions of legal education. The single biggest thing that students crave is more feedback. Imagine if you took a job where you were paid at the end of 15 weeks based on your performance -- better performance = more pay, but you weren’t told how well you were doing until the end of the 15 weeks. That’s law school. Students are studying hard, but they aren’t sure that they know what they know until the results of the final exam are in.
I would advise Dean Chemerinsky to mandate that all classes provide some form of personal feedback to all students. This doesn’t have to be graded, but it should be substantive. This could be in the form of midterm exams, quizzes or even students evaluating each other’s mini-essays or shared collections of multiple choice questions. The technology tools exist so that this isn’t an undue burden on the instructor or require the hiring of teaching assistants for every class.
It is worth noting that feedback can be bi-directional. The aggregate results of weekly quizzes can tell the instructor where she has lost the students and should provide some additional instruction. If instructors want to read really excellent final exams, then you have to make sure that students are on track throughout the semester. The surprises you get reading the finals are no less disconcerting than the surprises that the students get when you grade it.
For all the posts in the series, see here.