The Socratic method of education, based on an interactive question-and-answer style classroom, has long been a staple in legal education. In the country of Georgia, a small group of professors have been working with Gonzaga Law professors Gerry Hess and, more recently, Megan Ballard, through the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning in an effort to bring the Socratic method and other interactive legal education to the lecture-based educational paradigm in their country.
Changing Legal Education Paradigms
In Georgia, where legal education is an undergraduate course of study, the model is one of straightforward lecturing. Students are rarely given any homework, there is no interactivity, and students are expected only to sit, listen, and learn. Though the USAID-funded Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project, which has been working with the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, a small group of Georgian law professors have been training for the last two years to be peer trainers in Socratic-method and other interactive modes of education.
The ILTL in Georgia
In 2011, the United States Department of State Agency for International Development funded the Judicial Independence and Legal Empowerment Project for Georgia through Washburn University. The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning, which is a shared project between Gonzaga Law and Washburn University, has spent the last two years developing the Georgian Legal Education curriculum. For the past year, the focus has been on a train-the-trainers course of study for a select group of Georgian professors. In May 2012, Gerry Hess of Gonzaga and Michael Hunter Schwartz of Washburn, ILTL Co-Directors, conducted a week-long training program focusing on course design and teaching methods. Approximately 12-15 Georgian law professors attended the training, and the feedback from the Georgians was uniformly enthusiastic.
Demonstrating Effective Teaching Methods
In May of 2013, after an intensive workshop, the ILTL-trained peer educators presented at a two-day conference held at the Free University of Tbilisi. “By all accounts, the conference was a success,” said Professor Megan Ballard. Ballard was invited to Georgia to present on the best methods of evaluation of interactive teaching. “While there may be cultural differences in how students learn, I doubt that straightforward lecturing is very effective in any culture. This workshop and conference was a chance to demonstrate the efficacy of interactive teaching.”