Outcomes-Based Education One Course at a Time: My Experiment with Estates and Trusts
Journal of Legal Education, Forthcoming
40 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2010 Last revised: 15 Dec 2012
Date Written: August 22, 2010
Over the past three or four years, the legal academy has been under pressure to reform, driven by the critique that legal education does not adequately prepare law students to be lawyers.
The Carnegie Report, Best Practices for Legal Education, and even publications by the American Bar Association challenge law schools to radically rethink the delivery of legal education by starting at the end and working backwards. The current buzzword for this kind of education is “outcomes-based” education. The reports encourage law schools to focus on demonstrated student learning (outcomes) rather than what students are taught (input). In fact a report by the ABA Outcome Measures Committee recommends that output measures substantially replace input measures for the purpose of law school accreditation, and the ABA is currently considering amendments to its Accreditation Standards that would incorporate parts of that proposal.
When presented with the opportunity to teach a new course, I decided to put some of these ideas to the test. Thus, in planning and ultimately delivering my Estates and Trusts course for the first time, I started at the end: by identifying my desired outcomes. What did I want students who completed my course to be able to do? In Stage II, I identified what evidence I would need to determine whether students had achieved these stated goals. What would student proficiency look like, in my course? Having identified such evidence, I designed assessment tools and activities that would measure such evidence and help me determine the level of proficiency. Stage III involved designing my instruction tools and teaching activities geared toward helping students gather the evidence necessary to allow me to assess whether they were achieving the stated outcomes. I planned to teach toward my goals. And finally, in Stage IV, I reviewed the whole process – one goal at a time, one class at a time, one assessment tool at a time – to figure out how I as an instructor had succeeded, or not, at designing and delivering the course from the end to the beginning.
In this article, I explore and demonstrate the effectiveness of outcomes-based education in the context of the planning and delivery of this one course. After giving a general overview of outcomes-based education, each section of the article will first describe the particular stage of outcomes-based education (i.e. outcomes, assessment, delivery, evaluation), drawing from non-legal and legal education resources on the topic; and then will describe my process of implementing these ideas, with some evaluation of their usefulness both for me as a teacher, and for my students.
I do not think I am ruining the story by giving away the ending: Requiring clarity and transparency about my goals for this course, and gearing the entire course toward helping students meet those goals resulted in a course that felt more intentional, contextual, and capable of reproduction than any course I had taught before. I believe the students benefited from my planning and teaching, by gaining more understanding both of the material itself, and also of the process of learning the material. Their ability to self-assess throughout the semester improved measurably, allowing me to refine and adjust the materials as needed much more than I had done in previous courses. In short, this way of designing and implementing a course worked beautifully for me, and I believe it worked for my students.
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