Last week was all about education. True, every week in my job is about education. But last week it was about education on the road. My teachers were 8th graders, paralegal educators and The Big Bang Theory. Yes, I left the vacuum of my office and went to the 2011 Annual Meeting of AAfPE – The American Association for Paralegal Education in Baltimore.

Before I get to the AAfPE meeting, I have to start at the very beginning. Because as Julie Andrews has taught us, it’s “a very good place to start.” My immersion in education outside of my office started as I waited in line to pass through security at O’Hare. Ahead of me in line was a class of 8th graders going to Washington, D.C. (which is not in Washington state as one student corrected another). In addition to the geography refresher, I picked up some knowledge about 8th graders: they whisper, chat, text, mill about a lot considering they are within the narrow confines of a security line, hide inside their hoodies, and generally exhibit a lot of activity for 5:15 a.m.

Actually, the energy of the 8th graders was a good warm-up for the next two days. I spent Wednesday evening to Friday afternoon with 300 paralegal educators. Some were program directors, some were faculty, and some were both. I didn’t spot any hoodies and I heard more conversation than whispering; the energy level of the attendees and their enthusiasm for education exceeded that of the traveling 8th graders.

I was fortunate to speak with a number of educators from around the country. Many were looking for ways to add value to their students’ education. Others sought ways to help their faculty structure classes that deeply engage the students. A couple of themes seemed to dominate my conversations with program directors and faculty. First, there’s a vast amount of material that their programs try and cover in a single course. Second, they think about how best to engage today’s students in learning. It was exciting to see how CALI may be able to help.

My colleague Austin Groothuis and I gave a short presentation on Friday morning during one of the coffee breaks. The audience was quite interested in CALI lessons. We discussed the reality that not all of CALI’s 850+ lessons are directly applicable to paralegal students. Sure some lessons, such as the legal research lessons, work “right out of the box.” However, for paralegal programs most educators want to tailor the lessons to their students’ specific learning needs and their courses’ learning objectives. And, this is where CALI hopes to help.  CALI lessons can be modified.

Our presentation ran overtime and turned into a group of us brainstorming about how to actually get from “you can modify lessons” to “we modified this lesson for our students.” I am really excited with the number of faculty that I spoke with about modifying lessons and even authoring new lessons specifically directed to paralegal students. From our presentation, it looks like an informal group is forming to make an organized and concerted effort to modify CALI lessons for paralegal programs. I always like to work with faculty on the development of modified or new lessons, and I am looking forward to learning more about the country’s paralegal programs as I work with everyone. It’s quite possible that by this time next year we’ll have a number of lessons tailored to suit paralegal programs’ teaching needs. If you missed this discussion on Friday, and you’d like to be part of the group that modifies or even authors some new lessons for paralegal students, please contact me by email: dquentel at cali dot org.

Lastly, my educational tip from “The Big Bang Theory.” I caught a rerun late Thursday night in Baltimore. It was the episode where tweets from Sheldon’s students about his poor teaching skills drive him to take acting lessons from Penny. Somehow the episode resonated with me after spending the day talking with so many educators. It was just a reminder that as educators we will push past our personal comfort zone to become a better teacher and to enrich our students’ lives.


About Deb Quentel

Deb has been Director of Curriculum Development and Associate Counsel for CALI since 1997. During this time, Deb has worked with more than 120 faculty and law librarians and guided more than 700 lessons from start to website. Deb also oversees the development of titles for CALI's OER eLangdell Press. Prior to joining CALI, Deb was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Legal Writing and Research at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
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