Law Student Study Habits Survey

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First Year students at Seattle University School of Law are invited to participate in a voluntary survey to identify which law study habits are linked to better learning outcomes and academic success in law school.

Professor Jennifer Cooper, in collaboration with Dr. Regan A.R. Gurung (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), has developed a brief survey about law student study behaviors. Your participation is confidential and voluntary and takes 5 minutes.

Take the Law Student Study Habits Survey 

What did we do last class? Integrating retrieval practice to make connections

The first five minutes of every class offers a unique opportunity to connect with our students, but is often squandered on taking attendance, announcements, or setting up our slideshow, etc. Instead, use the first five minutes of class to connect with your students and to connect your students to the course material. Many good educators begin each class with a capsule review, quickly summarizing what happened in the last session. But, asking your students to retrieve what they remember from the last class offers much more value and increases student learning.

The exercise is simple and quick. Have students tell you what they learned in the last class session, without looking at their notes, books, or laptops. Write their comments on the board, editing for clarity and correcting if necessary. This simple act of retrieval practice – recalling information from their memory without any cues – helps your students connect prior learning to new learning, make connections with the course material, and learn the material more deeply.

Learn more about this technique and other retrieval based teaching techniques here.

Illusions of Competence: Obstacles to Learning & Which Learning Strategies Really Work

Illusions of competence are obstacles to learning. Yet, learners are unaware of the existence of such illusions or their own susceptibility to them. Such is the nature of illusions, right?

Learners unwittingly develop illusions of competence by an over relying on ineffective, passive learning strategies such as rereading, rote memorization, and cramming study. These illusions of competence made students believe that they have learned because the information seems familiar; therefore, it is perceived to be well learned. Research from cognitive science tells a much different story. Illusions of competence make learning “feel” successful, but actually impede learning.

[Read more…]

Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes Using Pre and Post Testing

I recently wrote about the counter-intuitive value of pre-testing, giving a test of material not yet learned, in order to prime the brain for learning to come and establish expectations for learning objectives.

I have since stumbled across an article published early this year by David J. Herring and Collin Lynch entitled Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class. Herring and Lynch discuss the ABA’s potential shift from input measures to output measures for legal education, increasing the focus on establishing learning outcomes as well as ongoing evaluation of the attainment of established outcomes.

Herring and Lynch used a pre- and post-test design for comparison within one particular subject, focusing on measuring the core skill of legal reading and cross-case reasoning. The researchers found that in contrast to traditional law teaching alone, pre-test followed by supplemental instructional interventions, produced significant learning gains. For more about the study and results, see Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class.

Frequent Quizzing Makes Information Stick

The act of retrieving information from memory challenges the brain, it greases the wheels of memory.

This greasing the wheel in studying using retrieval methods is hard work – creating and answering quizzes on information you are reading and learning instead of merely reading and re-reading. Creating and answering the quizzes feels uncomfortable and ineffective, which leads to erroneous judgments that the material is not being learned. When information is easy to study and learn, students believe it has been learned well, when the opposite is actually true.

According to Mark McDaniel with Washington University in St. Louis:

“I think most people want learning to be easy and effortless. They want a magic bullet for it. And learning is not easy and effortless. It takes work, and it takes effort and time and dedication.”

The most effective study and learning methods are not only hard, but they are counter-intuitive. Retrieval, the testing effect, and distributed practice are all research-proven to be much more effective than reading & rereading, highlighting, rote memorization, and cramming. Yet, students don’t know about these research-proven study and learning methods OR don’t believe that they are more effective than “tried and true” methods.

Students are never taught how to study.

“One of the gaps or problems in the educational system is that no one ever helps a student figure out how to learn, and yet that’s the primary challenge a student is faced with. You’ve got to assist them with how to do that. And that’s where I think we’re failing somewhat,” according to McDaniel.

Traditional class structures in higher education also feed into and encourage bad study habits. Professors lecture, give a midterm exam, and a final exam. This assessment structure leads to students rereading, reviewing notes, and cramming right before exams. This is even more pronounced in law school where Professors lecture via Socratic Method and only give a final exam.

Frequent quizzing is a smart and effective learning tool. Frequent quizzing over the course of the semester forces students to continuously retrieve material they are learning repeatedly over the course of a term. Each retrieval attempt creates more durable learning. Quizzes can be incorporated into any syllabus, even in courses where Professors choose to give final summative exams.

For more, see Studying With Quizzes Helps Make Sure The Material Sticks.