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Monday, November 14, 2011

It's the End of the Workshop as we Know It (and I Feel Fine)?

The combination of participating by skype in a debate in Mississippi two weeks ago, getting a walk through of our beautiful, highly video conference capable, classrooms in our soon to open new building, and running a workshop series on health law/bioethics/biotechnology with Einer Elhauge has made me think about whether new technology ought to make us rethink the law school workshop. While there has been plenty of blogospheric discussion of skype meat market interviews and even skype conferences, I've seen less on workshops which seem the natural place to start.

With the the technology I saw in our new classrooms, one could easily have the presenter (plus his/her powerpoint slides) up while the individual sees the faculty at the same time. The fact that in workshops usually only one person is talking at a time makes this very easy to control.

Pros: (1) Cheaper:  Between airfare, hotel, meals, I would ballpark the typical workshop costs the hosting school roughly $1,000 for one to two hours of scholarly interaction. (2) Opportunity Cost for the Presenter: Many presenters would be much more willing to participate in workshops if the cost to them was merely an hour sitting in their office or law school videoconference facility, rather than a day and a half of travel. This might be particularly helpful for those with child or eldercare responsibilities, such that it is hard for them to take the time off.

Cons: (1) We Lose the Schmooze.

The ability to chat with folks before and after the workshop, and the dinner after are often enjoyable and enlightening. That said, I think the schmooze benefits to the presenter is not nearly as much as it is in a conference setting. (2) Poorer attendance? Perhaps sitting in front of a screen feels like less of an "event" than someone's visit to the law school, such that attendance at workshops would drop off. This is possible, I have no data, but my priors go the other way. (3) Cost of the Technology: especially good technology that is unlikely to drop video-chats, etc. There are costs here, but over even the course of 2 years I would guess the savings in not flying people in would make up for it, though of course you need the technology to be good on both ends to make it work which, may lead to coordination problems.

What I am tentatively thinking (and perhaps I will consider implementing this in my own workshop some time in the future): as a first step, give all presenters the option of video-conferencing in if they prefer, but be willing to fly them in instead if that is their preference.

I am curious what others think, and especially if any schools have tried this for their workshops and to what effect?

Posted by Glenn Cohen on November 14, 2011 at 09:49 AM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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In a strange and unexpected reference to your title, an anecdote. If I had not been invited to come to Athens, GA live over the last two days to give a workshop, I would have missed out on an experience of a lifetime: saying good-bye to REM band members in their hometown. Whether UGA should be subsidizing my happiness is another question. I'm quite certain watching Mike Mills perform Superman live Sunday night was better than my talk the next day.

Yes, it is on YouTube:


The other highlight was a stunning rendition of Country Feedback by Thayer Sarrano:


Lera Lynn was pretty rocking, too. The whole show, more or less, can be seen here: http://athensrockshow.com/category/venues/the-georgia-theatre/.

Thank you, Athens. Thank you, UGA, for being great hosts. Thank you, faculty workshops. Thank you for 30 years of joy, REM.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Nov 15, 2011 10:04:08 AM

My hunch is that with the one speaker format, the attendance will drop off over time without the speaker being present. The schmooze factor, the need to be polite to a guest, etc. will work against your speaker. However, we have had very good success where we have had a panel live at UC Hastings with one panel member beamed in. The moderator has to do a good job of keeping the remote person in the loop, but it worked well. Also, make sure the quality of the feed is good.

Posted by: David Levine | Nov 14, 2011 11:31:34 AM

I've used Skype video in seminars. I am reluctant to ask book authors to travel to spend an hour or two with students. I think it is a nice bonus for the seminar and the students like it. The key tech issue we have struggled with is having the distant speaker see the students talking. You would like to be able to have a group conversation and have the camera in the classroom focus on the speaking student automatically. We haven't been able to get that to work yet. We tried multiple Skype channels open simultaneously--they support a version of group video chat--but you get feedback if people are in the same room.

Posted by: Randy Picker | Nov 14, 2011 11:31:03 AM

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