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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Legal Education in the Digital Age

Legal Education in the Digital Age

With the latest news of U-Va. joining a consortium of schools  promoting online education, it seems only a matter of time before law schools will have to confront the possibility of much larger chunks of the educational experience moving into the virtual world.  Along with Law 2.0 by David I.C. Thomson, there is now Legal Education in the Digital Age, edited by Ed Rubin at Vanderbilt.  The book is primarily about the development of digital course materials for law school classes, with chapters by Ed Rubin, John Palfrey, Peggy Cooper Davis, and Larry Cunningham, among others.  The book comes out of a conference hosted by Ron Collins and David Skover at Seattle U.  My contribution follows up on my thoughts about the open source production of course materials, which I have previously written about here and here.  You can get the book from Cambridge UP here, or at Amazon in hardcover or on Kindle.

One question from the conference was: innovation is coming, but where will it come from?  Some possibilities:

  • Law professors
  • Law schools and universities
  • Legal publishers
  • Outside publishers
  • Tech companies such as Amazon or Apple
  • SSRN and BePress
  • Some combination(s) of these

I think we all agree that significant change is coming down the pike.  But what it ultimately will look like is still very much up in the air.  What role will law professors play?

Posted by Matt Bodie on July 18, 2012 at 05:24 PM in Books, Information and Technology, Life of Law Schools, Web/Tech | Permalink


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I’ll concede Paul knows far more law professors than I do (or will ever know) and may therefore be drawing upon a more representative sample. My comment was a hunch, a guess, an impression, albeit one based on inferences (among other things) from reading law professor blog posts, visiting law school sites, and reading papers like the one written by Paul Caron and Rafael Gely in 2004 (‘Taking Back the Law School Classroom: Using Technology to Foster Active Student Learning’) that begins by claiming “Law schools (and indeed all of higher education) have witnessed an explosive growth in the use of technology in the classroom. Many law professors now deploy a wide array of technological bells and whistles, including PowerPoint slides, web-based course platforms, in-class Internet access, and the like.” To be sure, they also state “there has been somewhat of a backlash, with various law professors arguing that this technology is interfering with, rather than improving, pedagogy in the classroom.” As I made a generalization (or a few) in a blog comment, I’m not adverse to admitting of exceptions to what I take to be the rule. My inference was also based on the fact that I firmly believe law professors, like many other affluent consumers in our society do indeed “go gaga for all the hightech gadgets/devices in their daily lives,” and thus—perhaps wrongly—find it hard to imagine that such unbridled enthusiasm doesn’t spill over into the classroom, that when it comes to teaching, they’ve now found virtue in pedagogical reflection and restraint about such things.

The fact that I’m not opposed to “technology in the classroom” in principle means that, I can well imagine times and places where various technologies properly serve pedagogical practices. I could hardly claim otherwise, given my own use of the computer, my blogging, and my love of legal search services (despite my lack of access to same). The theory/practice distinction is invoked because I suspect the “practice” of technology in the classroom rarely rises to the level of “praxis,” meaning here that it lacks sufficient warrant in pedagogical philosophy (or ‘theory,’ but that term is narrower in scope). And given that my comment was not too long, and however rhetorically sincere and passionate, I’m puzzled to find it characterized as a “litany of complaints, sweeping assumptions, and megacultural critiques.” There are some complaints, there are some assumptions (not without some backing in the “critical” and philosophical studies of technology), and perhaps there is some “megacultural [in the singular] critique” that animates it (I’m not confident I know what that means in any case), but to insinuate that I believe or claimed “that every IT person…on campus is a raving tech lunatic dying to pour Kool Aid down my throat” doesn’t quite hit the mark, although it does show that Paul’s penchant for cleaving to the golden mean or appearing above the fray sometimes fails him. Again, I don’t doubt that at least some law professors are capable of critically assessing the “wide array of technological bells and whistles” being marketed to their campuses.* I’ve just seen little evidence of same (perhaps I don’t know where to look, but I’m perfectly willing to read the literature available along these lines so as to compel me to change my mind or further qualify my generalizations).

*For example, Professor Michael Duff (I hope he doesn't mind me sharing this in public) informed me yesterday that he “going to start backing off on my powerpoint this year. The cognitive psychologists - Willingham for one - are talking me off the ‘learning styles’ meme.” It may very well be that Michael represents the norm among his peers when it comes to reflective assessment of the proper use of technology in the classroom, but I strongly doubt it.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 19, 2012 9:19:56 AM

Patrick may know many more law professora than I do, but my response is quite different. In my experience, a few law professors are early adopters, a number lie somewhere in the middle, and probably the plurality are late adopters. Mind you, my sample can't be of more than, say, about 150 professors.

I would also add, and I wouldn't bother if Patrick weren't such a valued commenter here, that I'm a little baffled by what it can mean that he is not opposed, "in principle," to the use of technology in the classroom, but carries what seem to be a litany of complaints, sweeping assumptions, and megacultural critiques with him on the issue in practice. I think he would be better off being opposed on principle than getting so wound up in practice! Maybe my experience is just unusually good, but I have not found that every IT person I meet on campus is a raving tech lunatic dying to pour Kool Aid down my throat, and I have found many (not all) of the profs who adopt tech in their class to be the ones most likely to care about pedagogy and seek feedback and retooling. If I were to say that I'm not opposed to Wendell Berry on principle, but that every fan of his I've ever met has been a Luddite, a hypocrite, or (usually) both, and always with a huge whiff of social class to it, that would be . . . well, it would be true, in my experience. But because I am well aware my experience is an imperfect guide on this question, I figure I'm better off judging Wendell Berry on his own merits, right?

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jul 19, 2012 12:16:57 AM

It seems like a notable contingent of law professors are heading in the opposite direction, considering a ban on laptops in the classroom altogether.

Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Jul 18, 2012 10:23:21 PM

I perhaps should have been clearer: the belief with regard to value is that the technologies possess something like if not actually intrinsic rather than simply instrumental value.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 18, 2012 6:55:59 PM

Mind you, it's not just law professors: at my school power point, computers, and all sorts of high tech stuff is now considered absolutely essential to "effective" or "successful" teaching in the classroom. I'm a relic because I lecture (and, yes, we take time to discuss things as well) and use the blackboard (or the whiteboard in some rooms). The regnant expressed or unexpressed belief is that one can't hold the attention of today's student without the latest in (so to speak) technological entertainment. Teachers are daily bombarded with e-mail messages from the folks who are experts in the latest information and teaching "technologies," in fact, "faculty resources" means simply learning WITH technology: making use of technology in any classroom environment, teaching strategies and technology selection, exploration of new technologies for the classroom, etc., etc. Mind you I'm not opposed, in principle, to the use of technology in the classroom (it being better suited to some fields of study than others), but there really is no "critical" scrutiny of these technologies whatsoever: the assumption is that they're of value, indeed, something on the order of urgent value, being, after all, the latest technologies! There's an insidious professional norm that develops around their adoption: the best teachers routinely rely on such stuff, those who don't, well....

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 18, 2012 6:07:19 PM

Well, it takes a little time (institutional inertia and all that), but the following display of unabashed enthusiasm is, I think, representative (at least of what's to come): http://www.legalethicsforum.com/blog/2012/07/recap-of-lawtechcamp-london-renamed-reinvent-law-london-2013.html#comments

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 18, 2012 5:51:17 PM

Patrick, let me take issue with that a bit. If law professors went gaga over high-tech innovation at the drop of a hat, we'd already have digital course materials. Instead, we still have the huge casebooks that are expensive and cumbersome to keep current. (How many Con Law casebooks will have the ACA case this fall? How many would have it if they were digital?) I actually think law schools and law profs tend to be late adopters, even if professionals of all stripes enjoy iPhones and the like.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Jul 18, 2012 5:44:53 PM

When it comes to technological innovation, it's a safe bet that law professors will go gaga over everything, becoming yet another conduit for virtually everything that comes down the pike, much like they go gaga for all the hightech gadgets/devices in their daily lives. This may be an artifact of professionalism in the affluent world (and the social norms associated with same) but it's probably also, perhaps more fundamentally, a function of class.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Jul 18, 2012 5:32:58 PM

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