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January 6, 2007

Rethinking Laptops in the Law School Classroom

The consistent complaint about laptops in law school classes is that, coupled with wireless Internet access, they provides an entertaining diversion (an attractive nuisance, perhaps) from the brilliant words of the professor and other students. But I want to offer a different concern.

Last semester, one of my students told me that her laptop had broken in the middle of the semester. So she began taking notes longhand. And she found that she was learning more.

When she had a laptop she wrote down everything I said. But without the laptop she edited more carefully. This was largely by necessity. She simply could not write as fast as she typed.

The laptop screen also serves as a kind of physical barrier between the students and the rest of the class.

I’m not suggesting that students should give up laptops. For example, I believe the ability to conduct research on the fly is immensely valuable.

Rather students should continue to think carefully about whether (or how) they use a laptop for taking notes in class. Perhaps some students assume that if they take dictation during the class, they will have a transcript from which they can learn later. But this might interfere with the attempt to digest the material and engage fully in the class itself. Perhaps students might yield the keypad a bit if law schools offered transcripts of classes through electronic means (using automatic recording followed by voice recognition software). (Professors should, of course, be able to opt out.)

(Photo from the UC Davis website; our classes are typically far smaller than the large lecture pictured here.) Anupam Chander Classroom

January 6, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 5, 2007

Teaching law as a moral calling

InsideHigherEd.com reports on a soon-to-be-published study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching titled Educating Lawyers : Preparation for the Profession of Law. The study argues that while schools are highly effective at teaching students to “think like lawyers,” the Langdelian case-study method encourages students to focus on abstractions in reaching conclusions, to consider “as ‘facts’ only those details that contribute to someone’s staking a legal claim on the basis of precedent.”

“By contrast, the task of connecting these conclusions with the rich complexity of actual situations that involve full-dimensional people, let alone the job of thinking through the social consequences or ethical aspects of the conclusions, remains outside the case-dialogue method. Issues such as the social needs or matters of justice involved in cases do get attention in some case-dialogue classrooms, but these issues are almost always treated as addenda.”

The article quotes Carnegie's William M. Sullivan, the report's primary author: “Learning to think like a lawyer ... is insufficient as a basis for becoming a competent legal professional.”

Recently I attended a symposium in which  a law professor described an experiment he ran with one of his advanced classes. He asked his students to play the role of a lawyer in the Nazi-occupied Guernsey Islands, representing a woman accused of being a “Jewess” by informants. The students acquitted themselves admirably as lawyers, but seemed unable to talk about the scenario from a moral or justice dimension. In private conversation afterwards, this professor expressed to me concern whether, in teaching students to “think like lawyers” in such an overwhelmingly effective manner, law schools also denude future lawyers' commitment to their core values and principles.

What responsibility, if any, do law schools have for the moral, ethical, and perhaps even spiritual development of future lawyers? Aside from preparing students to pass the MPRE, should schools weigh these values more heavily in their mission? Are schools already accomplishing this goal adequately, and if not, what might be more effective approaches?

- Gene Koo

January 5, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 4, 2007

Rethinking Powerpoint in the Law School Classroom

Byrne_powerpointIn the fall, I taught two lecture courses, International Finance and the Law of E-Commerce, and one seminar, Jurisdiction in Cyberspace. In Finance, I used Powerpoint extensively, while in E-Commerce I used it sparingly. I did not use Powerpoint in the seminar at all, but almost all of my students used it during their presentations. There must be a vast array of education research on when Powerpoint is effective, but here are my untutored thoughts. First, Powerpoint makes it difficult to communicate context. The levels of discussion are flattened to a single level, which comes in series. I tried to signal subheadings covering groups of slides through a single slide with a heading, but I think this was only partially effective. (This is why Harvard's William Fisher and UCLA's Jerry Kang favor MindManager, I suspect.) Second, Powerpoint makes it difficult to ask open-ended questions. Students are reluctant to answer a question if they might be proven wrong by the next click of the pointer. I tried hard to always state that the answers I suggested were not comprehensive, but I think students hope to offer the preferred answer (rather than feel proud in having innovated a new one). Third, Powerpoint can serve as a crutch to the professor, rather than a learning aid to the student. Any thoughts--from either side of the podium? Do you like watching Powerpoint? How can a person utilize it effectively? When should it not be used at all? Any rules of thumb? I reminded my students that they will likely have to prepare presentations in the future--and to consider carefully whether Powerpoint would serve their purpose most effectively. Any good resources that would help a professor in making the right choices for a presentation? Or help a future lawyer in the same? For professors only--Any thoughts on faculty workshops? Statistically-heavy presentations generally require Powerpoint, but should Powerpoint be used for qualitative presentations? (I don't think that one can have a single rule, but what is your experience?) Anupam Chander

January 4, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 3, 2007

WWaJD?: Welcome Dean Levi

In this post congratulating contributing editor Jim Chen on his new position as Dean of the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, I noted the buzzing throughout the law school world about "What Will Jim Do?" to innovate at his new institution.  Today, as covered well by Peter Lattman and How Appealing and Orin Kerr,  the question is "What Will a Judge Do?" as dean of a law school.  To be more specific, what will Judge David Levi, who currently serves as the chief federal judge for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, do when taking over as Dean of the Duke Law School later this year?

As Peter Lattman's post highlights, Judge Levi has an academic pedigree: Levi's father "served as dean of the University of Chicago Law School and then as that university's president, before being appointed by President Ford as Attorney General in 1975."  And yet, Judge Levi's bio indicates that he has never before been a law professor.  (The official announcement from Duke notes that Judge Levi "will be teaching a course on complex litigation this spring at the University of California at Davis School of Law, where he is one of the founders of the American Inns of Court chapter.")

It is fun to speculate about how a long-time federal district judge will adjust to, and seek to shape, the peculiar academic environment of an elite law school.  I am hopeful that Judge Levi, once he is Dean Levi, will be an innovator.  (Notably, in Duke's announcement, a quote from Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh describes Judge Levi as an "innovative federal judge."  I'm not quite sure what this means. If one accepts the Chief Justice's view of judging in umpire-terms, I doubt it would be a compliment to say the umpire working the plate is an "innovative" umpire.) 

I am especially eager to watch how Judge Levi will handle the (growing?) divide between legal scholarship and legal practice.  On this theme, I was struck by this quote from Duke's Provost concerning Judge Levi's appointment:

He will serve the university well in enhancing the distinctive identity of Duke Law School as a place that recognizes the importance of aligning the highest standards of academic scholarship with a real commitment to addressing challenges within the profession and making law school relevant to the changing world of legal practice.

As I have argued in this paper and try to prove in my chief blog, I think scholarly blogging is an effective way to align "the highest standards of academic scholarship with a real commitment to addressing challenges within the profession and making law school relevant to the changing world of legal practice."  I wonder if Dean Levi will agree.

January 3, 2007 in Deans and innovations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

IT - From Innovation to Considerations With Respect to Implementation

Two "small picture" considerations and one "large picture" aspiration:

In the Classroom. In ranking the top wired colleges, PC Magazine noted two IT classroom developments that would aid law students in their studies: webcasting and podcasting. Many law profs oppose these developments because they worry about a decline in classroom attendance. Just like the hue and cry over student using laptops in the classroom to surf the net, instant messaging, read/write email or play online gambling, I believe these concerns are too paternalistic. Whether students skip class because the lectures are available online as webcasts or podcasts is not a good enough reason for not making these recordings available for all students to use. It's about learning!

That being said, jumping on the webcast/podcast bandwagon is not without its costs. Sticking a digital video camera in each classroom has hardware, software, bandwidth, facilities, and IT staff costs many schools may not be capable of bearing at this time; streaming the video live is even more expensive. The same is true for podcasting, albeit a bit less so because of the lower cost of digital voice recorders. Podcasting would appear to be the easier way to distribute lectures (see Automated Podcasting for Educational Use, posted on this blog and on Law Librarian Blog) but let's be mindful that podcasting is no solution to the hearing impaired.

At the Institutional Level: About 10-12 years ago, fiber optic to the desktop was the holy grail of IHE telecommunications infrastructure. Today, it is wireless connectivity. While wired connectivity was something a law school could largely implement in-house on its own if the physical plant was sufficiently modern, going wireless is so froth will security issues that most law schools need the expertise and financial resources of their university IT departments. Exchanging internal independence for dependence on university IT departments who can better maintain campus-wide security isn't a bad thing; many law schools gave up maintaining their email servers long ago because the software cost of protecting their servers became prohibitive. But once a university IT department takes hold of Internet connectivity, beware of increasing charge-backs for services rendered. Are, for example, increased monthly port fees due to the rising cost of wireless connectivity or are they a means to generate revenue the University IT department wants to spend elsewhere? Today's law school needs to place its IT staff on university-wide IT committees to monitor campus-wide IT developments in communications and classroom technologies.

At the Level of the Profession. The legal profession, including the legal academy, is striving to accommodate students, professors, and the bench and bar whose members include many with disabilities. Much more needs to be done. See ABA Report on Lawyers with Disabilities. It should be embarrassing to all of us (including law librarians) that adaptive technologies, law school IT vendors, and legal publishers still have a very long way to go to meet this objective. Personally, I have observed that law profs, law librarians, and law school administrators do their best to accommodate students with disabilities on a case-by-case basis but some of the information services and products we take for granted need substantial system-wide improvement. Take, for example, the lowly PDF document format. It is a digital document format we all have found useful for preserving the integrity of documents and distributing these sometimes otherwise unavailable documents via email, course management systems such as TWEN, Blackboard, etc., and online depository like SSRN. However, PDF documents can not be "read" by blind students, profs, and others using current adaptive technologies.

Graphical-based interfaces used by online legal research services like Lexis and Westlaw also do not accommodate the visually impaired. Some vendors, like Lexis, do not even provide text-based alternatives to their databases and others, like Westlaw, do provide text-based alternatives that, based on anecdotal evidence, are not as current as their "mainstream" databases. Similar problems can arise from the graphical-based interfaces used in many common course management software applications.

Obtaining usable texts for individuals with disabilities in a timely manner from the legal publishing industry also is problematic. From my personal experience, the norm is that once you have located the right person in the publisher's sales force, you are more likely than not to receive a PDF version of the title you are seeking. As stated above, PDFs are not user-friendly for blind students, profs, practitioners and judges. The PDF document has to be converted to a machine-readable format (e.g., Microsoft Word, Rich Text) or into Braille. Conversion until a machine-readable format entails grabbing the text from the PDF file and hand formating it to mirror the document structure of the printed text. Imagine converting a torts casebook.!

The entire process --- from acquisition to receipt in usable form by end user -- is far too long and oftentimes places a disabled student at a disadvantage; frequently the student receives parts of his or her needed text based on when the course syllabus requires that portion be read for class. Reading ahead, available to all other students, is not an option when this happens. And this can happen all too frequently despite the best efforts of university disability services staffers reformatting texts as quickly and error-free as possible. What about practitioners, judges, etc., who don't have a disabilities services staff to support them? This is unacceptable.

We need a better distribution system. Legal publishers and vendors must institutionalize the provision of their resources in formats usable by students, profs, practitioners and judges with disabilities in as straightforward a manner as is available to all other consumers of their products and services. I see some encouraging signs from the end user perspective. The ABA Report on Lawyers with Disabilities includes recommendations for law librarians that strike at the heart of every librarian's mission of providing access to information to all, namely "[w]ork with the publishing industry to provide materials—e.g., textbooks, handouts, presentations, syllabic, and other school related products—in alternative formats." And the ABA is moving forward this month with the creation of a national organization for law students with disabilities that, among other matters, can lobby for change. In this matter, the American Association of Law Schools and the American Association of Law Libraries should become much more active. Hopefully the legal publishing industry will step up to the plate to do the right thing (and do so sooner rather than later). The right thing in this nation of plenty is to go well beyond current legal requirements to set a "best practices" example for all legal publishers to follow, see U.N. Adopts Landmark Convention on Rights of Disabled.

I will now step down from this soap box to congratulate Doug Berman and all contributors to Law School Innovation for making this blog a forum for exchanging ideas about innovation in the legal academy. And to the readers of this blog, I wish everyone all the best in 2007. Joe Hodnicki

January 3, 2007 in Technology -- in general | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 1, 2007

Are law professor blogs like so five minutes ago?

Peter Spiro in this post at OpinioJuris thoughtfully examines whether "the blogging phenomenon may have peaked" in the legal arena, and a terrific set of commentors have enriched the inquiry.  This comment by Dave Hoffman especially caught my attention:

[I]t seems unlikely that law professors (the audience and participants I care about) will continue to blog at high numbers for much longer if (a) institutions don't commit to reward the activity; or (b) it doesn't pay.  Since I think both of these possibilities are long-shots (and the first possibly normatively undesirable) I too see a downward trend in total bloggers.  That doesn't mean that the ones left will die on the vine, just that the gold rush time is at a conclusion.

The "does blogging pay" issue is intriguing because a good number of prominent law professor blogs (e.g., Althouse, Banbridge, the entire Law Prof Blog Network) have ads of some sort.  But I am even more intrigued and troubled by Dave's assertion that it is a "long-shot" and "possibly normatively undesirable" for law schools to commit to reward the activity of law professor blogging.

Of course, I am not suggesting that law schools should reward what I would call "pure pleasure blogging" by law professors (a type of blogging I do on some occasions with colleagues at The Golf Blog).  But, I do think that law schools should reward (and thus incentivize) what I call "scholarship-in-action blogging" for reasons I have explained in this article.  As I explain in my article, there can be so many positive and productive aspects of law professor blogging which can and should dovetail with a law professor's professional goals and the broader missions of law schools.

Perhaps the blog-friendly new Dean of the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville is already thinking about how he should reward blogging faculty.

January 1, 2007 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 31, 2006

The Role of Negotiation in Criminal Law Teaching

One of the classes I teach is a four-credit course on "Criminal Practice," in which students work on all the elements of a criminal case save the trial.  In constructing this course, I have tried to include negotiation as a central component.  Over 90% of criminal cases plead out in most jurisdictions, so negotiation is a key skill for criminal practitioners.   

My problem is that nearly all the negotiation materials I have come across are focused on $-based civil cases.  While some of the techniques are applicable, others just don't fit.  I have been using the classic text "Getting to Yes," but wonder what other materials people might be using to teach these skills in the specific criminal law context.  Any tips or advice?

-- Mark Osler

December 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack