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Idea For February 2015

Let Your Students Run the Class

One of my colleagues was recently hit with a bad cold that left her without a voice. For a variety of reasons, cancelling class was not an option, but neither was speaking. Instead, she turned the class over to the students. She set the class agenda, assigned students to groups, and had the groups present and discuss that day's material to their classmates. A week later, one of her students volunteered that the student-run class had been one of the best in a course taught by an excellent and passionate teacher. This is not surprising; research shows that the more students are actively engaged during a class, the better their learning.

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Article For March 2015

Jeff Thaler, Meeting Law Students' Experiential Needs in the Classroom: Building an Administrative Law Practicum Implementing the Revised ABA Standards, (2015).

As we well know, but as television-viewers might not believe, much modern law practice occurs outside of the courtroom. An increasing amount of it involves advocating for clients in front of regulatory bodies, which necessarily implicates different skills from courtroom-based practice.

Jeff Thaler, Assistant University Counsel & Visiting Professor of Energy Law & Policy at the University of Maine Schools of Law & Economics, addressed this gap in education by creating a practicum course in administrative law. He offers blueprints for others to follow in his article Meeting Law Students' Experiential Needs in the Classroom: Building an Administrative Law Practicum Implementing the Revised ABA Standards.

The Revised ABA standards Professor Thaler's title mentions require learning outcomes related to student competency in substance, analysis, professionalism, and skills. Experiential learning opportunities, and specifically a practicum course, can target each of those core abilities. A practicum, as Professor Thaler defines, is "a teaching methodology enabling students to develop practical research, writing, and oral advocacy skill using real-world problems from a substantive area of the law in a classroom setting."

The practicum course Professor Thaler created was based on administrative and ethics law issues generally, with a particular focus upon regulatory issues involving wind power projects in Maine. His article details his syllabus, along with the requirements of his course. Students in his practicum classroom were given an evolving case study and tasked with writing client memos, orally presenting their results, direct and cross-examining expert witnesses, and presenting opening and closing arguments. Interspersed throughout the course, Professor Thaler arranged an impressive collection of panelists from the practice area to address the students on the substantive and procedural issues involved.

The article is short and wonderfully readable. He didn't authorize me to say this, but I would imagine, just judging from the tone of the article, that Professor Thaler would be incredibly welcoming of any questions and, to the extent you like what you read about the practicum course he created, would happily help you think through something similar.

To the extent that you're interested in this kind of learning experience for your students, check out the article and while you're online, go ahead and register for our experiential learning conference in June!
[Read fulltext at SSRN (453 KB PDF)]

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