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April 17, 2007

Simulations, part 3: how we know what we know

You can't teach what you don't know. Good simulations demand a clearly-articulated framework that describes the learning outcome for participants and enable a teacher to evaluate, using objective criteria, students' progress towards expert practice. And to do that, we need to understand what best practice looks like.

In New Skills, New Learning, I recommend establishing centers for research and innovation, echoing Recommendation F of the MacCrate Report. We are reaching a point in social science when research into practical skills can produce empirical evidence for better and worse ways of doing things. I can't think of any institutions better situated than law schools to carry out that investigation.

Negotiations / ADR is, in most schools, primarily taught through simulations, many of which are on sale at the Harvard Program on Negotiations' Clearinghouse. Supporting this library is an extensive R&D operation that involves continuously researching best practices and refining how effectively their simulations convey those practices as knowledge and the technology of negotiations evolves.

Likewise, Bringham Young University's Larry Farmer and Gerald Williams (law) and Raymond Robinson (dance) have developed a new approach to teaching performative skills like interviewing and counseling (and dance). While the technology is impressive, I'm particularly excited by Farmer's work studying and codifying best practices for the skills of interviewing and counseling:

In the 90s we set up a clinic that I used with my Interviewing & Counseling class, and we watched lawyers come in -- we did that for 8 years, and we debriefed afterwards. I came out of that with a clear understanding of what skills lawyers had, and a substantial understanding of the skills they universally lacked. [The next step was to] conceptualize the process and structure it to control the [harmful] mental states that lawyers have: making assumptions before sufficient data, ignoring client goals and objectives.

Hardnosed, emprical research like this would be ideal building-blocks of a true "American Institute for the Practice of Law." As CLEA recommended in 2005, it is time we revisit and commit to that recommendation.

- Gene Koo

further reading on simulations

  • Feinman, Jay M., Simulations: An Introduction, 45 J. Legal Educ. 469 (1995).
  • Maranville, Deborah, Infusing Passion and Context into the Traditional Law Curriculum Through Experiential Learning, 51 J. Legal Educ. 51 (2001).
  • Milstein, Elliott S., Clinical Legal Education in the United States: In-House Clinics, Externships, and Simulations, 51 J. Legal Educ. 375 (2001).
  • Part 1 of this series
  • Part 2 of this series

April 17, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink


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