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Publication Date

Winter 2017


Duquesne Law Review





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Law teaching is turning a critical corner with the implementation of new ABA accreditation standards requiring greater skills development, experiential learning, and student assessment. Years of debate and discourse preceded the adoption of these ABA Standards, followed by a surge in programming, conferencing, and list-serv activity to prepare to implement these standards effectively. Missing from the dialogue about effective implementation of standards has been thoughtful consideration of how implementing these requirements will intersect with the challenges, realities, opportunities, and complexities of political divisiveness and polarization so prevalent in society and university campuses today.

Law schools are notably implementing these pedagogical reforms in a time of great political division. From the divisive presidential election, to police-community relations, to a worldwide refugee crisis, political discourse is contentious, polarized, and fraught with both risk and opportunity. University campuses have particularly been the sites of difficult discussions about race, politics, gender, and the very role of academic communities in these conversations. Students and faculty alike seem less capable than ever to manage these complex dynamics, yet true experiential learning and assessment requires us to move into the “eye of the storm” for courses with politically grounded content like legislation, among many others in the law school curriculum. The stakes are high. Faculty must engage students in more active learning with real-time feedback designed around realistic and timely simulations. Yet, they must do this in a time of great divisiveness in law, society, and politics. In this modern reality, both faculty and students alike may not be comfortable, prepared, or equipped to navigate these challenges without savvy techniques and methods.

This article discusses how law faculty might successfully implement experiential learning and assessment techniques with these modern dynamics in mind. It highlights a critical opportunity to transform our students into thoughtful problem-solvers and savvy lawyers. It identifies three critical components to a modern experiential learning course addressing topics of political relevance: (1) student-driven content, instead of faculty-driven content; (2) consistent and holistic student engagement, instead of sporadic or sequential engagement; and (3) vertically and horizontally structured feedback.



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