(That’s me, in Lego form. You might recognize me by my tea mug and ever-present cell phone.)
So I’m at my first-ever CALI (Conference for Law School Computing – wait – that doesn’t match the acronym …) conference. It’s being held at the gorgeous new Thomas Jefferson Law School building in beautiful San Diego, where I now want to move (San Diego, not the law school, although it is gorgeous).
I’ve been taking copious notes on Evernote, to which I am now completely addicted, and, because one of the “rules” of us conference-goers is to report back to our colleagues (and, because, let’s face it, I’m always kind of hard-up for blog post ideas), I’m going to post synopses of some of the sessions I attended. This is a really long post; if you’re not interested in legal education, you’ll probably want to skip it.
(As (yet another) aside, apparently I can’t function properly without two computer screens now. I need to have Evernote open on one screen, and WordPress open on another … is there an iPad app that makes it look like your iPad has a dual screen? I bet there is).
Okay! Day One!
Plenary: Dave Cormier, a prof and ed tech guy at the University of Prince Edward Island (where Anne of Green Gables lives, y’all!) gave a talk entitled, “Open Learning, or I saw a Deadead sticker on a Cadillac.” He summarized it as “People taking things that had been innovative, and throwing it on top of a traditional way of thinking/teaching.”
He talked a little bit about disruptive technologies as we go along in history, such as the printing press, and the theme seemed to evolve into a discussion about, basically, how change is inevitable and it’s how we respond to it that will determine if we become obsolete or visionaries. But I may be extrapolating that from other talks – that seemed to me to be the overarching theme of many of the sessions I attended today.
He talked about some online projects that some schools – and some for-profit organizations – were engaged in. Some of them innovative and exciting on their own terms, others where he questioned “whether it was an open learning innovation or a business innovation? Somebody is going to make a collasal amount of money out of this.”
He mentioned that he did not think that all courses would be compatible to being run fully-online, and that he, personally, as a teacher is more engaged and excited about in-person teaching, for the most part. But he noted that the “easy” stuff, the rote stuff, the stuff that “can be easily evaluated” would lend itself to online learning, and in fact, may very well be going to be outsourced to these free online places – so are we as educators going to get in on that, or are we gonna leave it up to the soulless, money-grubbing sharks (I may further be extrapolating here)?
He concluded with a discussion about “why do we teach,” and for him it’s to help students deal with the uncertainty they’re going to face in the real world. I like this approach, but it seems really hard to me to get law school students comfortable with uncertainty. I feel like law students often think that the answer is “out there” and they just have to find it. The idea that no, it isn’t out there, and that you have to analogize from what is out there, seems to make them uncomfortable. So I suppose it’s really our job to make them less afraid to approach the unknown.
The next talk I went to was my colleague Lindsay Matts’ presentation on how she and a law professor put together an online Insurance Law course.
She stressed the need to have a purpose behind your design plan, including a pedagogical reason for the approaches you take and the teaching tools you use, before you get started. She feels that
legal education is often about minutiae, details, and she thinks that’s harder to do in online learning. I’m not sure I totally agree with this – I think the detailed, code-based classes (like Tax and Insurance) might be easier to do online, because there’s less discussion needed, whereas for more philosophical classes, the in-person (or at least synchronous) aspect, the having everybody discussing the same thing at the same time, is probably harder to do in an online environment.
Nonetheless, I agree with her conclusion that some subjects lend themselves more easily to online learning than others. I also liked her discussion that different instruction is required for different learning outcomes, and agreed with her sentiment that “all discussion board all the time can be a cop-out for online learning.” Rather, you should plan a variety of activities – and have a purpose behind every one of them.
The next talk I went to was an evaluation of various different presentation apps (Prezi, Keynote for iPad, etc.). There were several applications I had not heard of before and I am eager to look at some of them when I return to work. One of them, XMind, sounded very intriguing. It was billed as an application where you “make a mindmap of a presentation, which you then can use when you’re showing the presentation.”
These presenters also stressed the importance of having the tool fit your pedagogical design and purpose, rather than the other way around.
The last talk I went to was entitled, “Teaching law students 21st century practice skills through coding with A2J author,” and if Lindsay hadn’t told me what it was about, I probably wouldn’t have gone, because the title gave me nothing to go on.
But! It was a talk given by John Mayer, the CALI head (I guess?), and it was about a really exciting project that CALI and some other organizations are spearheading (and have been working on, basically, since 2004).
The program is called Access to Justice (the A2J part), and they’re basically designing software to assist Legal Aid offices help pro se patrons to fill out forms (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the jist). They want to pair law school clinics with Legal Aid offices all over the country, and have law students create more of these interactive forms.
There are multiple benefits to students from this project, says John: they need to understand the law they’re automating, to dive deep into law, procedure and heuristics; this gives them real-world exposure to policy/ethics issues raised by legal services delivery and technology; and it teaches them key competences for emerging law practice, such as e-lawyering, unbundling, web 2.0 & “cloud practice”.
It all sounds very exciting.
And with that, I’m heading for bed. More to come tomorrow!