Robert O'Hara



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Since the work of Erikson, researchers have striven to compile data and literature on the stages and patterns of college students' abilities to think, behave, relate, and learn (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). This study posed the question, if law students are stunted or hindered in their development, can they truly be good at what they do? The purpose of this study was to provide insights and data to the cognitive development and meaning making ability of first year law students. Designed from Baxter Magolda's (1992, 1999, and 2001) longitudinal research on college student epistemological growth, the research looked at the effect law school Socratic pedagogy had on first year law students (1Ls) ability to construct meaning from the material studied in the classroom. Law by its very nature is contextual, however, Socratic pedagogy can force students into what Baxter Magolda (1992) calls, absolute knowing, the stage of knowing where students accept the facts from the professor as the absolute truth. The results will provide law school faculty with evidence on how pedagogy affects students. Furthermore, it will provide the literature of student development theory with a more in-depth view of how students develop, at least in terms of cognitive growth. Information collected throughout the study will also help law schools determine if a single strict pedagogy is appropriate for lawyers in this century. Having a better understanding of how students think and how they come to understand knowledge is valuable information that may inform educational planning.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Nasser Razek

Primary Advisor's Department

Counselor Education and Human Services


Stander Symposium project, student affairs, School of Education and Health Sciences

The Jury's Still Out: Cognitive Development of First-Year Law Students