I’m new to legal education, and in order to get up to speed on how things work around here, I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a few law classes during their final days of the spring semester. One thing I noticed was that student participation was quite low. The lectures were engaging and I definitely learned a few new things, but I wonder…. would these classrooms benefit from the use of clickers? Would clickers increase student participation and student engagement? How could they be integrated into the various legal subjects? In this post I will outline a few of the benefits and uses of clickers in legal education, and present an interesting clicker case study from Harvard. Perhaps after reading this, you too will be convinced that clickers would be an excellent addition to law classes in the upcoming fall semester.
What are Clickers? Basically, they look like little remote controls (see image below to the left). They vary in size, shape, screen, and buttons (depending on the manufacturer).
How are clickers used in the classroom? They are mostly used for informal Q&A, but have also been used for attendance and assessment purposes. Professors can easily integrate multiple choice or True/False questions directly into their PowerPoint slides. Students then submit their “anonymous” responses on their own personal clickers. Depending on the settings, the results of the question are then displayed on the slide. No one will know whether you got the question right or wrong so you don’t have to be afraid to respond! You also can see whether you are in sync with the rest of your classmates.
Why are clickers appropriate for a law course? Typically law professors implement a Socratic style teaching method. The professor asks a question, then selects a student to respond. This process gets repeated over and over again. One issue with such a learning experience is the fact that only one student is actively engaged in the dialogue. The other students may or may not be paying attention and/or answering the question in their own mind. Clickers change all that! Now when a question is asked, every student has to respond. But the good part is – students are responding anonymously, so they can focus more on thinking critically about the question than on being embarrassed in front of their peers.
What are some ways law professors could use clickers in their classrooms? To assess prior knowledge, test student’s engagement with the required reading, check for understanding, identify misconceptions, ask questions, determine students’ opinions, obtain feedback, break up the lecture session, foster a sense of community, and hold students accountable. Professors have the option of using clicker responses as an assessment tool. Rather than have your entire grade based on an end-of-semester final exam, why not let clicker responses throughout the semester count as a small percentage towards students’ final course grade? This option may be a more accurate assessment of students’ acquired knowledge.
Are other law schools using this tool? YES! Harvard Law School is using it with success! A visiting professor explained how she used clickers in her classroom, here is what she had to say: “Students work the problems in advance, as homework. When they do the reading many think a little bit about the problems but only get half way to the solutions. The first day of using clickers I figure out who in class does that. The group who solved the problems for homework buzz in right away, while the rest will delay. I ask, “Can this debt be discharged in bankruptcy?” The half that responded instantly prepared the problem sufficiently. I address the delayed responses at that time, explaining the value of working the problem all the way to a definite answer. With the second class of using clickers, I see the number of delayed responses go down. And with the third class the number goes down further. Students are preparing more fully in response to the follow up possible with clickers” (Excerpt taken from: http://libguides.law.harvard.edu/tlc)
What’s next?? If you are a student, advocate for the use of clickers in your classroom! If you are a professor, talk to your Instructional Technology staff about specific ways in which you can use these tools in your classroom. At Pepperdine Law School we will soon be starting a series of hands-on technology-based learning sessions for faculty, where we provide practical ways in which clickers and other tools can be effectively integrated into your classroom. One-on-one individualized technology consultations are also available. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information will be posted on our web site shortly!
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