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June 19, 2008

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Simulations and Legal Education

I'm here at CALI's 18th annual Conference for Law School Computing at the University of Maryland Law School. I like to think that "CALI" stands for the "Center for Advancing Legal Innovation" (it's actually the "Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction"). This year one major focus of the conference will be learning through simulation, with a keynote by Paul Maharg, author of Transforming Legal Education, on SIMPLE -- SIMulated Professional Legal Education.

My notes on the keynote follows the break.

-- Gene Koo

Paul is outlining some of the major themes in his book, starting with the contrast between E.L. Thorndike, who emphasized teaching strategies, and John Dewey, who emphasized the teaching ecology, and how that played out in the teacher-centered physical layout of the classroom. He identifies four key themes crucial to transformation: experience, ethics, technology, and collaboration. On technology, he emphasizes the need for developing our own technology, not vanilla versions of other disciplines' technology, that is learner-centered.

Paul introduces the concept of "trading zones" where all different types of researchers and practitioners can exchange knowledge and learning. Closely related to this is the transactional learning that his law school offers -- authentic performance that lawyers do in the world, not what professors think they do.

Paul is now matching up the four themes of his book with the four features of law school's signature pedagogy as identified in the Carnegie Report. In particular, he's mapping technology to "deep structure," just as the physical classroom deeply structured the teacher-centered pedagogy of the 19th century.

Paul now turns to SIMPLE as an environment for students to simulate professional practice in a safe, guided environment. Its major features are personalized learning, social / collaborative learning, rich media, all embedded in authentic transactions. Preliminary evaluation shows that students are learning better from simulations because of their deep engagement, in context, with the materials.

For Paul's demonstration of the SIMPLE system, please wait for the video recording to be released. The interface that he's showing is file-centric: the transactions appear to be document-based (much like a good slice of practice). For example, he describes a semester-long (12-week) negotiation sim involving some 34 transactions that he's run with 272 students distributed across 68 firms. One key to
making this work for so many cohorts of students is that SIMPLE varies certain key variables so that each cohort has a distinct case and experience from their peers.

More on SIMPLE later from the next session, but in brief, SIMPLE (1) articulates a practice environment, largely centered on documents and communication; (2) manages the workflow through which students progress -- for example, tracking whether students file their motions before the specified deadline (an automated check) or shunting students along different paths in the simulation (probably something that requires instructor intervention); and (3) an authoring tool to help instructional designers create these simulations.

June 19, 2008 in Conferences | Permalink

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