Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Crowdsourcing Assessment for Legal Historians

Here’s a post principally for law-school-based legal historians, although I gather those who teach in other university departments face an analogous challenge.  Viewing the law school, as I do, as a hybrid institution, part precinct of the academe, part portal to the profession, I’ve been witnessing the coming of assessment-based pedagogy to legal education with mixed emotions.  I believe the relevant American Bar Association standards are as follows:
Standard 301. Objectives of Program of Legal Education

(a) A law school shall maintain a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students, upon graduation, for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.

(b) A law school shall establish and publish learning outcomes designed to achieve these objectives.

Standard 302. Learning Outcomes

A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following:

(a) Knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law;

(b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context;

(c) Exercise of proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system; and

(d) Other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.

Standard 314. Assessment of Student Learning

A law school shall utilize both formative and summative assessment methods in its curriculum to measure and improve student learning and provide meaningful feedback to students.

Standard 315. Evaluation of Program of Legal Education, Learning Outcomes, and Assessment Methods

The dean and the faculty of a law school shall conduct ongoing evaluation of the law school’s program of legal education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods; and shall use the results of this evaluation to determine the degree of student attainment of competency in the learning outcomes and to make appropriate changes to improve the curriculum.
I suspect that legal historians are at different stages in their thinking about these standards.  I’m on sabbatical, and I'm sticking with denial for a few months longer.  I imagine that some have tried resistance, others have proceeded to acquiescence, and a few have made it all the way to welcoming the standards as an “opportunity for us to think anew and more carefully about what we want students to learn, how we teach those things, and how to assess whether students are learning them."

Of course, every legal history course is unique, like a snowflake.  I know mine are.  But perhaps enough commonalities exist to permit us to take a free ride on learn from each other.  Perhaps the AALS Section on Legal History will take up the issue.  Even though panels at the ASLH's annual meeting are best used for scholarly exchange, perhaps assessment merits an exception.  And perhaps a law review or legal history journal could host a symposium.

In any event, we’re offering Legal History Blog as a forum and clearinghouse on legal history and the assessment process.  At some point in the months ahead, I expect to report on my own experience of Georgetown’s rendezvous with destiny reaccreditation.  In the interim, if you're willing to share any insights, advice, or models, please send them to us.  I'm sure your legal history colleagues would be grateful.