I enrolled in the FTEP Summer Institute in order to improve my teaching; I’ve read quite a bit recently about how students learn, and what I learned through this reading convinced me that I need to learn much more. This week I am focused on improving a course called Advanced Legal Research and Writing for Practice, a three-credit course that I co-teach with a law librarian. The course is new; I’ve taught it only once so far, and it seemed a good candidate for improvement through the use of additional technology.
I’ve been absolutely inspired by all that I’ve learned this week, and can’t wait to implement many of these new techniques in my course. There are just so many ways that I can envision using the many forms of technology that I was introduced to. A few relatively minor examples: I will use a “living” syllabus, with active links to the reading or other assignments, that can be updated on a regular basis; I will assign more peer review exercises, made easier by the use of Google docs; I may ask my students to create E-portfolios showcasing their ability to write in a variety of contexts; I will create a Google site as a professional profile page that I can link to every course I teach. The MOOCs we looked at were exciting, not just as an opportunity for external education, but as a resource for teaching model. I was fascinated by what types of online techniques engaged me, and which did not. I am sure that as I begin to integrate the use of technology into my classroom, I will be able to imagine even more ways to use it - one thing will naturally lead to another.
I really had not previously considered how technology might help to create and support an effective learning environment in my class. But law students often report a sense of alienation in law school, so I found Diane Sieber’s comments on how she strives to create a learning community compelling. Moreover, my course is a writing course, and writing is a personal skill. By this I mean that students tend to have a sense of ownership over their writing, and criticism can be somewhat painful. In this context I think it is particularly important to create a positive community in which students are not afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. I have always sought to create a positive, supportive, engaged environment in the classroom, but can now envision using technology to support these efforts.
I will use some new technological tools to create a stronger, more active learning community for my students. I’ve always strongly encouraged students to communicate directly with me, and I am excited about creating avenues for much more communication between students. All of the Google tools will work to further this goal. For example, I will use Google docs for peer collaboration exercises. I plan to assign one or more team writing projects, using Google docs as a way to make collaboration easier. It can be difficult for law students to coordinate their schedules, particularly since a fair number commute to Boulder. Google docs will make this type of collaboration easier. I might ask a team of students, for example, to revise a document as a team. I also plan to use Google docs to allow students to review and comment on the work of other students. I can require responses, and easily review the content.
I also plan to experiment with online discussion groups. One exercise useful in my writing course is reflection on different kinds of writing - that recognized as “good” or “ineffective” legal writing. Now I can easily envision conducting at least some of these discussions online - using Google drive or perhaps Google plus. This may allow more reticent students to contribute, and it may allow for a longer, more thoughtful discussion than I have time for in class. Or I may begin a discussion online, and then continue it in class, in the hopes of taking the conversation further.
My enthusiasm for this course cannot be overstated; every faculty member in every discipline should have the opportunity to participate.