Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Week 7: Mid-Term Exams Required Some Flexibility on My Part

Best-Laid Plans 
of Mice and Men . . . .

This week, I had planned to take students through a second CREAC exercise to get them ready for the CREAC Test later in the week.

I wrote a new exercise that was more similar to the problem the students would analyze on the test.  They would apply Qatari trade name and trademark law to two restaurants using a very similar trade name: "The Oryx Diner" and "The Oryx Diner on-the-Go."  

At the beginning of the week, I ran through about 50 of the slides I had prepared. Before you gasp in horror, please know that 50 percent of each slide is a photo or other image.  I still had about 20 more slides to discuss before students would feel more confident about the CREAC Test.

In the meantime, many of the students had four or more exams this week.  They were feeling overwhelmed, over-worked, and a little hopeless.  

Because of some scheduling issues, students in my afternoon class had exams scheduled during my class! So, they were missing the test prep I was providing. Then, I learned that half of them had another exam scheduled the same day I planned to give my CREAC Test.

At that point, I surrendered to the situation.  I offered both male and female students the opportunity to take the test next week when their mid-term exam schedule begins to quiet. 

The relief they expressed almost had a tangible quality to it.  If I had made the announcement in a Facebook video, you would have seen those images of a thumbs up and hearts floating across the page.  I had made myself their hero.

As an ADR expert, I was mindful that I had my own interests at stake.  I needed to give students a chance to integrate the lessons and apply them in some homework before the CREAC Test.  I wanted their first drafts of their first CREAC to be reasonably successful.  It makes my life a lot easier during the second half of the semester. 

Not only that, I really did not want to grade a bunch of exams right before I took off for my trip to Australia for an ADR conference.

In short, I met many non-competing interests in postponing the exam.  Win-win, blah, blah, blah . . . .

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week 6: Finally Writing a CREAC

Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Application, and Conclusion

I've talked about it for three weeks.  CREAC this and CREAC that.  Now, it's time for the students to write their first legal analysis using this format.  Baby steps. We will do it together.

I have an exercise, based on the post-9/11 U.S. Patriot Act, that involves the effort of our "client" to bring onto an aircraft two sharpened pencils, knitting needles, and nail polish remover.  Are they prohibited dangerous weapons?  At the start of class, students are skeptical. How can these household items be weapons?  

Then, in a dramatic demonstration, I light the nail polish remover on fire, jab the pencils towards the eyes of the nearest student (safely of course), and hold a thin knitting needle near the sternum of another student.

Oh! Now the analysis becomes real. 

The fun part is teaching them how to do the Application, where students compare the facts of the "illustrative case" to our client's facts.  Last year, I started using a T-Chart to help them organize the analysis.  It worked better than I ever expected.  

They practice one more time, with my help, before they are tested on the CREAC structure in Week 7. 

These are the days when I get to see my students' brains work.  I just love it! 

Week 5: The Professor Learns Some Lessons

Working Harder to Create Student Engagement

Qatar University has a very rigorous faculty evaluation program.  Once a year, we must upload a boat load of class-related data to a platform called Digital Measures.  The grousing among faculty members during this "upload" week is extensive, me included.

As part of the process, we must submit a reflection on the past year -- something I enjoy. We also must submit a plan for professional development in the coming year. This year I promised to use the peer-evaluation process offered by OFID (Office of Faculty and Instructional Development).  

Dr. Chris Stryker typically makes these class room visits and evaluations.  Chris, an American with a long history at QU, was great in providing feedback, both in writing and in our conversation after class. I am thankful that most of the feedback was very positive. But he dinged me on creating student engagement. "Ask more, tell less!," as his evaluation notes say. 

In the US, teaching Alternative Dispute Resolution with a curriculum I designed, I was able to create more active learning and student engagement in each class.  Short lecture followed by an activity and then a de-briefing.

Here, I inherited a curriculum design, which I greatly appreciated.  But, I have struggled with the first five weeks of the course in which we do a lot of what I call "content dump," mostly through long lectures. 

I knew Chris was coming last week, so I suggested he attend the regular class or two different labs.  I had two terrific active learning exercises planned for the labs -- the meeting with the partner and the client interview.  But, the regular class was designed as another long lecture.  I had my fingers crossed that he would choose one of the labs.  Instead, he said he would attend the regular class because the labs met so late in the day. 

I gave that long lecture on Sunday to my female class. I had low energy (the class meets from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and the room was hot.  At the end of it, I told the students that it was the "most boring lecture I had ever given," and I would never give it again. 

True to my promise, that evening I redesigned the class in anticipation of Chris' visit.  Even so, he dinged me on student engagement. During our de-briefing he suggested several ways to change my techniques.  Basically, he wanted me to provide less answers to questions.  Instead, I needed to make the students work harder to answer the questions themselves.

He also suggested that I:

  • Avoid one-on-one interactions. 
  • Activate student memory to increase engagement.
  • Respond better to changes in student attentiveness. Consider using more breaks to "reset" attention.
  • Avoid giving extensions of time on assignments.
  • Let the male students debate and voice opinions. They love that. 
  • Rebroadcast answers by saying: "Salah, what do you think Hassan meant when he said . . . .?"
  • Consider sitting down with students to create a circle of conversation.
  • Create a phone use policy (and enforce it).
  • Have students read and parse the slides.
  • Specifically cue information students should include in their notes.
  • Add drama and overplay my behavior.
  • Make first hour of class more fast paced and energized. 
  • Use a more authoritarian approach with the male students who will take a mile, if given an inch.
  • Use group work.
  • End with a bang, not a whimper.

I am putting these suggestions here so I can refer to them easily in the future. 

To implement a number of his suggestions, I need to be more selective about the topics we cover in class and the depth of coverage of each topic.  I need to create more time for pure exploration on the part of students.

I find comfort in knowing that the coming weeks will be a lot more interesting for me and the students. The curriculum finally allows for that. 

But, I am thankful Chris attended one of the classes I find most challenging.  And, I have asked if I can see him teach.  That may give me some more concrete examples of ways to foster more student engagement. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Week 5: The Client Interview

Getting Students to Think Like Baby Lawyers

In lab this week, students conducted an interview of our client.  As I noted in my last posting, my good friend, Jessica, played the role of Fatma Alhamad, the co-owner of three gourmet chocolate shops in Qatar. She and her husband, Mohammed, want a competitor to quit using the same trade name, "The Chocolate Drops," and a similar trademark in his own chocolate shop business.  That's the basic outline of the simulation.

To supplement these facts, I have provided students with memos either from me or the "senior associate" about the client, the alleged infringer, and the chocolate industry. With this background information, I required them to draft ten questions for the client.  

The exercise helps students develop listening, note-taking, summarizing, strategic planning, and questioning skills. 

The students in the male section met first with the client.  I was excited to see that most of the students asked questions.  Most of the questions were quite good. They still need to work on listening skills.  I could tell because they often asked the same question twice.  In other words, they were not listening to each other or to the client's answer. 

The students in the female section went next. But, because they are a more introverted group, we discussed possible questions using the outline shown below.  With that help, they also did a great job of interviewing the client.

Jessica is a talented role-player and comes up with ideas I would not consider.  She is good about integrating technology in the simulation by giving facts tied to Facebook reviews, Snapchat and Instagram photos, and misdirection to the competitor's store caused by the use of Google Maps.  

I've told students that they are beginning to see how the rules of the applicable law shape the facts you hope to get -- no pray for -- from the client.  When you get a good fact, you want to kiss it. 

This week, they will continue to summarize the interview using their notes and the client-related memos they already have.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Week 4: The Fun Begins

Meeting with the "Partner"

This week I began distributing to students legal memos on "firm" letterhead. The firm name is: Suliman, Alwahaibi & Young, LL.C. 

The first memo, one of three to date, described my initial meeting with the "clients," Fatma and Mohammed Alhamad.  They own a specialty chocolate shop at three different locations in Doha.  A competitor is using the same trade name and a similar logo.  The trade name is "The Chocolate Drops."
The second memo provided some background information on the competitor and the competing product line, store, trade name, and trademark.  The third memo asked the students, playing the role of "junior associates," to attend a meeting with me, playing the law firm "partner." You see, I need to give them their legal research and writing assignments. 

Next week, the will get another memo from the "senior associate," Maryam, who will describe the chocolate industry, which I learned uses child labor on cocoa farms in Africa. Students will focus on this client simulation for the remaining weeks of the semester.

I try to dole out the client file in a way similar to actual practice. It evolves over time as a lawyer does more factual research. 

I want them to begin to understand how the law and facts interact.  I want them to begin to think of the facts that they need in order to make a case for trade name and trademark infringement under Qatari law. 

In the last lab of Week 4 (painfully scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday), my male students met with the partner (me) to discuss the assignment.  I gave them a scaffold for listening to the meeting. Afterwards, they summarized the meeting for a possible score of 2 points. 

First, I had to explain the staffing structure of law firms. Many of them did not understand the concept of a law firm partner and won't experience law firm practice until their externship during their last semester as an undergraduate law student. I drew a pyramid and then explained that the work flows down from partner to junior associate; the money flows up from associate billings to partner profits. They got that and smiled. 

Of course students were nervous. I doubt any other law school class creates this type of active learning exercise for them. Last semester, I noticed that by the third meeting with a guest role-player, students got very good about asking questions.They now understood the game and its purpose. We will see if these new students also gain confidence over the arc of the course.  

Next week, they interview the "client," who is played by my friend and colleague, Jessica. Later still, they will interview a "confused consumer" played by my driver, Ashif. I love how these role-players interpret the roles. They often make me laugh out loud in class with delight at their creativity. Ashif was a little off-balance when he first faced a room of lovely Qatari women. Even so, he did a terrific job. In fact, last semester, one student thought it was all real. 

In the meantime, I got some blazingly smart questions from about five male students who are emerging as intellectual class leaders. Today, I will send them an email showing them I was paying attention.  I love to see brains work. 

Next week, I meet with the female students to give them their assignment.  I hope they are equally engaged with the simulation. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Week 3: Learning to Brief a Case

The Week of Chester, the Parrot

Students are still enrolling in the course. So, we continue to provide background information as everyone continues to settle in.  This week we covered some important topics, but mostly through lecture (my least favorite way to teach).  

We cover:

  • Primary versus secondary sources of law. 
  • Binding versus persuasive precedent in the common law system.
  • The Qatari legal system and the role of case law.
  • The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Center.
  • Case briefing.
  • The professional value of competence as a lawyer.
  • What a partner or a judge expects from a lawyer's writing.
  • Bracket use in quotations.
  • Ellipses dot use in quotations.
  • And, how to read and brief a case carefully.
It's ambitious coverage, and I often wonder how much of it they really understand. Luckily, we cover it several times throughout this course and the required Legal Writing II course.

We use Conti vs. ASPCA as the first case students work with and brief.  A New York judge ruled on who owns a parrot, Chester, that escaped captivity.  It must decide if the parrot is a wild, tamed, or domesticated animal.  If a wild animal, the new owner gets to keep the parrot.  If the parrot is tamed or domesticated, the original owner deserves its return.  

I like working with this case.  My slides feature the back story on four cited cases involving a diamond ring, a sea lion, geese, and a canary. I do a lot of pantomime.

The Conti case helps students begin to understand rule synthesis in a common law tradition.  They struggle with the idea of cases as precedent.  But, I am getting better at offering them support by providing more scaffolding for their work.  They respond better if they know exactly what I want. I guess all students do. 

This week, I asked students to read the case out loud, with each student reading a paragraph.  It helps me assess their English language reading skills.  About a third of the class, struggles with the reading.  Nearly all the students stumble over the Latin-origin English words: received, reviewed, asserted, decided   . . . .

And, it is hard to know how much of spoken English they understand.  They consume a lot of U.S. media, especially movies. But, they still have limited vocabularies. As we build trust, they may take up my invitation to ask when they do not understand a word I have used.

In light of these communication barriers, I am even more focused on multiple information absorption styles.  I give them readings, charts, photos (lots of photos), short lectures, buzz group discussion work, fun online quizzes, and video to try to close the communication gap.  

I cannot end this post without saying that these students have very good listening skills.  I wonder if they are part of a story-telling tradition that some folks say enhances this information absorption style. The brain builds for it at a young age.