“Alternative Methods Suggested by US Academics to Accomplish Goals.

Professors Davis and Steinglass suggest that law professors employ complementary teaching methods to the Socratic method to ensure that every student is actively participating and thinking. Some of their suggested methods include such things as requesting students to write their thoughts out in class and bring written responses that will be shared in pairs or small groups in addition to organizing classes to including small group discussions in which students can speak more comfortably and develop ideas that can then be discussed in the larger group, to analyze cases through role playing, the assignment of problems and even creating on-line discussions that will assist students who are wary of speaking in public or of speaking extemporaneously and will address a broader range of subject matter than can be addressed in time-limited classes (Davis and Steinglass, 1997, at 275).”

Thiemann suggests a substantially similar list of suggestions to Professors Davis and Steinglass above, adding to it:

(1) a review of actual case files;

(2) narrative story telling; and

(3) take home/midterm/paper options and practice exams.

She goes further to suggest that for the Socratic method to be useful, it must be reformed in three of its fundamental attributes.

First, students should be alerted to the class date of the intended questioning, allowing the student to prepare consistent as with preparing for a day in court (Thiemann, 1998, at 28).

Secondly, the questioning should ‘seek to engage not only rational analysis, but also emotional responses’ (Id, quoting Williams, 1993).

Finally, the professor should employ role-playing for case analysis[ 20].

Professor Hawkins-Leon states that a combination of the problem method and the Socratic method should be employed in core courses to achieve her stated goals.

There are many positive aspects to this combination approach as presented by Professor Hawkins-Leon[ 21].

  • Closely approximates the lawyer’s approach to the law. Students must find their own answers to questions rather than merely read and memorize someone else’s answer(s);
  • Provides training in planning and advising and teaches the skill of organization or issue-management (the organization of a cumbersome set of facts and issues);
  • Broadens the range of matters open to consideration by students because they are required to prepare answers to an established problem set;
  • Increases the effectiveness of instruction in comparison to the Socratic method;
  • Stimulates student interest in legal study, as students are likely to be more prepared for class participation since they have received the problem in advance and can therefore anticipate class discussion;
  • Allows the integration of relevant, non-legal source materials (such as economics and psychology), which may lead to a more enriched curriculum and allow students a greater breadth of inquiry. The disadvantage here is that law students often have a tendency to ignore the relevance of non-legal materials;
  • Allows and encourages testing of students’ understanding of the assigned readings. The AALS 1942 Report stated that ‘frequency of examination is…urged as a method for maximizing the efficiency of a teaching program.’ In application, the problem method allows for frequent examination of students’ performance — a professor could require answers to various problems to be submitted in writing for review, written comment and grading.

However, the negative aspects are also expressed as presented by Professor Hawkins-Leon: (Idat 10).

  • The professor must devote more time to course preparation in order to draft problems and their answers. The creation of textbooks utilizing the problem method of instruction is of immeasurable assistance. Course books for some subjects already exist and some problem books have been created for use with a standard textbook. Students are also required to be more consistent in their class preparation and may have to spend more time preparing for class;
  • The problem method is more costly than the Socratic method because its usage is most effective in smaller classes. Research has shown that ideally no more than 40 students should be enrolled in a course taught by the problem method. This factor causes the problem method to be more costly than the Socratic method, which is ideal for large class sizes;
  • Professors are not as much at liberty to teach via lecture when the problem method is utilized;
  • Due to the in-depth discussion of individual problems, critics fear that less course material is covered when the problem method is utilized. Contrary to this concern the results of the 1966 AALS survey showed that professors utilizing the problem method covered more course material.

Professor Kerper’s suggestion is to supplement the application of the IRAC method to case analysis with problem solving methods, including what she acronyms ‘SOLVE'[ 22]. Her suggested problem solving method acronym involves: a Statement of the problem, Observing and organizing the problem through the identification of initial conditions, goals, resources and constraints, Learning by questioning all parts of the problem, to Visualize Possible Solutions and to Employ the Solution and Monitor Results[ 23].

Professor Donahoe suggests that students play out case studies, working both alone and in groups (Donahue 2000, at para. 64). The case studies may be in the form employed in most law exams: factual hypothetical, problem sets, or actual facts from an appellate case. The class time should be used to explore the various methods of researching and resolving the case study. When using an appellate case, the decision should serve as a comparative model answer after the classroom exploration.”

EXTRACT from: A Review of the Development of an Internet Delivered LL.M Program in the United States
Professor William H Byrnes, IV

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