Mapping the Law – Using Visual Mindmaps in Legal Education

Try to remember something, to pull something out of the recesses of your memory. For example, what you did with your significant other on your last anniversary or more specifically, what gift you gave your significant other at that anniversary. Having trouble pulling it up? (The brain is not a computer after all).

Now try to visualize where you were. Images help memory recall. Associating strong visual and mental images with verbal or abstract information makes that information easier to recall in the future.

Professor Jeffrey Ritter of Georgetown Law leverages the power of mental imaging in “Mapping the Law: Building and Using Visual Mindmaps in Legal Education.” The video is part of the Igniting Law Teaching conference hosted by LegalEd at American University, Washington College of Law. Igniting Law Teaching provided a forum for professors experimenting with cutting edge technologies and techniques in law teaching to spread ideas to the broader legal education community.

You can read more about images and memory devices in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.

SeRiouS Learning Platform: Spaced Repetition Bar Study App

A law professor from Suffolk, Gabe Teninbaum, has harnessed the research findings on spaced repetition and retrieval to create a bar study app that spaces flashcards and asks for judgments of learning. Teninbaum claims his product, SeRiouS, improves memory retention to 92%. The content is supplied by 600+ flashcards created by law professors on topics most likely to be tested on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and in core law school subjects.

SeRiouS is designed to show the user a flashcard and ask the user to report how well he or she knew the answer. The user’s response determines how soon the flashcard reappears – if the user struggled to recall the correct response, the flashcard appears again soon; if the user easily recalled the response, the flashcard will appear less often.

I have not tested SeRiouS and cannot vouch for the effectiveness of the program. However, as it is based on research findings from cognitive science and designed by a law professor very intentionally to incorporate empirically based effective study methods, SeRiouS appears to be a good bet for students studying for the bar exam and even students studying MBE subjects.

Solid Study Skills Advice: Even in September, It’s not too soon to review!

If you’re on a semester schedule, you’ve been in law school for 4 weeks now. It’s time to start studying for exams. Trust me. Don’t want to think that far ahead? Fine. How about thinking about it as reviewing what you have learned so far this semester? Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Now is the PERFECT time to review what you have learned so far this semester. The Law School Academic Support Blog has some excellent, practical advice for how to start reviewing now.

Some highlights:

  • Arrive at each class 5-10 minutes early and review case briefs and class notes from the last class (hello, spaced study!
  • After class, review your case briefs and class notes.
  • At the end of each week, review briefs and notes and reorganize them
  • As you review each week, begin to construct your course outline for the material
  • Try to retrieve course material you have learned from your memory with out reviewing your notes and outlines, check your memory against your notes & outline
  • Review & revise your outlines, try using your outlines to do practice questions to test for gaps in your outline and your knowledge
  • Consult study aids (treatises, Examples & Explanations, Understanding Series books) to fill in gaps or clarify confusion and visit your Professor’s office hours with questions

 

Bachelor of Arts… In Law?

Traditional Juris Doctorate legal education has been struggling, that’s no big secret. Many institutions have looked to other types of delivery methods for limited types of non-J.D. legal education to non-lawyers, such as Masters of Jurisprudence or certificates in law.

This fall, the University of Arizona will introduce the nation’s first Bachelor of Arts in Law for undergraduates. Brent T. White, Professor of Law at the University of Arizona, writes in The Case for Undergraduate Law Degrees published recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education that it’s time to break the J.D. law school mold:

The question is not whether nonlawyers will provide legal services; it’s whether they will be well trained. Undergraduate law degrees offer the most cost-effective and broadly accessible way to offer such training.

Because of their broad accessibility, undergraduate law degrees could democratize access to legal education in ways that small master’s programs for students who are not becoming lawyers simply cannot. Undergraduate law degrees might in turn lead to a more-informed social understanding of legal issues, help end lawyers’ near monopoly on legal knowledge, and reduce barriers to citizen participation in the legal system. Equally as important, they might also, in time, lead to the rethinking of some restrictions on the “unauthorized practice of law” and open avenues for those with undergraduate law degrees to provide meaningful access to legal services to underserved communities.

The graduate-only model of legal education imposes huge and often prohibitive costs on people wishing to study law. It’s also costly from a societal perspective, resulting in a shortage of people who are capable of handling complex legal issues.

It’s time to break the mold—and for law schools and universities to begin to think critically about the roles and advantages of undergraduate legal education.

 

 

The Handwriting v. Typing Note Taking Debate

Handwriting and idea generation go hand in hand. Researchers suggest that students may learn better when they take notes by hand, that the act of “putting it down” on paper forces the writer to focus on what is really important. According to a recent article from Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA, The Pen is Mightier Than The Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking, students learn more effectively when handwriting notes versus typing.

Many legal educators have criticized the distracting nature of computers and the negative effects of computing/multi-tasking on the decline in students’ note-taking skills. But, what if the answer is much simpler – that it is the lack of handwriting itself, not necessarily any distraction inherent in laptop usage, causing the decline.

Let’s be honest. Not every handwriter is a good note taker (just by virtue of being a handwriter).  Every student should be instructed in effective note taking – whether on paper or on screen. Every student should be instructed to listen for structure and cues, to reframe concepts, to review notes, and to restructure notes for maximum effectiveness and understanding.

Additionally, laptops aren’t only used for note taking in the classroom. For example, in my legal writing classroom, students don’t have much lecture to capture with their keyboards. Class time is spent actively, with students working on writing exercises, student samples, and where laptops are more commonly used for individual and group in-class research.

Let’s not be too hasty to blame laptops on our students’ note taking and learning short comings. Perhaps we should also examine our own teaching methods first.