Learning Curve

Flipping the Bar Classroom

AASE

AASE Team

Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs


For the past few years, I have co-taught a pre-bar course for students in their final semester. The course covers some heavily tested doctrine, as well as the academic and test-taking skills needed to succeed on the essay, multiple-choice, and performance components of the bar exam.  In order to deliver the doctrinal material, we gave lectures based off of outlines from a commercial bar review course. While we tried to mirror the traditional bar review lecture style of following the outline closely, we did permit questions during the lectures. Additionally, we interspersed practice questions throughout the lectures, and gave many examples. The result, (I like to think), was that students walked out of class with a fairly good understanding of the rules. The downside, of course, was that we didn’t accurately reflect the actual experience of commercial bar review lectures, which are not interactive, even when students choose to attend live lectures. Additionally, while we tried to do MBEs and/or essays in every class, we often spent so much time on the doctrine that we were unable to do as much in-class practice as we would have liked to do. ​
This year, we decided to flip the classroom, and turn it into a distance-learning course. While we still meet once per week (as opposed to our traditional twice per week), the course is more than 1/3rd asynchronous, which means it meets the ABA’s definition of a distance-learning course.1 We purchased outlines from SmartBarPrep for each student. I then made my own video lectures working from those outlines. I made the lectures in PowerPoint by narrating slideshows, and exported them into a video file. (Although I use a Mac, I had our IT department install Parallels on my computer so that I could export PowerPoint files into a movie file, as that is only possible on Windows. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably just create narrated slides in Keynote and export those into video files instead of bothering with Windows on my Mac.)  As the SmartBarPrep outlines are fairly truncated, I included examples throughout the lectures. I also used graphics to illustrate more complex points, but as I have absolutely no graphic design skills, the illustrations are a very rudimentary combination of clipart that I found through a Creative Commons search2 and PowerPoint animations. I did not include any fancy animation software or high-tech graphic design programs. The result is boring, but seemingly effective, bar-type lecture videos. The videos are not exactly like commercial bar review lectures as they feature only a voiceover narration of slides, and do not depict me delivering lectures at a podium, as most commercial bar review videos do.

I spent a most of the summer creating the videos. It took me a few weeks to figure out what software to use and what my process would be. Once I got it down, I could make a few videos per week. Still, it took me at least two months to get them all done (on top of my other responsibilities). Our Office of Disability Services is currently helping me add closed captioning to all of them. (YouTube captions fairly well, but definitely requires editing.) Once I got the hang of how to structure and produce the videos, I was able to make them relatively quickly. It would have gone even more quickly if I had developed a script for each one, as is best practice, instead of using the outline and adlibbing explanations, examples, and bar exam tips. I posted all of the videos on a playlist on YouTube.3 The videos vary in length from two and a half minutes to fourteen minutes. The longer videos are bar overview videos, such as a video on the MBE and a video on bar study planning. The doctrinal videos are generally under ten minutes in length. Students are typically assigned to watch 4-5 videos for each class.

In order to make sure the students do more than press play and walk away, I also created multiple-choice questions that accompany each of the doctrinal videos. The questions are not as complex as MBE questions. Instead, they are designed to highlight critical doctrinal points. In order to have the questions easily accessible alongside the videos, I uploaded all of the videos onto TedEd.4 Students are required to create free TedEd accounts in order to watch the videos and complete the questions. If they are unsure of an answer, the question points them to the place in the video that discusses the relevant rule. The TedEd platform also allows me to see who has viewed the videos and answered the questions. I keep track of which students have not watched the videos for each class period, as completion of this work factors into a students’ participation grade for the course.

Students have generally responded positively to the videos. They are able to watch them on their own time, and at their own pace. Through YouTube’s analytics, I am able to see points in each video where students tend to pause and rewind. I have also created a discussion forum on TWEN where students can ask doctrinal questions before (or after) class, so that they can come to class ready to work. TedEd also has a discussion board option.

In class, as is typical for the flipped classroom model, we focus on essays, MBEs, MPTs, and other skill-building activities. Requiring that students come to class prepared to dive in mimics the work they will do during the bar study period, where they have to figure out how to learn from outlines and videos, and will have to develop a system for memorizing large amounts of material. It also allows us to have rich conversations about the essays, MBEs, and MPTs, whereas in previous iterations of the course, students were largely doing that work at home. While they received individual feedback, they did not get the benefit of in-depth discussion about practice questions they have just completed. This method allows them to easily see where others are struggling, and can provide comfort as students generally struggle with similar issues.

The method is not perfect, and the videos definitely lack production quality. I’m not convinced it is the most pedagogically effective method, though it does mirror bar exam prep, which is a major goal of the course. Additionally, I miss having the students more than once a week. Even with a substantial number of credits, having class only once per week means that the course inevitably falls to the back burner, as students focus on what is in front of them more frequently.

Yet, overall I think the change has been positive. Requiring students to work harder outside of class to understand the doctrine helps me emphasize what I do best as a bar support professional – focus on exam skills. We have been able to have more discussions regarding issue spotting, essay structure, and why wrong answers are wrong. I am hopeful that these bigger picture concepts will help students as they enter the bar study period, more than focusing primarily on doctrine during class time. I also expect that the extra work they have to do during the semester to become accustomed to learning through videos and outlines will ease their transition into bar study. This model has also made the class more enjoyable to teach, and I hope that my enthusiasm has transferred to the students and made the class more enjoyable for them as well.

ENDNOTES

  1. 12018-2019 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Chapter 3: Program of Legal Education, Standard 306 Distance Education, AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION, available at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/standards/
  2. Creative Commons Search, https://search.creativecommons.org/.
  3. You can view the playlist here: https://tinyurl.com/CoreDoctrinePlaylist.
  4. TedED Lessons Worth Sharing, https://ed.ted.com
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