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Monday, April 02, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 45 (guest post, John Mayer)

In Legal Ed’s Futures: No. 43, Dean Rodriguez missed a stakeholder organization – CALI.  [Ed's note:  Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction). We’ve been around since the late 1970’s. You may think CALI is about lessons, free casebooks or awards, but what we are really about is creating a living institutional memory for law school teaching materials and capturing expertise in a digital format that can be scaled and re-purposed using increasingly powerful technology.    

Among all the other crises there is a crisis in the way teaching materials are produced, distributed, shared and incentivised.  

- casebooks that cost $200 or more,

- exam banks where faculty share PDFs using 1990’s listserv technology (if at all), and, 

- incentives that favor lock-in, silos, proprietary systems and not educational flexibility or efficacy.

As previous posts might have mentioned, law faculty could be better at collaborating.   I have seen many pockets of sharing and generosity with course materials.  I have not seen any serious efforts to scale that up where it could become a new plateau of captured expertise or institutional memory in a digital format that opens the door to remixing, innovation and data science.  Why not?

The hyperfocus on ranking bleeds into this space as download counts and top-ten lists.  Not all this counting is a bad thing, but it’s very rudimentary and looks to remain so while it is in a captured silo of commercial publishers.   We could be so much smarter about all this.  

Let me present this as a series of “what ifs”…

What if we had a database of tens of thousands of multiple choice questions keyed to specific learning objectives and subject matter ready to be used instantly as formative assessment?

What if we had a website full of syllabi, powerpoint slides, video lectures, case briefs and teacher notes ready for law faculty to take a use, remix and improve for their own particular teaching needs?is 

What if we had hundreds of videos of lawyers being lawyers organized by subject and activity for students to learn and critique?   Sure, call it a Khan Academy for Legal Education.   

What if this were all freely available to anyone who wanted to teach and learn the law whether lawyer, law student, judge, undergrad, high schooler or pro se?  

None of these are high-tech or AI projects – they just require, time, effort and lots of law faculty collaborating and someone with some tech savvy to build and maintain the tools.  

CALI publishes over 1000 web-based tutorials in 40 different subject areas.  We also publish free casebooks where you can download the Microsoft Word .doc file to remix into something purpose-built for your teaching needs.  We pay faculty to do these things with us because we value their time and we know that pure altruism is a complex problem of cognitive surplus (See Clay Shirky’s book of this name for more detail).  

You know who else is really good at this and, coincidentally missing from the list of stakeholder organizations? 

AALL – The American Association of Law Libraries.  We need their skills, collaboration and knowledge management more than ever.  No organization in legal education has so consistently worked hard at community engagement and collaborative thinking than the law libraries.  They had to in the face of shrinking budgets and digital transformation.  Make a place for the law librarians at the table – we will all be better for it.  

Let me conclude on one more area of legal education materials that could change legal education in a big way – bar exam study materials.   It’s time this was wrenched back from commercial interests that reduce the important responsibility of quality control to base regurgitation and cute acronyms.  Law schools should collaborate with the NCBE and state bar associations on the creation of a materials, lectures, multiple choice question banks such that students take the bar exam after they complete one year of law school.   We are not adversaries.  The last two years of law school could then be all about teaching proto-lawyers and all that messy, bar passage stuff is out of the way.  Law school should not be about attaining a minimum.     

This should be easy for the amazing cohort of brilliant people we have tenured as law professors.  The bar exam should be the serious rite of passage it is, but before the unqualified or unwilling have invested 3 years. We should b teaching beyond the bar’s bare minimum requirements.  We need to set the bar higher and we should set it sooner.  

We can do this.  The tech has never been more ubiquitous and easy to use, but creating quality content and improving it iteratively is hard work.  I am an optimist, but not a tech utopianist.   We can do this.  

John Mayer (Executive Director, CALI)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 2, 2018 at 11:36 AM | Permalink


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