Court Observation and Report
Kerin E. Coughlin
Law and Paralegal Sudies/ SPS
Activity Description: Provide a brief description of the activity
Students will attend and observe a civil trial or hearing in a New York civil trial court (such as New York Supreme Court) for at least two hours, alone or in small groups. After the observation, each student shall:
1. post a short reaction on our course OpenLab site (to be constructed), as a preview of what they learned and to provide guidance and encouragement to fellow students who have not yet completed their observations, e.g., to note positive responses they received from court staff, or days/times when many trials and hearings occur, or future proceedings students may want to attend; etc.; and
2. draft a letter to a client of the (imaginary) law firm for which the student works, who will soon participate in the New York civil court system for the first time as a party to a litigation. The purpose of the letter is to prepare the client for her/his experience by explaining how our civil court system works and what the client should expect, based on the student’s knowledge obtained in our course and her/his observation of the proceeding; and
3. give a 3-5 minute oral presentation about her/his observation to the class.
Learning Goals: What do you aim to achieve with this activity?
Students will conduct independent research to identify and locate a court proceeding to observe, and to learn individual courts’ and judges’ rules (e.g., if cell phones are permitted, etc.).
1. Students’ thinking about their academic and career goals will be informed, including by:
o witnessing first-hand what one type of legal practice in which they will probably work at some point – civil litigation – is really like; and
o interacting with legal practitioners and court employees.
2. Students will be able to relate what they learned in the classroom (e.g., rules of civil court procedure) to actual practice. Hopefully, this will enable them to recognize/appreciate the reasons behind such rules and other concepts we have learned.
3. Students will be able to communicate what they have observed and learned to others, orally and in writing.
4. Students will come to appreciate the value of teamwork in learning, including by encouraging other students and benefiting from others’ encouragement.
5. Students will achieve an understanding and appreciation of what it means that courts are a “public entity,” through the experience of being fully entitled to enter a courthouse and attend proceedings freely.
Timing: At what point in the lesson or semester do you use this activity? How much classroom time do you devote to it? How much out-of-class time is expected?
I will reference this activity at the beginning of the semester, as a preview. I will introduce it in detail at the start of the second half of the semester, after we have covered a significant amount of the curriculum. Students must complete the assignment by a few weeks before the end of the semester.
I will devote about one total class session (1.25 hours) to assigning and providing guidance on the activity: about half a class when I first assign it, and occasional discussions thereafter as needed (e.g., if students bring issues to my attention that warrant addressing with the whole class.). I will also spend as much time as needed outside class working with individual students on the assignment. At the end of the semester, we will devote 2-3 class sessions to students’ oral presentations on their observations. Students are expected to devote 5 to 8 hours of out-of-class time, including researching and identifying proceedings to observe; observing proceedings for at least two hours; drafting OpenLab posts and letters; and preparing oral presentations.
Logistics: What preparation is needed for this activity? What instructions do you give students? Is the activity low-stakes, high-stakes, or something else?
Preparation includes general instruction throughout the semester on civil court procedural rules (the topic of the course) and specific instruction on the activity (described above, under “Timing”). Instructions include a detailed handout (letter to students) and oral discussions with the class and with individual students (also described under “Timing”).
High-Impact Educational Practices: Which of these practices based on George Kuh’s High Impact Educational Practices (and other innovative approaches) does this activity incorporate? Choose all that apply.
First-year seminars and experiences, Service- or community-based learning, Place-Based Learning, Collaborative assignments and projects, Diversity and global learning (“difficult differences”)
Assessment: How do you assess this activity? What assessment measures do you use? Do you use a VALUE rubric? If not, how did you develop your rubric? Is your course part of the college-wide general education assessment initiative?
I will assess this activity by evaluating students’ OpenLab posts, letters, and oral presentations, according to rubrics to be established. Evaluation will be included in grade calculation.
Reflection: How well did this activity work in your classroom? Would you repeat it? Why or why not? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you address them? What, if anything, would you change? What did students seem to enjoy about the activity?
These issues will be addressed after I have used the assignment with my students.
Additional Information: Please share any additional comments and further documentation of the activity – e.g. assignment instructions, rubrics, examples of student work, etc. These could be in the form of PDF or Word files, links to posts or files on the OpenLab, etc.