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10 Law Tchr. 1 (2002-2003)

handle is hein.journals/lawteaer10 and id is 1 raw text is: GONZAGA

Institute for Law School Teaching

Fall 2002

Collaboration on examinations
By Douglas R. Haddock

During the past 15 years, in almost all of my exams, I
have used a simple process designed to make
examinations a learning experience as well as
a means of evaluating performance. About two weeks
before classes end, I distribute to students a document
titled Information on Facts and Law. I present a story
that involves a fair amount of detail with the potential
for numerous legal questions and disputes relevant to the
subject matter of the course. The document also contains
a variety of statements about the law and usually includes
a number of pertinent statutes. I inform students that most
of the examination problems will be based on the facts and
legal doctrine presented. I encourage students to study the
document in preparation for the exam and to ponder what
legal questions and problems might arise. Students take this
advice seriously and often become engaged in the process,
preparing for real examination problems in a meaningful
way. In studying and discussing the material with other
members of the class, students create and work through
their own problems and thereby gain a better sense of the
subjects they have studied. Many students, I believe, find
this focused and creative review the most valuable learning
experience of the semester, one that takes them far beyond
what I can cover in a three-hour examination.
In recent years, going a step beyond this focused
and creative review, I have given a number of take-home
examinations in which students have been allowed to col-
laborate. On two occasions, I set no limits on the number of
students who were permitted to work together. In other ex-
ams, I have limited the size of the groups. In no case have I
required students to work with others on the exam, although
some colleagues have suggested that I should. Based on
student response, I have come to the tentative conclusion
that collaborative exams can be effective in helping many
students better learn legal theory and doctrine and develop
the skills involved in resolving legal problems. I allowed
collaboration in the final exams for my first-year Property I
and II classes in 2001-2002. In the fall of 2001, however, I
divided the exam into two parts, allowing collaboration on
only half of the exam.
Concerns about Collaboration on Exams

The prospect of allowing law students to collaborate on
final examinations presents some issues for both the profes-
sor and the students. My primary concern is that the process
presumably compromises, to some degree, the evaluative
function of exams. When groups of individuals are graded
on the basis of a collaborative effort, some students' grades
will be different from the grades those individuals would
have received working alone. This criticism, usually stated
in terms of a free-rider problem, is the main one voiced
by students. This is a significant concern, and it is one
reason I combined collaboration and individual work in
my fall semester exam this year. Based on conversations
with students after that fall semester exam, however, I am
concerned that this might have created an undesirable group
dynamic. I would have more reservations if most or all of
the students' grades in any given semester were based on
collaborative work. In this sense, perhaps I am a free-rider
among my colleagues.
I don't know whether there is any way to establish
empirically the effect of collaboration on grades, but I have
gathered some pertinent and interesting information. For
the fall semester exam in 2000 I compared the Property
grades of each of my students with the grades they received
in three other first-year courses. Of 156 students (two sec-
tions), I identified 14 examples of potentially significant
deviation between the grades students received in Property
compared with the grades they received in other courses.
The test I used for potentially significant deviation was
this: The Property grade in these examples was at least
three grade levels lower or higher than any grade the student

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