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November 7, 2007

Structural challenges and cross-institutional collaboration

If you look for research on innovation, you will find that much of the literature is in the field of business.  Innovation, of course, is key to business success and is often rewarded with profit and wealth.

One of the challenges in discussing innovations in law school is that much of this literature does not apply.  In business, innovation often comes from people starting a new business.  They are the ones who provide the new ideas, whether it is a product, marketing idea, or service.  In the legal academy, we don't have that option-- we can't very easily peel off to start our own school.  Thus, those individuals who do innovate must do it within institutional structures that sometimes creates disincentives to innovation-- for example, through a tenure process that rewards fitting in. 

Still, we have new innovators in teaching, scholarship, administration, and curriculum development.   Much of that innovation grows out of collaboration between diverse individuals, which allows ideas and personalities to meld and become something new. 

In the last several years, the amount of collaboration between scholars at different schools has greatly increased.   As this blog illustrates, the internet has made new types of inter-school collaboration possible.  The fact that we lack the ability to form new units (as business innovators do) make this development all the more important. 

One thing I wonder, though, is whether this collaboration needs to be limited to scholarship?  Is there a way to develop, through the use of the internet and other technologies, collaborative teaching across institutional lines?  Specifically, would it be possible to teach the same class in two places?  At the very least, it seems like it should be possible to share not just a syllabus, but teaching and testing materials for groundbreaking types of classes. 

Has anyone come close to cross-institutional teaching?

-- Mark Osler

November 7, 2007 | Permalink


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In the adjunct circle, I have come across colleagues who teach one in-person class and several online classes at different institutions. It has struck me as fairly close to teaching multiple sections of a course, only with the pay of an adjunct! :)

In my classes, I've used the internet to encourage inter-section student collaboration at the same institution. Since I use a wiki for student paper submissions, if I find that students from one section get the material far better than students from another, I have encouraged students to engage in cross-section peer reviewing for both the learning-through-teaching and learning-through-being-reviewed experiences.

What would be interesting is if two people could team teach across institutions. For example, if you wanted to teach a course on how family decisions impact both international trade and law, you could ask Gary Becker (UChicago, Nobel Prize in Economics for family economical decision making) to co lead a course with Amy Chua (Yale, specializing in International Business Law). The course could be offered at both Yale and UChicago.

The scary idea is online and/or broadcasting courses to more than one institution at the same time. Taken to the Socratic extreme, only one leading expert on each subject would be entitled to lecture and the rest of us would be relegated to lowly teaching assistants, doing nothing more than grading exams.

Then again, with the invention of the printing press, we thought the classroom would become obsolete, but instead we developed from simply reading texts to students to teaching students what texts mean. Perhaps team teaching across institutions (and wide-spread broadcasting) will lead us to take the next big innovative leap in what teaching means. More than likely, though, we'll keep the face time as anyone who has suffered through a video replay knows the shortcomings compared to in-person teaching.

That said, imagine the possibilities for guest lecturers? "And, here to talk with us about the recent Supreme Court decision is Ruth Bader Ginsburg."

And, of course, the Internet provides plenty of opportunity to share syllabi, assignments, and other resources with colleagues.

haha...or was your question rhetorical? :)


Posted by: Hillary Burgess | Nov 8, 2007 12:56:36 AM

For over a decade Peter Martin at LII/Cornell has been teaching courses across multiple law schools at the same time. For example, you can see his Social Security course at http://www.law.cornell.edu/socsec/course/ and links to more details on how LII does this at http://codec.cali.org/mod/resource/view.php?id=25. LII provides a model for how this could be done in a way that actually works.
I think a large part of the problem is not that there are not any innovators but rather that it is hard to find about innovators and even harder to implement those innovations. CALI has tried for a numbers of years to get a handle on this and help spread the word, but it is a difficult. This blog certainly is a great asset for gathering and spreading information about innovation and is moving us in the right direction.

Posted by: Elmer Masters | Nov 8, 2007 7:17:54 AM

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