In a recent Educause Review article, John Seely Brown and Richard Adler write that becoming a master in a field involves a process of both “learning about” a subject and “learning to be” a practitioner of that field. Typically, in the early years of a curriculum, students spend a lot of time mastering content, but the important work of “learning to be”–or practicing the methods of the discipline–is left until the end. When we save experiential elements such as internships or research until the final stages of a curriculum, we miss an important opportunity to engage students early with some of the most complex and compelling aspects of our discipline.
How might we flip curricula in order to create more front-loaded experiences that engage students in “learning to be” earlier in their course of study? The U-M Law School offers one example. In a traditional law school curriculum, first-year students’ schedules are largely filled with doctrinal courses, which inform students about case law precedents in fields like contracts and criminal law. Only in the second year at the earliest do students usually engage in simulations, applied exercises, and clinics, where they represent real clients and practice lawyering skills in an applied setting.
Last year the U-M Law School engaged in an experiment to reverse this sequence of learning experiences. They now engage second-term, first-year students (1Ls) in activities that allow them to start practicing and thinking like a lawyer earlier. The Unemployment Insurance Clinic (UIC), directed by Steve Gray, provides an opportunity for 1Ls to work with real clients on administrative law cases. Second- and third-year students (2Ls and 3Ls) serve as mentors, to supplement Gray’s supervision of their work. Students work with clients, puzzle together through litigation strategy, and take the lead in administrative hearings.