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January 7, 2009

Dungeons & Lawyers: legal simulations and the art of game-mastering

part 1: What’s a legal simulation?

Dungeons+Lawyers If Paul Maharg has his way, American law professors may soon have as much in common with the game referees in World of Warcraft than Prof. Kingsfield from The Paper Chase. Maharg, author of Transforming Legal Education, is working with CALI to distribute and support software that enables legal educators to run legal practice simulations. SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Legal Education) provides a framework for students to engage in transactions typical of real-life legal practice, providing the kind of contextualized knowledge and skill that the Carnegie Study and others have demanded.

I will leave to the Carnegie Foundation, Maharg’s own writing, and countless other pieces in educational psychology and the learning sciences to explain why context-rich simulation is so effective at teaching knowledge, skills, and values. Let’s assume that, as an instructor, you’re ready to take the leap into simulation-based learning. What is this pedagogy like? What will you need to do to get started?

Ardculloch 1 The virtual worlds that SIMPLE conjures may lack the special effects of World of Warcraft, but they, too, offer twisting plots, colorful characters, and devious puzzles. Students become protagonists who grow in strength by overcoming challenges. Non-Player Characters (“NPCs”) present most of these challenges, whether as the client in need of rescue or the witnesses guarding precious evidence. Fictional websites provide a virtual landscape for the students to explore in order to build their cases. And battle is joined not with the clash of swords but the exchange of documents. All of this might make for a poor adventure film, but it can add up to a believable, even exciting, legal conflict.

Here’s an example:

Ardculloch 2

Students enter the simulation as associates of the firm Kerrigan, Burns & Robertson. KB&R has been retained to represent a company that is being sued for a slip-and-fall that occurred on its property, located in the fictional town of Ardalloch, Scotland. (Another team of students play associates of the firm representing the plaintiff). The students-cum-associates watch a video of the initial client interview and receive, via SIMPLE’s simulated email system, a memo from their supervising partners outlining their role in the case.

Ardculloch 3 Students then engage in both informal and formal discovery, wandering through Ardcalloch via the town’s online directory listing and virtual map (think fictional Yahoo directory and Mapquest pages). They might, for example, contact the local landscaper responsible for maintaining the area where the fall took place; within a few hours or days, they should (if they made a well-formulated request) get a witness statement. (Behind the scenes, what’s really happening is that the students send a SIMPLE message to the simulation staff, who assume the role of the landscaper and respond to the request in a manner consistent with the landscaper’s version of the facts and with the character’s personality).

As the team builds their evidentiary case, they revise their overall strategy. For example, the team might uncover new data that contradict the client’s initial statement of facts, forcing further discussion with the client and perhaps a revision of the overall theory of the case. At some point the two teams meet and negotiate a settlement (court action falls outside the scope of the simulation). The teams then step out of role and review their own performance and learning.

No goblins, no dragons, no magic, and yet this is a bona fide virtual world, one rich with performance-oriented learning experiences for law students. Law professors won’t need to learn to animate 3D monsters – but they’ll certainly need a different set of skills than mesmerizing students with brilliant lectures. They might instead benefit from studying how video games scaffold immersive, effective learning. I’ll take up that topic in the next part of this series.

- Gene Koo

January 7, 2009 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Student survey on laptops in the classroom, legal writing and other LSI topics of note

A new piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education, headlined "Survey Gets Law-School Students' Thoughts on Laptops, Writing, and Ethics," covers a lot of topics that often garner our attention here at LSI.  Here are a few snippets from this article:

Law-school professors are fed up with students using laptop computers in class to surf to Facebook, eBay, everything but LexisNexis. And some have even banned the distracting machines.  But results from a new survey show that an outright ban might not be such a good idea.

The 2008 Law School Survey of Student Engagement, released today, suggests that, when used wisely, laptops can actually enhance student engagement.  The survey found that class-related laptop use correlates highly with reported gains in several areas, including critical and analytical thinking.

Students who used laptops for class-related activities, like reading case briefs or taking notes, were more likely than students using laptops during class for other purposes to be engaged in classroom discussions, synthesize concepts from different courses, and work hard to meet faculty expectations, the survey found....

This year's survey gathered responses from 29,000 students at 85 law schools, up from 79 schools last year. The data were collected in a brief Web-based questionnaire that had a response rate of 53 percent.

The survey results show that most students receive opportunities to practice legal writing, a pillar of the law-school curriculum. Nearly 85 percent write at least one medium-length paper during the academic year, the survey report says, and 70 percent write at least one paper of 20 pages or more.  But more than a third of students still reported that they would like more time to practice writing, which surprised the researchers.  Such a finding, they say, shows the importance of soliciting student feedback.

"Legal education is behind most other professions in terms of having information about the student experience," said George D. Kuh, a professor of higher education at Bloomington and director of the survey.  "It is steeped in tradition, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, but that tradition did not take into account or even consider student reports of what happened to them."

All the details of the 2008 Law School Survey of Student Engagement can be found at this site.  Available there is this official press release, which provides more highlights from the survey.  That press release includes this account of these notable findings from the 2008 LSSSE:

Posted by DAB

January 7, 2009 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 6, 2009

Will legal academics in top DOJ posts mean innovation in government or law schools?

As everyone probably already know, and as detailed in this official press release, the Obama team has named two prominent academics to fill two important spots in the Justice Department: Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan was tapped to be Solicitor General and Indiana Law Prof Dawn Johnsen was tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel.  (This USA Today article, headlined "Key Justice nominees rooted in academia," notes the law school connections.)

The fact that Kagan and Johnsen served in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration is likely to generate the most inside-the-beltway buzz.  But, I think it is far more significant and interesting that both Kagan and Johnsen have spent most of the last decade inside law schools.  Though both have surely kept followed closely government policy issues and legal practice realities over the last 10 years, both also necessarily had more professional experiences shaped by the scholarly issues and not-so-practical realities that make up the day-to-day workings of law schools. 

These notable professorial selections, together with the fact that President-elect Obama himself was a law professor for a few years and headed the Harvard Law Review, now has me wondering whether we can or should expect (or hope or fear) a new era of innovation in the Justice Department or in law schools.  Here are just a few questions worth pondering (perhaps in the hallways during the AALS Annual Conference, which starts today):

Posted by DAB

January 6, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack