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Sunday, September 30, 2018

There Are No Secret Educational Theories--

Some final thoughts as I close out the month.


One of the things I always tell medical audiences I'm addressing for the first time is that there "are no secret laws."  If someone tells them something can't be done because it's "illegal" or must be done because "of the law" then they are entitled to ask to see the basis of that conclusion.  Often, the real answer is that it's a policy based on the institution's interpretation of the law.  That may be equally binding on any individual employee, but it leaves the door open to discussion in a way that declaring something "illegal" closes it.   

The way law professors are often confronted with educational theory is as something they "must do" because the "ABA Requires it" or because it's "the answer to our bar passage problem."  That may be true.  But I'd like to leave you with some insight gained during   the five years I spent getting a Ph.D. in Higher Education: for every intervention or innovation there is always a body of literature (articles reporting research studies).  Whether it be learning theories, learning outcomes, or active learning, you can look at the evidence and draw your own conclusions.  For example, one of the first things we did in a class on learning theory was develop a bibliography on the claim that students should find their preferred learning style and teachers should be presenting material in the way best suited to each of these styles.  Like many things in life, it turns out to have all been a giant misunderstanding.  Yes, everyone does have a preferred learning style.  And it may be possible to identify it.  But, in fact, gearing learning towards that style alone is actually the path to ruin rather than success.  If anything, knowing a preferred learning style should be a signal to make sure that you aren't relying on it alone.   Today, you seldom see the phrase "learning style" without it being preceded by the word "discredited."

See here and here as well.  There is also quite a bit of nonsense peddled about techniques that "directly" impact the brain.  They don't work. Consider this--no one is more interested in getting humans to learn things quickly than the military and no one has the budget they do to study ways of doing it (if you don't know DARPA, check it out).  If there was a magic machine--they would be on to it first and it would come down to us when they were ready to license it.

So be curious about different ways of teaching--seek out the sources of information at your institution.  There are things that work--it's just that nothing is a magic intervention that will work for everyone.  There are also ways of teaching that are more inclusive--and are well worth pursuing for that reason alone.

Your medical and nursing schools likely have monthly (if not more frequent) programs as do teaching & learning centers, offices of diversity and inclusion, and provosts's offices.  Ask questions when you're told to do something new with which you are uncomfortable.  Ask for the back-up data--and if there is none directly related to law students, ask if you can partner with a department of education at your institution or the office of institutional research/effectiveness to get the information you need.

I will be back here at PrawfsBlawg in April and probably will continue to be posting (like this) about my "day job" researching issues of public health and medical research at the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.  at Georgetown Law.

Until then, many thanks to Prof. Howard Wasserman and the Prawfs team, thank you to the people who have sent me comments and ideas--please stay in touch.

Posted by Jennifer Bard on September 30, 2018 at 08:31 PM | Permalink


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