Tuesday, September 3, 2013

With Evidence, Balancing Coverage and Class Time

By Associate Professor Kevin Lapp

This is one of a series of guest posts on teaching Evidence at EvidenceProf Blog.

A comment by Frederick Moss to a prior post raised the important question of coverage in an Evidence course. Even for those with the luxury of 4 credit hours each week, there simply isn't enough class time to cover the material and accomplish all that might be accomplished in a law school course.  I'm happy to entertain thoughts on what content gets bumped when the clock is running out - burdens of proof; trial mechanics; the best evidence rule; authentication; scientific evidence. Personally, I haven't yet found room for a one-hour lesson on the limits of eyewitness testimony, which I would love to add to my course.

But coverage is not just a content issue. As the push for more practical training continues (a push I endorse), there is no reason for doctrinal courses to ignore practice skills. Indeed, in these leaner times, doctrinal courses may be the best place to insert practical training into the curriculum. And in my mind, the Evidence course is a perfect place for law school to include lawyering skills alongside the learning of fundamental doctrine. I'm trying to incorporate some skills mini-exercises throughout my course (such as in-role oral arguments in class, and short writing assignments akin to motions in limine), but making time for those requires bumping topics that I already decided couldn't get bumped.

One solution to this problem is what Burt Neuborne was doing with his Evidence class at NYU when I was there as a Lawyering professor: NYU offered a 5-credit Evidence course alternative to a limited number of students, and that extra credit hour each week was devoted to skills exercises that put the rules in motion. I'd love to teach such a course here at Loyola.

But not everyone will have such an opportunity to add a skills credit hour, and even where it could be offered, it couldn't be offered to 100 students at once. A solution I am putting into use this year is to flip the classroom on occasion.

A flipped classroom is one where the traditional "lecture in class; problems as homework" structure is flipped. Instead, students watch a video of a lecture as homework, freeing up classroom time for a fuller exploration of problems and interactive exercises. The issue right now is what lecture material makes the best sense for this treatment. Some of the material on trial mechanics that I cover in my first 2 classes, like 611, 614 and 615, as well as some basic introductory material to units on character and expert witnesses, is going to be the first place I experiment with flipping the classroom.

I don't aim to make 55 minute lectures. The plan is to have a series of 10-20 minute lectures that deliver more straight-forward material. The videos wouldn't completely replace the coverage of that material in class, but hopefully will limit the classtime spent on dry, informative lecturing. It may not free up an entire hour or two to let me add a class on eyewitness testimony, but it will certainly allow for a better use of our limited classroom time, be it by getting a little deeper into the material or including a skills exercise here and there. Having my students leave with a better handle on the rules, and a first-hand sense of what it means to argue Evidence issues as a lawyer, will certainly be worth the awkwardness of videotaping myself giving a lecture to no one.

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