‘Flipping the Classroom’ Enriches Clinical Seminar Courses, Lester Says

Tameka E. Lester, clinical assistant professor and associate director of the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, took a unique approach to maximize clinic lectures and further engage students. She and her colleague in the clinic “flipped the classroom” by taking the lecture component online – for review before class.

“When we talk about the traditional clinical experience, an integral part of the discussion is the clinical seminar course,” Lester said. “The learning curve is steep and students have to master material very quickly and apply it to actual client situations – often while simultaneously learning the material. We recognized a need to present course information in a meaningful way that would have the biggest and most profound impact on students.”

Using Microsoft PowerPoint Office Mix, Lester recorded lectures on recurring or special topics for students to view, at their own pace. The recordings include exercises to help students prepare for simulations that mirror cases or hearings. During class, students walk through exercises, with Lester and other supervising attorneys posing different questions, and discuss additional strategies and practical implications, providing context for client interactions.

 “By taking the lecture out of the classroom, we can spend more time on practice-based exercises, fact patterns and hypothetical work,” Lester said. “Students get a much deeper understanding of the material, almost as if they had worked on an actual case.”

Also, since the lectures are recorded, students can reference them at any time and use them as a resource for clinic work when issues arise in cases.

At first glance, the model may seem to be more work than the traditional approach, since it requires more prep time outside of class. However, Lester says students quickly realize the benefit.

“The response to the model has been overwhelmingly positive. After the first few classes, students see how the work they put in on the front end, watching the recordings and completing the exercises, helps on the back end. They have more classroom time to devote to case work and discussing issues,” she said.

Ashley Alexandria Eady (J.D. ’18) finds the “flipped” approach beneficial in learning clinic material.

“The best part about the clinic is the combination of the classroom component and the practical portion where we can apply classroom knowledge to real cases. Having access to recorded lectures was helpful – as was the ability to pause or rewind. I felt prepared to attack the practice problems and contribute to our classroom discussions,” Eady said. “Between the recorded lectures, the classroom component, weekly rapid-fire case rounds, and supervising attorney status check meetings, students are truly immersed in tax knowledge and the learning never stops.”

Other law schools are taking notice, as well. Lester presented the “flipped” model at the American Association of Law School (AALS) Clinical Legal Education Section’s conference in May and at the Southern Clinical Conference in October 2016.

“Attendees thought the approach was great,” Lester said. “They were really complimentary on how well they thought the model worked and were interested in trying it with their own students.”

The clinic plans to re-purpose the course content by adding the recorded lectures to the Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic website as a resource for the low-income taxpayer clinic community.