23 Things and the Law School

Sarah Glassmeyer posed a question yesterday that’s been buzzing in my head.  She asked:

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Immediately a bunch of things popped into my head, none of which could fit into 140 characters, and some of which probably weren’t very constructive.  Instead, I thought I’d try to sort them out in a longer post, which is this.

Need a Framework

23 Things – also now known as Learning 2.0 – emerged from a library that wanted to help its staff get on with new technology and tools.  I’ve admired it because it was informal, self-directed, and had lots of choice.  My sense, though, was that there was a progression.  Early steps were really dipping your toes in the water and you’d build on them over the course of the program.  Libraries being what they are, you could design a single path and people could meander along it.

Law school faculty would be more challenging.  There would be some sameness at the basic educational level but there is also the potential for differences based on course topic.  A civil procedure class offers some opportunities that might involve skills or technologies that would be different from an international business transactions course.

It’s probably fair to note at this point that I don’t work in legal education, so I may not have any idea what I’m talking about.  But if I were to construct a program like 23 things for law school professors, it would be along the lines of DIY.org or some other gamified environment.  You’d identify the skills – classroom presentation, for example, or document assembly – and then suggest a range of challenges to meet that skill.

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Seems complicated.  But I think there may be a wider path that law faculty need to tread.  Some faculty are already quite far along in some areas while their peers may not have even started to walk down the path.  If you’re going to create an environment where there’s something for everyone, a broader selection and example projects are probably better than a progression from simple to advanced, which is my sense of the Learning 2.0 programs.

What to Include

None of that responds to Sarah’s post, though.  What would you include in a program for faculty?  This is what I’d include:

Better Materials

My Criminal law prof wrote his own book just for our class.  It was photocopies of cases that he’d edited and that we compiled in a binder.  I’ve often imagined what he could have done with e-book software.  I’d create a skill focused on challenges of creating better text materials.  It might involve using Mediawiki and generating custom PDFs, or Sigil + Calibre, or Pressbooks or Papyrus Editor to create more specific e-books.  The content could be anything.  I worked with a prof to create a supplement in Folio Views (see page 162) that was based on her notes.  If the program was flexible but had examples of something OTHER than a linear text or case packet, there would be scope for easing in to the tools as well as creating some interesting things.

It would be nice if there was an output component.  Rather than churning out unreadable or unread law journal articles, it would be great if skill completion ended in something that could be shared as a professional outcome.  Not necessarily to flood the Kindle store with books (although that’s the equivalent of what Learning 2.0 does with blogs, I suppose) but to grab some of the reputational benefit of sharing with peers.

Better Activities

We’re hearing about lawyers coming out of law school without practical experience.  In reality, they aren’t going to get that in school unless they’re actually practicing.  But there are ways of making some of what’s possible in practice more familiar.  Trial advocacy and other courses can give the experience of sitting down with a client or standing in front of a judge for the first time.  It’s not real but it’s more than watching a negotiation DVD or reading about it.

What about using document assembly for discussions about contracts?  Once you understand the premise of the peppercorn, it could be worthwhile to see how stock contract clauses are used and why.  What is redlining – not version control in Microsoft Word – and why does it matter?  There are certainly cases that could be examples of why poor drafting lead to litigation.  I think that law professors teaching document-focused courses could help their students envision practice if they themselves were using some of those tools, and that they weren’t writing every contract from scratch.  I’d include things like Workshare Professional (f/k/a Deltaview) for comparisons, and document assembly tools.

Simple Options

As I said above, I think there is a limit to how much experience you can actually get in law school regardless of how many simulations you perform.  If faculty can collect their course parts as the semester progresses and give students access to that information outside of class, I think that could be beneficial.  To that end, professors would need to know how to record their lectures, audio or video, and post them.  This may just mean learning how to talk into an iPad and posting the audio to a site.  It may mean learning how to synchronize video – PowerPoint or something else – for the virtual lecture.

It’s not about creating canned, pre-loaded presentations.  We used “Bob’s Bible” in property class.  I expect many law students had an equivalent.  It was an extraordinarily thorough compilation outline that someone made available through the local (off-campus) copy center.  The property professor followed his own outline so carefully that the “Bible” was almost a verbatim text of the course.  We might as well have had a recording and stayed home.

Most courses are more flexible – questions are asked and answered, tangents are taken.  Audio and video recordings are not sexy or cutting edge but they can backstop the note taking and interactions in class.  When you are writing notes, you may be missing discussion and context and there’s no way to replay that.  Smart law students have study groups and the group will usually have caught the meaning.

Using tools like Audacity for audio or CamStudio or any number of tablet apps could mean that there was an enhancement to the in-class experience for students.  Some of the 23 Things programs look at sites like Flickr or Youtube.  They may be adding Instagram and Vine now, for all I know.  That’s fluff in a law school setting and I wouldn’t include those.   This is somewhat unrelated, but you could see this tie in to law libraries getting digital media centers like public libraries are now doing.

Mix It Up

That’s obviously scratching the surface.  And it’s mostly tools.  I think that, unlike 23 Things, law faculty need more stimulus to participate.  I don’t know if gamification would work for them – they seem to think it works for law students – but since things like law journal citation rankings are considered important by some people, perhaps it would.  If the program crossed both the tools angle as well as dug into the practice or subject areas being covered, I think you could construct something that would enable anyone to participate.