Sunday, May 14, 2017

Flipped Classroom for the Large Class

This past year I was honored to receive the Innovation in Teaching Award from the UConn School of business.  This post contains the text of my application.  I share it here to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the value traditional large lecture classes in undergraduate education.  I hope that you find my comments helpful.

Course: BLAW 3175/BADM 3720 The Legal and Ethical Environment of Business

Innovation: Use of a “Flipped Classroom” model of instruction for a large enrollment class (100-130 students).

The Challenge:  In a traditional large lecture course, a professor assigns readings from a text, delivers classroom lectures on a topic each class and then gives 2-3 objective exams, each covering multiple topics. Most recently, there has emerged three significant developments challenges to learning success in the large lecture class format. 
First, millennial generation learners have a tendency to “learn to the test.”  They display less intellectual curiosity than past learners.  Millennials tend to prefer to know a little about a lot of things, rather than to understand any particular subject in depth. The large lecture format reinforces this lack of depth by encouraging students to mechanically record information during lecture rather than using the information to foster understanding.  Second, phones and laptop computers in the classroom create competition for student attention in class.  Finally, a culture of textbook rejection permeates the college learning environment.  High costs of printed texts is only one factor in the shunning of textbook purchases.  Seeing themselves as consumers of education, rather than as learning partners, the millennial student expects the classroom lecture to deliver all that is needed for a grade. To their minds, the textbook is superfluous.

Based on the above, I determined that the traditional lecture format was no longer effective for learning in BLAW 3175, and explored use of a flipped classroom model beginning with the Spring 2016 semester. The flipped classroom employs a method of delivering information to students  outside of the classroom while classroom time is devoted to using that information to solve problems or otherwise exploring the relevance of the information in business context.  The goal is to get students to evolve beyond a high school style of learning that involves retaining information to pass a test, and to learn as adults do, converting information into understanding to guide decision-making. 

The Method:  The methodology has four steps:  1. Deliver information, 2. Use the information, 3. Re-examine the information, 4. Assess the learning.

1. Deliver information: To deliver information outside of class I worked with a publisher that specializes in interactive online texts (Great River Learning). Over two and a half years I collected and organized learning resources, writing and compiling a unique text. https://www.greatriverlearning.com/product-details/917 .  Unlike a traditional textbook, which simply involves reading words, or even a traditional online textbook which is merely a pdf of a printed book, this text is interactive, working more like a website.  The text makes liberal use of internet resources by repeatedly linking out to videos, websites, and blogs. Some of the videos are produced by other universities, news agencies or academic centers.  Some are music videos, comedy skits or other popular culture devices that have been selected to enhance the curriculum. Students, therefore, work in a familiar medium that is similar to web surfing rather than reading a traditional text. 

2. Use the information: Since information is being delivered outside of class, class time is used to work with that information to construct understanding.   Students are assigned into small discussion groups that are permanent for the semester. In one of the weekly class sessions, students work in the small discussion groups responding to a discussion prompt. The prompt is designed so that students will use the information they received through the text to evaluate a relevant instance or circumstance (either a hypothetical or an example drawn from current events). I walk among the groups listening to the discussions and giving individualized direction where needed. Every 10 minutes or so, the attention of the class is called back to the front and the prompt is adjusted or enhanced as appropriate to stimulate further discussion.  Each group is given a summary sheet to report the results of their discussions at the end of the class.

3. Re-examine the information:  After working through each module in the text, students answer a number of early assessment or polling questions. After examining the results on the early assessment questions, I use the second class meeting of the week to concentrate efforts on enhancing understanding of any concepts that showed poor results in the early assessment. Instead of lecturing on an entire module, I can pick the few problem topics and emphasize more provocative examples to illustrate concepts in the targeted areas. Typically, I present the detailed and nuanced material that had been previously left out of traditional lectures because of the need to cover the breadth of general information.  The class is sprinkled with i-clicker response questions where both students and instructor receive immediate feedback on the level of understanding of concepts. Also, I will have reviewed the results of the discussion sessions and will typically have more feedback or follow-up and, when necessary, can return students to back to the discussion groups for further consideration. 

4. Assess the learning: Each text module (20 in all) has an online assessment that is available to students beginning after the second class meeting of the week and is available for 36 hours.  Students who are ready to take the assessment will do so immediately.  Those who wish to re-read the textual material or ask questions of the instructor have time to do so.  Instead of having to “cram” for an exam covering many topics, the assessments cover the material from the most recent module.

Student responses on SETs have been overwhelmingly positive. Students who comment otherwise have said that they prefer not to be challenged to have to think during class.  I consider those comments to indicate a successful result.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thought Provoking Law Quote: Hermione Granger

The popular Harry Potter book series featured the exploits of a group of teenage wizards as they navigate the travails of life, friendship, evil forces, and magical education at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An ongoing theme throughout the series focuses on the forces of dark magic and the danger presented to society by a particularly powerful dark wizard known as Voldemort. Harry and his friends, including the very bright Hermione Granger, have discovered that Voldemort’s presence was once again threatening danger to society and they had reported it to the appropriate governmental authorities. However, in order to avoid a public panic, the government has not merely ignored their entreaties to take action, but has engaged in an aggressive campaign to discredit the young wizards and their statements. In this setting, the following exchange takes place between Hermione Granger and Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour:

"'Are you planning to follow a career in Magical Law, Miss Granger?’ asked Scrimgeour. ‘No, I am not,’ retorted Hermione. ‘I’m hoping to do some good in the world!'"


From her point of reference in the eternal struggle between good and evil, Hermione conceptualized law as an impediment to the accomplishment of good.  In her eyes, law was bad and to “do good” one had to do something other than law.  Considering law through Hermione’s eyes introduces us to the complexity of the question, “What is law?”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

President Elect Trump and Free Speech. Is it Good to Be King?

President elect Trump has opined that people who burn the American flag should be punished (jailed or lose citizenship).  However, he has failed to denounce use of the American flag as a symbol by the KKK, an avowed racist group, or of the Confederate Flag, an avowed racist symbol.

Justice Brennan, in Texas v Johnson:

The best way to preserve the flag’s special role in our lives is not to punish those who feel differently but to persuade them that they are wrong.  We do not honor our flag by punishing those who burn it, because in doing so we diminish the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

Even Mitch McConell rejected a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Johnson, writing:

No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment. Our Constitution, and our country, is stronger than that. Ultimately, people like that pose little harm to our country. But tinkering with our First Amendment might.

Justice Scalia famously stated:

If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag -- however, we have a First Amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged -- and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government.

Does Trump suppose himself to be King? 

He has suggested that he will change defamation laws to dilute freedom of the press and allow public figures to more easily sue the media for defamation. Is he unaware that defamation law is state common law and not federal law? And that if it were, he doesn't have the power to change them?  And in any event, there is the Constitution?

Perhaps he sees the Constitution as merely another of those vexing regulations that must be immediately eliminated.

Who would have thought that when Trump went to Washington to clean things up, he intended to throw out freedom and democracy with it?  -  other than the 70 Million people who voted against him.

Sad.

Fictional President Andrew Shepard explains why burning the American flag is as patriotic as saluting it:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Blaming the Trial Lawyers


This  syndicated "Mallard Fillmore" cartoon ran in newspapers nationally. The incident referred to is one where an employee of SuperAmerica convenience stores in Minnesota grabbed a robber whom the employee believed was attacking the cashier. SA fired him because his actions in fighting off the robber violated SA's policies. These situations do arise from time to time and they are difficult for students to understand. Under the "at-will-employment doctrine," employers may fire employees for cause, or for no reason at all, or even for a reason that most people would consider to be a bad reason. Many states have carved out narrow "public policy" exceptions to this rule to protect employees who are engaging in conduct that should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, by society.


I don't have any idea where this employee's claim will end up under Minnesota state law. However, one thing is clear. In order to get the justice that this employee deserves, he will need to get the assistance of a trial lawyer. The cartoon above erroneously attributes the effects of the at-will-employment doctrine to the work of trial lawyers. In fact, trial lawyers would be the ones representing fired employees who are making claims of wrongful discharge against employers who fire them for bad reasons. The effects of the at-will-employment doctrine are the result of corporate lawyers representing large corporations and wealthy employers who prefer to be free from any obligations to employees. At-will-employment promotes reliance on free-market forces in the labor market - forces which result in periodic injustices. It is the trial lawyers who seek justice for the fired employees. This cartoon suffers from a common disability: the "knee-jerk reactionary, blame the trial lawyers for everything" syndrome. I guess it is an example of just one more "error of law" about which students will have to be educated.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Law School Songs

Stressed, worried, impoverished, insecure, feeling inadequate, intimidated, exhausted, disappointed, overworked . . . welcome to the law, young people..





Thursday, November 17, 2016

US Law Essentials: Court Systems

The US Law Essentials YouTube channel has been uploading a new set of animated videos.  They are generally short enough to show in a class lecture if desired.  Check out the video below on court systems as an example:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

14 Ways to Interpret the Constitution

Well, it isn't exactly "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," but this Huffington Post piece does give a nice concise explanation of the breadth of Constitutional interpretation.  In my Legal Environment class, I think it is important for students to understand that there is no one, single, right way to interpret the Constitution (despite the statements in the judicial election ad below).  However, I don't have a lot of class time to devote to the details.  It is always a question of how many layers of the onion should be peeled back to explore a legal principle in a survey law course. This article gives the opportunity to expose students to the concept - Constitutional interpretation is broad, complex, nuanced and uncertain - without overburdening them with details and without taking up other valuable class time.

"Commitment to properly interpreting the Constitution":