Giving Students a Seat at the Table: Using Team-Based Learning to 'Teach' Criminal Law
6 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2017 Last revised: 9 Feb 2018
Date Written: December 16, 2017
Perhaps in no other time since the release of the MacCrate and Carnegie Foundation Reports has the need for innovation in legal education been so critical. Since 2010, most law schools have faced challenges meeting their enrollment targets as the total number of students entering law school have dropped. With a drop in applications, many law schools have seen the traditional metrics of LSAT scores and median undergraduate G.P.A.’s drop as schools have struggled to fill classroom seats. Nationally, the percentage of first-year law students with scores of 149 or lower on the LSAT rose from 14.2 percent in 2010 to 22.5 percent in 2013. Unsurprisingly, as it has become easier to be admitted to law school, bar passage rates have dropped. Faced with declining bar passage rates, most law schools have added academic success programs that offer students assistance in preparing to take the bar exam. Seeking a way to address these challenges in the 1L year, in 2016 I redesigned my 1L criminal law class using the Team-Based Learning (TBL). Introduced at the undergraduate level more than twenty years ago by Professor Larry Michaelsen, TBL is now used in a wide variety of disciplines. The appeal of TBL is that it structures classroom learning to “go beyond simply covering content and focus[es] on ensuring that students have the opportunity to practice using course concepts to solve problems. Teaching a large 1L class with close to 100 students, TBL offered me a way to ensure that all my students were engaged with analyzing and applying the course material, rather than simply writing down notes. In a TBL classroom, lecture time is minimal, as students spend the bulk of the class time working in groups on problem-based exercise. The instructor’s main role is not to lecture, but rather to design a constructive learning environment. The primacy of group learning in TBL classrooms leads to higher levels of student engagement, increased excitement in the classroom, and higher level of performance on standardized exams. It is important to note that, although use of TBL in law school classrooms is not yet widespread, other faculty have pioneered its use.
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