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Friday, August 31, 2018

Kai-zen and Poka-yoke in the Classroom

Even when I'm not doing a whole new prep, in the spirit of kai-zen ("continuous improvement"), I like to tinker with the form and the substance of a class.  Sometimes the tinkering is fairly substantial.  Several years ago, the authors of my contracts casebook decided to produce another edition.  I respectfully declined to adopt it, not believing that there were sufficient advances in the law of contracts to justify having students buy a newly-issued book.  But, upon discovering that there weren't enough copies of the old edition in circulation to be sure students could get them, I decided to scrap the casebook entirely, download and edit the cases myself, post them on Blackboard, and assign the very good Examples & Explanations book as the text.

If you aren't familiar with it, kai-zen is a fundamental aspect of lean manufacturing, something that had its roots in the Toyota Production System in Japan after World War II, and migrated to the United States and elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s.  In first year contracts, I came up with two improvements yesterday, as usual in the several hours before the first class was to begin.

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 6.23.23 PMThe first was substance.  I record all my classes and post my notes as soon as we are done with a unit.  I decided that I wanted the very first thing that I said on the very first day to be something to which the students could return when, as I put it, later in the semester they got frustrated with the material, me, the book, the cases, or why they made the decision to go to law school in the first place.

The second was form.  As I've mentioned, I don't impose a seating chart, and my cold-calling tends to be half-hearted at best, and tails off over the course of the year.  I do, however, start with "on-call" panels, and I do like to know something about my students.  In past years, I have simply given them blank index cards with the instruction to write their names and other information.  But, regardless of the instructions, students have managed to leave stuff out, write on the back of the cards, fill the cards so that I can't put pictures on them, etc. I have also struggled with how to take that information and use it (a) to organize the panels, and (b) have the information, including their pictures, readily accessible as I have to find them in the classroom (because I don't use seating charts). 

So I called on another lean manufacturing concept - "poka-yoke" or "inadvertent mistake prevention."  The idea on the manufacturing floor is that you set the process so that the operator can't make a mistake without shutting things down.  Instead of having two similar and identical holes for which the inserted piece could get reversed, you make the holes into different shapes and non-symmetrical.  It occurred to me that, if I just did a little poka-yoke on the cards, I would get the information just as I wanted it, and with a space in which to insert a picture.  

Voila!  What you see above, which took about 90 seconds in Word to create, and which could be duplicated on 4 x 6 index cards.  To create the panels, I just shuffle the cards and separate them into groups.  To call on students, I just reach for a card.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on August 31, 2018 at 08:46 AM in Lipshaw, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

I sent out a classwide email the week before classes and asked students to provide me a phonetic guide to their last names and their honorific (Mr./Ms./Mx./other), and to tell me something about themselves. It was interesting to see what they chose to tell me.

Posted by: Tung Yin | Aug 31, 2018 8:14:56 PM

Excellent ideas across the board. I am tempted t go with the E&E for my PR class in the spring as well. As for the card, have you considered a google form? Then they could do it before class & it would easy to manage the data.

Posted by: Brian Frye | Aug 31, 2018 8:09:06 PM

Like it a lot! In the further spirit of both principles you describe, may I suggest you alter the last call on the note card? It now reads "An interesting fact about me:" Might a cheeky student not write a fact about you — JL — rather than about x•self? Perhaps it's less fun, but "An interesting personal fact:" would work.

Posted by: Joe Miller | Aug 31, 2018 8:55:10 AM

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