by Molly Lentz-Meyer
As a relatively new research instructor I am always on the look-out for ways to improve my teaching and the experience of my students. This year’s programming provided a wealth of opportunity to learn what practitioners wish students knew, and how to teach them those skills.
I have found in prepping my courses that maybe the hardest thing to do is write a really good hypothetical. Frankly, even writing a kind of mediocre one can be hard. How do you balance interesting with relevance while avoiding pandering? Should you be clever or funny? Have silly names? What even makes a hypothetical a good hypothetical?
Happily, Hungry, Hungry Hypos was there to help. The presenters had put out a call on the listserv for hypos a few months ago, so the program had been on my radar for a while. I was hoping that it would be mildly helpful (managed expectations), and I was thoroughly surprised when it turned out to be amazing.
The presentation started with a hypothetical I happen to know well because it is used by UR’s very own Joyce Janto. The hypo was singled out as a great hypo because it meets what the presenters have identified as the “3 F’s” of a good hypothetical; functional, familiar, and fascinating.
These criteria are in order of importance. First and foremost, a good hypothetical must be functional. By this, they mean that a good hypothetical must be designed around the learning objective that it is attempting to teach. So, if you’re teaching how to research statutory law, your hypothetical must be functional for that purpose. As a corollary, and something I found alarmingly eye-opening to hear, there is no such thing as universally good hypo.
Second, a good hypothetical should be familiar. By this they mean that a good hypothetical should be familiar even to the student that they do not need to do any background research to start the research you have assigned. They cautioned however that pop culture references in hypotheticals should probably be avoided. You can never bank on everyone in the room being a Game of Thrones fan.
Finally, a good hypo should be fascinating. This, of course, is the hardest to get right – and thankfully the one that is the least important. It is also where the presenters disagreed the most. Should you try to be funny (not unless you actually are), should you use cute names (are they distracting), are they actually functional if they’re fascinating (this is where mine most often fail)? While we should strive for fascinating, interesting enough might actually be enough.
It was an eye-opening and educational experience and I walked out more confident in my ability to write a good hypothetical – and armed with a bunch of really great examples.