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June 21, 2008

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Open Access to the Law

Open access law is here (or coming soon), but law schools aren't big players in advancing it, or more importantly, doing interesting things with all that law. These new players are all different birds: they have different motives, are decentralized, are administratively independent, differently funded, and operating in a wide variety of national settings. And they are not going away, nor federating under one banner. So Tom Bruce at Cornell Law School is building OAI-PMH, a framework for querying and harvesting from these repositories to enable some technological federation. Repositories that adhere to OAI-PMH standards should respond to the following questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What have you got?
  3. How is your repository organized?

And using this standard should allow educational efforts like eLangdell® to tie materials to caselaw.

John Joergensen at Rutgers is experimenting with one Open Law initiative, public.resource.org...

... and has integrated it into the library's own federal law search page, with features enhancements to the results display and associated metadata. This is leading Rutgers to consider dropping Lexis to cut costs down the road, though doing so would sacrifice the Lexis database of secondary, non-legal materials. Furthermore, law schools are worried about the future of Hein Online: many no longer receive paper copies of journals and are entirely dependent on Hein. A backup, owned by law schools themselves, presents more safety.

It looks like CALI will be jumping in to provide some leadership and coordination of future, joint efforts. Stay tuned.

June 21, 2008 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 20, 2008

Will the Northwestern innovative new program be successful?

While Gene is off at a great CALI conference, Northwestern Law School announced today its innovative new approach to legal education (official announcement here). 

Making all the headlines (in Insider Higher Ed and in the Chicago Tribune) is Northwestern's creation of an accelerated track that would allow students to get a JD in 2+ years.  But there is a lot more to the innovation being pioneered here in a program titled "Plan 2008: Preparing Great Leaders for the Changing World."  Particularly catching my eye were these components:

That is a lot to try to get done, especially while seeking to pioneer a new accelrated program.  I have a sense that many students will be drawn to various aspects of Plan 2008, but that faculty may at times struggle to make all these grand plans a reality.

Posted by DAB

June 20, 2008 in Teaching -- curriculum | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 19, 2008

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Deliberate Practice and Skills Instruction

Picture_1 Larry Farmer of BYU School of Law is describing how he set up an intensive skills course -- which may not be cheaper than other methods, but which he believes to be superior in quality and results (largely because it requires adding adjunct instructors).

The problem: In his 8 years of observing lawyers practicing, Larry saw that interviewing and counseling skills levels would plateau quickly after some improvement over pre-existing skill set and remain relatively static. So: (a) What would it take to graduate students with greater skills, and (b) provide them with the tools for reflective practice to continue to improve in practice over the long haul.

The solution: Emulate how experts learn in other areas of practice such as sports and performing arts: deliberate practice.

In practice, this entailed:

Attempts at reflection didn't succeed: They were shallow and didn't provide insight into actual performance. So they turned to recording. This changed the nature of class and what happened in class -- classes are often practice-centered, while much of the learning happens virtually, afterwards.

The core goal is to provide students with practice time and maximize their deliberate reflection on that practice. One effect of recording is to focus the students on the task of practice.

Evaluation challenge -- guiding feedback, providing technical ability to annotate; largely addressed with MediaNotes.

Management challenge -- how to move the video artifacts and feedback back and forth? BYU is using Sharepoint to manage documents and workflow. (Requires students to name files carefully). Students are paired up: in each pair, each student plays both a lawyer and a standardized client. Students inhabit that client role for the entire semester, but paired up with different student-lawyers, which improves their roleplaying skills over time as well.

In summary:

  1. Lay out a sequence of skills
  2. Provide a standardized client with whom to practice the skills
  3. Provide the context in which to engage that client
  4. Record the exercise
  5. Provide a workflow within which to push the video to the reviewer and then back to the student

In the case of BYU, the expert reviewers are former students who performed well -- in part, a motivation and reward. These reviewers receive additional training in evaluation and feedback techniques, on top of their existing performance knowledge/skills. These adjunct faculty, who are in practice, also provide feedback to the simulations to ensure verisimilitude. This feedback is critical: just viewing videos of "good" practice doesn't seem to be enough for students to correct performance. These reviewers also reduces instructor overhead and burnout.

Despite initial skepticism, the BYU administration is expanding financial support to this program because of student feedback indicating expanded confidence in their own skills and efficacy.

How to get started when you don't have graduates to come back as reviewers? During the first few years, focus on developing this cadre of reviewers and offering less evaluation, except from the professor.

June 19, 2008 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Simulated Practice in-depth

SIMPLE is a system for authoring and managing practice simulations for professional learning, especially practices that are document- and transaction-centered. SIMPLE can, for example, articulate a multi-party negotiation, collaborative drafting of documents, complex litigation, etc.

Some articles about SIMPLE:

Pedagogy of simulations

Often, students are coming in from essay/exam-based undergraduate course: thus some transitional learning is critical. At Strathclyde, lectures have been largely designed out in favor of transactional learning, with rare lectures focused on dynamic speakers. Otherwise, knowledge-transmission is pushed into webcasts/podcasts between sessions.

(More after the break)

-- Gene Koo

Overview of the SIMPLE interface

Student logs in and sees, essentially, an inbox of documents/communications related to one transaction, with calendar and tasks (much like Outlook). There's also a document bank (like Google Docs) that include documents, map of the fictional town where the simulation takes place, websites for fictional firms and companies, etc.

Backstage, teachers have a list of characters within the simulation and can assume that role. There's also a list of variables that allow the simulation to be modified in small but important ways to make each instance of the simulation unique (which doubles as a plagiarism-catching device). A Narrative Event Diagram shows how the transaction proceeds from the perspective of the staff, Non-Player Characters (staff puppets), Player Characters, and critical events that pop up.

Assessment

Student work is assessed as normal -- usually they submit a specific document like a motion or a memo. Feedback goes back to the student in role of the managing partner.

Students also conduct self- and peer-assessment, which provides early warning signals about slackers within teams. They also log times, much like they bill hours in practice.

Logistics of simulations

Simulations have generally run between 1-2 days to 12 weeks. This may have ripple effects on other courses: could their simulation activities suck up all of their time from other classes? It's a disruptive technology that changes everything about how teaching/learning happens.

What does this do to teaching? The instructors and mentors are essentially role-playing, responding to student-driven actions with more information (or mis-information) and documents.

(Note that in Glasgow, there are only TWO (2) full-time faculty for 270 students).

Simulation design

The simulation is designed to highlight particular areas of knowledge as well as specific skills. This would include "traps," such as one party having the wrong location for an accident requiring more investigation (or wasting resources pursuing a red herring).

Simulations are also built around "standardized clients" -- a term borrowed from medicine, in which "standardized patients" provide a common experience for all students that hits important learning points.

Simulations also need to catch students before they go off the track. Careful mentoring by the instructors should guide the firm (students) back on track, in-role as the students' supervisors. For example, in one case students tried to arrest funds at the bank, which would have taken the case out of bounds, so the tutors had to act in-role as the bank to reject the requests to steer the sim back.

(I would note that there is substantial overlap between designing a good simulation and designing a good computer game. See especially What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning.

Practice management sessions help students analyze and cope with inter-personal team issues.

Simulation sharing

Simulations "blueprints" are big capital investments -- it makes eminent sense for teachers to share and modify them.

What does it take to make SIMPLE happen?
Two ways to interact with SIMPLE that do not require technical knowledge: (1) Build the simulation; (2) upload the simulation to the platform. The authoring tools have been simplified to allow laypeople to create simulations.

Thus, requires up-front investment in creating the simulation, which can be capital intensive.

However, in terms of ongoing execution, it only requires 1 Professor, 8 Mentors (post-grad adjuncts) -- the simulation requires little upkeep and maintenance. The Mentors play the various roles in the simulation, from the parties to the firm partners to shopkeepers or even unexpected characters.

June 19, 2008 in Conferences, Teaching -- pedagogy, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2008

Wouldn't it be crazy if we just let students at some other school decide who gets tenure?

Keg_dance_3 Brian Tamanaha and Brian Leiter, among others, have recently written about the effects of law review placement on legal scholars.  Especially in tenure considerations, where  an article appears is often considered to be the primary indicator of quality.  In the end, this means we are delegating to law students, who have not completed their legal training, who have never worked as an attorney, and who have usually never published anything themselves, the job of deciding who gets tenure.

Consider one law school whose tenure requirement is that the tenure applicant have published three articles, two of which appear in top-25 law reviews.  Publishing three articles is not the hard part of that equation-- rather, the real challenge is getting the students at one of those top 25 schools to publish two of them.  This is particularly true where the professor is not on the faculty at one of those top 25 schools, because letterhead matters in the initial screening process.  The truth is, there will be some play in other areas of tenure consideration (ie, fair-to-poor teaching evaluations can be forgiven, the utter absence of service to the community won't be a stopper), so if the applicant produces those two top-25 articles, she will often get tenure.   

Thus, the selection of tenured faculty is left primarily in the hands of students at other schools.  Viewed objectively, this is a crazy system.  It does have its merits, I suppose, the primary one being that it saves those voting on tenure the hard work of actually reading the articles written by the tenure candidate. 

Aside from being a genuinely strange way to pick permanent faculty, this delegation of tenure decisions to students at other schools stifles innovation.  The goal of those seeking tenure becomes getting the attention of those students, rather than actual decision makers-- judges, lawyers, other law professors, and legislators-- and these authors pick topics that will most likely appeal to those students. 

I'm happy to say that my own school does not have such a requirement, but there have been times that we have been pressured to adopt such a standard.  We live in a society that too often seeks objective measures easily gotten, but the fabric of these objective standards is sometimes woven of nothing more than laziness.

-- Mark Osler

June 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack