Late this past summer, I had the privilege of visiting UMKC's Tech Classroom for a demonstration of Tidebreak's Class Spot and Team Spot software. I was immediately intrigued with the idea that the venue and software might give me the tools for something I have been wanting to try in my course on Health Care Regulation: teaching regulatory research as part of teaching the substance of the Affordable Care Act. After all, the regulatory floodgates have opened. Each day brings more notices of promulgation of rules, notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), and notices of intended future rulemaking under the ACA than any one person could possibly assimilate.
So, this year, when I assigned an ACA regulatory comments project, I incorporated two sessions in the Tech Classroom into the project. Instead of giving my students a regulatory comment assignment with neatly packaged leads to useful materials and instructions on how to access them, I decided to have them mimic more authentically the experience of practice, where assignments often do not come neatly pre-organized and partially digested.
In addition, I wanted to experiment with my idea that a course on regulation should try to teach advanced legal research skills using the substance of the course to inform the legal research instruction. That means I decided to back off and give my students the NPRMs of a few proposed ACA regulations and some coaching on the collaborative project of identifying where the information useful to commenting on them may be found. I think of our time in the Tech Classroom as a sort of ACA regulatory treasure hunt.
What is different about collaboration software, and using it in UMKC's Tech Classroom, is that it is not teaching by demonstration as much as coaching my students through a collaborative exercise in learning by doing. The classroom has a podium, a large screen, and a projector but the students bring their laptops to four person collaborative working tables, each with its own wall screen where they may share with each other and collaborate on their regulatory research. That way, I can move from table to table and screen to screen and (with the help of the Tech Classroom) move a group's work to the main screen for the rest of the class to review, embellish, or correct.
My students — all motivated upper level students who have chosen to study health care regulation at the much-coveted 9:00AM hour — were good natured about the few minutes it took to load the sharing software. They seemed to enjoy the treasure hunt aspect of the assignments and the fact that, working collaboratively, meant that noone got left behind. Almost everyone in the classroom had a question. I think I heard almost every voice in class this week. They were engaged.
Of course, this was labor intensive. I thank Paul Callister, Michael Robak, and Jeff Henderson for their generosity in training me, backing me up, and trouble shooting problems. I did have to invest training time and, of course, sacrifice more conventional classroom time to this project. And I am fortunate that UMKC has a Tech Classroom where I may experiment.
Now the students move on to more fully researching and then drafting their comments to various ACA NPRMs. The assignment, in its totality, has just begun. But I would do this aspect — what I call learning to take a drink of water from a fire hydrant — again in a heartbeat. Only, I hope I would do it better.