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Elon Law hosts workshop on learning transfer

Elon Law recently hosted a two-day visit from law scholar Tonya Kowalski, professor of law at Washburn University School of Law.  

Law scholar and teacher Tonya Kowalski presents at Elon University School of Law

Kowalski has written and spoken widely on learning transfer and collaborations between legal writing and clinical faculty. On May 8, Kowalski met for a lunchtime presentation and conversation with approximately thirty invited guests from Elon and other North Carolina law schools.

In her scholarship, Kowalski says that, “research in ‘transfer of learning’ offers the legal academy tools to help students encode knowledge – whether doctrine or skills – in such a way that they know better when and how to retrieve it for later use.” Referring to learning transfer as “the mother of all speed bumps,” Kowalski discussed her research on the challenges faced by teachers and students as students struggle to transfer knowledge from one context to another. She then facilitated a discussion about the various ways that law professors teach students how to organize a discussion of a legal issue: Teaching IRAC: What Do We Tell Our Students and What Do They Hear? Facilitating the Transfer of Learning Across the Law School Curriculum.

On May 9, Kowalski conducted a workshop for Elon’s legal writing and clinical faculty, all of whom teach experiential courses that require students to produce legal documents in real or simulated cases. Faculty members discussed ways in which the pedagogy used in the first-year legal writing classes can be used in upper level externships and legal clinics to help students transfer knowledge from the first-year course to their later work with clients. By the end of the day, the Elon faculty had begun to develop a common language that can be used throughout a student’s legal education to increase knowledge transfer from one class to the next, from one year to the next and from law school into practice.

Elon Law professors Margaret Kantlehner and Catherine Wasson organized Kowalski’s visit. Elon University’s Writing Excellence Initiative (WEI) supported the visit with a grant. Announced in the spring of 2013, the WEI is a five-year, university-wide initiative designed to prepare every Elon student to: (1) write to learn, (2) write in a discipline and (3) write as a citizen. Wasson, the director of Elon Law’s Legal Method & Communication program, served on the Elon committee that developed the WEI. During the first year of the WEI, legal writing and clinical faculty at the law school have worked with Paul Anderson, Elon’s Director of Writing Across the University, to develop comprehensive course objectives and desired writing outcomes for several writing and clinical courses. They are now developing assessment criteria that can be used to evaluate student learning and guide course planning.

Elon Law will kick off the second year of the five-year WEI initiative with a writing “boot camp” for faculty and staff. The day-long program, organized by Elon Law Faculty Development Committee chair David Levine and Anderson, is designed to support the scholarship and professional writing of all law school faculty and staff.

Philip Craft,
6/5/2014 5:40 PM