TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weekly Legal Education Roundup

How Learning WorksComment: Many law professors are interested in how they can integrate the latest in general education research into their law school teaching.  This is relatively easy because several researchers have written books that summarize the new learning in easily readable form.  The best book that does this is Susan A. Ambrose, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (2010).  Here is an Amazon review of the book:

"As a Dean of a school within a University, I am always on the lookout for well researched, practical and effective ways to educate our own faculty about student learning, especially for the various levels of university students (Bachelors, Masters, PhD). Any faculty member or university administrator seriously concerned with education desires to find a trustworthy and research-informed body of content, that has been carefully crafted to be usable and practical, that can serve as a tool or workbook for understanding student learning in ways that lead to clear suggestions for improving curriculum design and course delivery.

Yet, that search has been something like a quest for a holy-grail. Sure, everyone teaching at the university level wants to find this type of book. And we have all looked at numerous books on learning and teaching. But none of them were "just the thing."

Well, now "just the thing" is here. I have read this book cover to cover. It is exceptionally well done. In fact, I thought it was so well done that I called the publisher to order enough copies to give to EVERY ONE of our faculty and teaching support staff.

There is a reason why it has taken "the community" so long to finally create "just the right thing" in terms of a summary of student learning (university level) that is used as a basis for establishing principles for improving teaching.

* The work on cognitive science and its extension into the science of learning beyond the laboratory, into classroom and university settings, needed several decades to evolve and mature.

* You needed a particular group of people who were professional teachers-- as well as professionals who focused on teaching teachers about teaching-- to stay together long enough to develop deep insight into the pratical issues associated with teaching university level teachers about teaching. In other words, the team not only had to master the body of content and pragmatics associated with student learning, they had to have deep experience with teaching other teaching professionals about both the body of content as well as the pragmatics.

* At the same time, this group of "teaching center professionals" had to be so familiar with the research related to the science of learning, as well as with a much broader range of research about learning effectiveness, that they could effectively select out what was important, and weave it into a comprehensive framework that made sense for teaching teachers about student learning and teaching.

* And last of all, this group had to have the passion as well as the opportunity to commit themselves over a very long period to the mission of creating such a book.

This team, principally from Carnege Mellons' Centre for Teaching Excellence, and also including people from the University of Pittsburgh, was able to pull all of this together. It must have been a herculean task over a very long period of time. But the result reflects the dedication, capability and effort of the team. No wonder this book appeared just now, and not five or ten years ago.

Each chapter is organized as follows:
- 2 brief case study stories that illustrate the them of the chapter
- A section that summarizes "What Is Going On In These Stories?", in a way that clearly highlights the challanges associated with the theme of that particular chapter.
- A section on "What Principle Of Learning Is At Work Here?"
- A section on "What does Research Tell Us About <The Theme Of The Chapter.>
- A section on "Implications Of This Research" for understanding student learning and teaching
- A section on "What Strategies Does the Research Suggest", for improving student learning and teaching
- A final "Summary" section

Because of this well conceived organization, the book is very easy to use. You can quickly go to any of the seven chapters, and zero in on the part you want to know about, or you are trying to recall and apply.

In short, this book is a major contribution to the entire community of people involved with tertiary level teaching. One might argue that every university faculty member should know what is in this book, no matter what their "split" is across research and teaching. Even faculty who are essentially supported full time on research funds, and who have a limited amount of formal classroom teaching, will benefit tremendously form this book. Since their interactions with Ph.D. students and and research staff are still essentially "teaching", an understanding of student learning will prove to help with the student supervisory process.

For university-level faculty from any type of institution who do classroom, studio and laboratory teaching- whether they are from a smaller scale liberal arts college, or from one of the strongest of the "R1" research universities - this book will prove invaluable. While it is really a book, and not a "workbook", I predict you will use it so often that you will consider it as well-used tool or workbook.

what else can I say? This is really good work. Get it. Use it. Connect better with student learning and students. Your students will appreciate it."
Steve Miller

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