Like many law teachers, I take reasonable care in selecting the outside materials I require my students to use (or recommend to them) in preparing for class and studying for the exam. I base my choice on my own notions of what would be most helpful to them in learning the material, preparing for class, succeeding on the exam, and preparing to be lawyers. I carefully weigh such matters as length of assignment, interest to the students, and active versus passive learning.
My assessment, however, is based almost entirely on my own notions of what the students will find most interesting and most beneficial. I will, of course, occasionally discuss course materials with my colleagues over lunch, or even more occasionally get an anecdotal report from a student. But I had never really examined the extent of use and the effectiveness of the materials I had been assigning.
The closest I had ever come to doing so was in reviewing the evaluation forms filled out anonymously by all students at the end of the semester. One of the twelve questions on the school's standard form asks students their opinion of “the assigned texts, outside reading and exercises” in the course. I must admit, however, that my greater interest in the other eleven questions, which deal more personally with my performance, and the paucity of information supplied by the students (on most questions and particularly on this one) have conspired to make this exercise less than helpful in evaluating the teaching materials.
In the spring of 1994 I decided to conduct a more systematic review of the teaching materials I assigned in my Evidence class. Mainly I wanted to know to what extent the students were completing assignments in each of the materials; why they were or were not completing the assignments; and to what extent, if any, did completing the assignments improve their performance.
The results of the study gave me some interesting answers. More important, conducting the study and discovering that very few similar studies have been published in the law school context have convinced me that we law professors need to do more systematic research into student use of the materials we assign and their effectiveness.
The Use and Effectiveness of Various Learning Materials in an Evidence Class, 46 J. Legal Educ. 101 (1996)