Gaming in the Law School Classroom

Lately I’ve been thinking, not just about game theory (one passion of mine), but also about using games in the law school classroom. (And, no, not the usual “mindgames” ;). My research on work and labor & employment law in cyberspace is increasingly looking at the blurring line between work and leisure. As described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we do better work when we enter “flow” states, in which we are totally absorbed by what we are doing, and improve our concentration in the process. If work is meaningless, or unfocused, it can become drudgery. Turn it into a contest, and those same tasks that were earlier a drag can become downright fun. We all inherently know this; we’ve had situations in which the right frame of mind came make even the most boring task enjoyable.

Helping a class review for an exam or paper is no different. Jennifer Martin (Louisville) has set up a wonderful jeopardy template in powerpoint, which she demonstrated at the contracts conference two years ago to great effect. The game is fun and I’ve adapted it for successful use in my contracts class, too. The students enjoy getting into teams and competing for the right answer, meanwhile getting a great end of the semester review. Paul Caron (UC) and Rafael Gely (Mizzou) have written an article about the “clicker technology,” which enables you to poll the class on different multiple choice questions. I was at first hesitant to try this (I wouldn’t have liked a pop quiz every day when I was a student), but when my-then colleague at Cumberland, Ed Martin, convinced me that the students actually liked having concrete and instantaneous feedback, I decided to give it a try. What’s great about the clickers is that it forces the students to engage; they must become active participants in the learning process. My legal writing colleague, Ed Telfeyan, started a “grammar bee” to correct some of those little writing hobgoblins that 1Ls (heck, all of us!) could do better with. I have some other learning games up my sleeve, too, and am curious to see which ones you use (if at all) to spice up your classroom experience.

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8 Responses

  1. Eric Wolff says:

    Forgive me for being a little mocking, but am I to understand that a law school professor demonstrated the innovative teaching technique of using jeopardy to review material at a conference? Cause, I gotta tell ya, not only did I use jeopardy in the high school classes I taught 10 years ago, but I *played* jeopardy for exam review when I was *in* high school, 15 years ago.

    If law school profs think these techniques are innovative, then I think they might consider talking to high school teachers more often. Call a school, ask the principal who his/her most innovative teacher is, and offer to buy that teacher coffee or lunch or something. The teacher will be flattered, and I bet you’ll learn a lot.

  2. Miriam Cherry says:

    Hi, Eric,

    You may or may not be familiar with the “socratic method,” but it’s one of the dominant ways that law is taught in the US. It’s done through a dialogue with an individual student and consists of a series of questions and answers designed to help the students with his/her analytical skills. While some students find this valuable, others react with psychological distress (because it is done through cold-calling, in typically fairly large classes). So there have been calls for modifying this method and for engaging students in more active learning. Maybe appealing to visual, read/write, and kinesthetic learners isn’t new for many in the education field, and so we’re behind the curve in law schools.

    On the last point, I would bet you’re probably right, teachers of various subjects can learn a lot from each other. There were quite a number of high school teachers who were extremely inspiring to me. I’m not sure they were using innovative techniques, but they were excellent classroom teachers nonetheless.

  3. Ed Telfeyan says:

    Eric, et al. –

    Miriam’s post is a valuable contribution to anyone who is in the teaching profession, but it is most clearly relevant to those of us who teach law students.

    The stodgy and intimidating atmosphere represented by Professor Kingsfield in “The Paper Chase” is giving way to a more comfortable environment in which a multitude of approaches — yes, even including resort to games like Jeopardy or a “Grammar Bee” — are welcomed by students. Happily these approaches enhance the learning atmosphere and allow instructors to stay fresh and remain creative, two of the critical aspects of successful teaching at any level.

  4. TRE says:

    The prevalent law school class style is pretty much the opposite of what it should be to maximize learning, so.. yeah.

  5. Eric Wolff says:

    To some extent, this conversation hearkens me back to arguments I’d have with a math professor friend of mine who kept getting bad teaching reviews (he’s gotten better in the intevening years). He’d say, “Eric, you a teacher degree, tell me how I can improve my teaching.” And I’d rattle off ten ideas I’d gotten from various ed classes or mentors. And then he’d say “yeah, those may be OK for high school, but I don’t think they’ll work for college math. I’ll just have to lecture better.” To which I’d respond, “AARG!”

    Look, I get there’s a culture of lecturing and the socratic method in higher and post-graduate education. But that’s only because teaching has traditionally been the lowest priority of on many college profs’ To-Do list, and lecturing is by far the easiest on the teacher, with the Socratic method a close second, especially once the lectures and questions are prepared (When I taught, I used the socratic method often, lecturing only very rarely). What I can tell you is that those two techniques are not employed they’re so hellfire good at educating people.

    The folks who have been focused on teaching methods for decades are grade school teachers, and not just the charismatic ones. Which is why I’ll reiterate what I said earlier: Take a teacher out to lunch. Any competent, experienced teacher will have a dozen tricks up their sleeve on the same order as jeopardy for making exam prep fun. They’ve got a whole bag of tricks for explaining abstract ideas, conveying bulk information, and teaching new skills. I guarantee that by the end of the meal you’ll have five new ways to teach subject materials that you’ve taught the old way for years.

  6. Miriam Cherry says:

    Hi, Eric,

    Sounds like you want a free lunch. When are you available?


  7. Eric Wolff says:


    Heh, who wouldn’t want a free lunch? Alas, I haven’t been a teacher for years now. I left the field to become a journalist, which is what I do now. But I’m sure you could find someone in your town without much trouble.

    – Eric

  8. Miriam Cherry says:

    Oh, well, if you’re a journalist, even better, then I definitely want to buy you lunch…