Collaborative Problem Solving in the One L Classroom

To facilitate student collaboration within the law school classroom, the Problem Solving Workshop (PSW) was created for all 1Ls.  Taught by several faculty including Howell Jackson, Wendy Jacobs, former Professor John Palfrey, Todd Rakoff, Joe Singer, and David Wilkins, PSW orients students to active legal practice, guiding them with understanding client goals and problem solving before all the facts of a case are known.

The workshop simulates real-world practice of tight deadlines and continuous fact-finding for six assigned cases. The program director strategically administers iSites to provide all sections with the appropriate materials simultaneously. In the classroom, Professor Singer takes notes on student ideas and conclusions for the day, he then posts them to the website for the class to reference when writing memos assigned for that evening. Students post their written work to the course site so it’s visible to the class. Faculty then access the assignments, read, evaluate them, and offer feedback online.

Inspired by a handout on the problem-solving process by Joe Singer, the Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum group created visuals representing its critical steps and positioned them over a representative image of each case.  The six main steps of the problem-solving process appear in boxes with links to the learning materials. Some boxes are empty, representing places where students fill in the gaps, learning how to work without complete information.

Students appreciate this presentation, especially the embedded multimedia such as video and client voicemail. One student explains,

It was helpful to put an image to the problem — and to the extent problems included videos or news media reports was also very helpful. I think as a researcher,some people, including myself, learn more visually than textually, and so that aspect was very helpful for memory and engagement.

Online student polling adds another layer of interactivity. Students vote on how to charge people with a number of crimes. At the end of the class, several professors ask students to rate their team members’ performance through a customized survey. Professor David Wilkins has polled students using clickers. He presents questions on a screen and students select their choice through the click of a button on their handheld device, then displays the results. Wilkins asks students to discuss the class preferences while providing more information. He then asks students to vote again to see how opinions have changed.

Collaboration on the part of both faculty and students define the Problem Solving Workshop. The faculty plan together and share files  regularly. The students team, collaborate and engage actively, building skills essential for effective legal practice.

-Kimberly Hall