Top Ten Things Law Professors Can Do This Year to Learn About EdTech

Let's face it, the role that technology can play in the practice of law is becoming more evident – with predictive coding, eDiscovery, and companies like LexMachina that use legal analytics to, among other things, predict the outcome of patent litigation.  But many in the legal academy still cannot conceive of how technology can change legal education.  If you are in that camp or know others who are, let me suggest that we do not dismiss the potential for change in legal education without knowing more about the emerging field of edtech and the forces behind it.  Want to learn more?  Here are ten things you can do this year that might change your thinking about the role of technology in the future of legal education.  The suggestions come from my article, which has other suggestions as well.

1.  Catch up on some important reading.  Read David Thomson, Law School 2.0: Legal Education for the Digital Age (2009).  Also, read the work of Bill Henderson, including A Blueprint for Change, 40 Pepperdine L. Rev. 461 (2013) and Andrew P. Morriss & William D. Henderson, Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Law School Rankings, 83 Indiana L. J. 791 (2008). Read David Barnhizer’s article, Redesigning the American Law School, 2010 Mich. St. L. Rev. 249 (2010). 

2.  Read, too, assessments about how technology has impacted and will continue to impact higher education generally, works such as Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education, and The Department of Education’s Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies

    3.  Learn about the millennial generation who are “born digital” and how their more networked and connected lives affect the way they approach learning.  A great book on this topic is by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser of Harvard Law’s Beckman Center on Internet and Society, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (2008).  Think about the implications of the fact that between 2000 and 2002, the largest group of first time internet users were between two and five years old, placing the oldest members of this group in college now – and in law school soon.  Begin to understand how the emerging “participatory culture” is changing what one needs to learn to be fully prepared to function in the twenty-first century.  You can do this by reading Henry Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (MacArthur Foundation)

    4.  Begin to explore the potential for law schools to employ teaching methods that use technology to a greatly enhanced degree.  For example, read about flipping the classroom, a teaching methodology that blends online lectures (which students view at their own pace as homework) with in-class instruction, as it is used in K-12 education, Jonathan Bergmann & Aaron Sams, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (ISTE/ASCD, 2012), or watch these videos on flipped learning in legal education.  By migrating lectures to the web, flipped learning can free face-to-face classtime for active learning, including Socratic dialogues, drafting exercises, simulations and role plays.  

5.  Investigate innovations in adaptive learning, a technique using computer software first to assess what a student knows and then to adapt the content taught to the knowledge level of the student, thus providing a more personalized learning experience for each individual.  Computer-based adaptive learning is already being used by the Kaplan test preparation company for college students planning to take the LSAT and GMAT; by Khan Academy for younger students; and by many companies, such as Knewton, for a wide range of users.  

6.  Consider the impact that gaming can have on education.  Follow the work of Jeannette Eicks (Vermont) and Stephanie Kimbro (Stanford), both of whom are working on projects that involve gaming and law.  Read James Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003); James Gee, Good Video Games and Good Learning, at http://dmlcentral.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/GoodVideoGamesLearning.pdf.  Educational games are available for a variety of topics, including civics, see http://www.icivics.org/ (a game-based website started for former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor); climate change, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/climate_challenge/; national conflicts, see http://www.peacemakergame.com/game.php; and even algebra, see http://www.dragonboxapp.com.

7.  Monitor the impact that recent decisions by law schools to develop online programs for non-JD degrees has on programs at other schools, such as the decision by graduate tax law programs at, among others, Alabama, Georgetown, NYU, Villanova, and Boston University to offer their programs online. Read Distance Learning in Legal Education:  A Summary of Delivery Models, Regulatory issues and Recommended Practices. Attend a meeting of the Distance Learning in Legal Education Working Group, organized by Vermont Law School professors Rebecca Purdom and Oliver Goodenough.  The group meets three times a year, once in the fall (which is in a few weeks at William Mitchell School of Law), once during the AALS Annual Meeting, and a third time in the spring.  

8.  Monitor the effectiveness and reaction of law graduates who take online bar preparation courses such as Themis. 

9.  Explore some of the new apps being developed for iPads and Androids to teach legal concepts.  Law Stack is an Apple app for legal research loaded with various federal statutes.  Law School Dojo, by Stanford Law’s Margaret Hagan, is an app with quizzes on legal concepts for a range of subject matters, including contracts, torts, civil procedure and international law.

10.  Register for and attend the 2015 AALS Clinical Conference, May 4-7 in beautiful Rancho Mirage, CA.  The theme of the conference is the "New Normal." One of the three tracks for the conference is devoted to the future in the "new normal," both for the practice of law and for legal education. As to law practice, we hope to address how professors can understand the rapid and profound technological change that could well remake law practice and how those changes can advance our work for social justice. We want to explore how changes in service delivery and structure of law practices can and should impact our teaching. And we hope to address how professors can better use technological advances and insights from learning sciences in their teaching. 

The internet, the driver of all the changes and developments noted above, is a technology and a tool that, for the reach and extent of its often disruptive and its often liberating effects, can be compared only with the printing press.  When writing of Gutenberg’s invention, Elizabeth Eisenstein, a careful and meticulous historian of immense reputation, wrote (favorably quoting Renaissance scholar Myron Gilmore) in her two-volume magnum opus, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, that “’[i]t opened new horizons in education and in the communication of ideas. Its effects were sooner or later felt in every department of human activity.’” As I explain in my recent article, I strongly believe that "[s]o too it is, or sooner or later shall be, with the internet."

Are there things I am missing?  Add them in the comments below.

(this post is cross-listed from Best Practice in Legal Education blog)

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AuthorMichele Pistone

There is a lot of talk these days about flipped learning, blended learning, online learning and lots of other ways to integrate online content into law school courses. There are a lot of advantages to blending online and in-class instruction. For one, it frees up class time for law students to begin to gain exposure to essential lawyering competencies during each course while still covering the doctrinal material that professors hope to assign during a typical semester. 

Top Five Things to Consider When Flipping a Law School Course

1.    What topics do you want to flip?

Before you begin, identify the topics that you typically cover for which the flipped classroom model would make the most sense in the course.  

2.  You don’t have to produce all of the videos.

Don’t be reluctant to assign video content produced by other professors. Like other teaching and scholarly activities, such as writing an effective article, practice guide or even blog post, the production of effective and engaging video content takes time.  As a result, I often assign my students to read law review articles and casebooks prepared by other professors.  Assigning videos prepared by other professors is analogous. Indeed, by assigning material prepared by others, our time is freed up to spend on more active teaching activities.

3.  Begin with planning what will be “flipped in” rather than what will be flipped out.

Plan what you want to do with the additional face-to-face time with students that blended learning will afford.  This is the point of having a flipped classroom.  For example, consider adding new activities into the classroom (such as interviewing, negotiation or drafting exercises) that hone practical lawyering skills and competencies.  

4.  Produce chunked, short video content.

Research shows that effective videos do not exceed 8 minutes in length, and some are even shorter. Break up a longer subject matter into a few chunked segments, making sure that each video addresses a discreet legal topic. Remember to make the video engaging and to speak clearly and concisely.

5.  Hold the students responsible for watching the videos.

Start each class with an assumption that the students watched the video. That will create an expectation for the group. Start the class by expanding on the videos lessons and assigning activities/discussions that ask students to use the theories learned from the videos actively through role plays, simulations, small group work or Socratic dialogue.

Best of luck innovating legal education.  Let us know, in the comment section below, how it goes for you.  What works?  What could be improved?  What insights can you share with the community?

And if you want to learn more about blended learning and other innovations in teaching pedagogy, consider attending LegalED's first conference, Igniting Law Teaching, on April 4th at American University, Washington College of Law, in Washington D.C.

I wanted to share some more about the team-teaching that I am engaged in this semester with Harriet Power, a professor from Villanova’s Theater Department.

Today we spoke with our students about client interviewing.  Before today’s class, we have done a lot of teaching about interviewing.  During our clinic orientation, each student: (1) participated in 3 hours of classtime devoted to interviewing (both interviewing techniques and working with an interpreter); (2) conducted, with his or her partner, two 20-minute mock interviews with actors standing in as clients; (3) received written and approx. 30 minutes of oral feedback on their performance during the mock interviews; and (4) reviewed their new client’s case files. 

Within the next few days, each team of students will meet with their clients for the first time.  So, our goal’s for today’s 55-minute class were to get the students to: (1) think about the goals they and their clients would set for the first encounter; (2) identify any barriers or inhibitors that might impact achieving the goals; and (3) discuss the logistics of the interview, including what to wear, how to set up the room, and how to sit in the chair and take notes.

I have taught this class, or a class like it, about 30 times over the course of my teaching career.  Yet co-teaching today’s class with Harriet brought a new perspective to the attorney-client interaction.  She got us thinking about setting, costume and posture in a deeper way than I had in the past.  For example, from her acting and directing perspective, Harriet examined what students would wear -- their costume -- at a much deeper level.  I usually think about clothing, whether students should wear a suit, a tie, a skirt.  Harriet asked about the entire costume, from head to toe.  What would the students do with long hair? (she noted that having to pull one’s hair from the face is always a distraction, told the students to plan to secure it off their faces).  What kind of shoes would the women wear?  Would they wear jewelry?  Whether to wear a long or short sleeved shirt (she prefers long sleeved). 

We also talked for about 10 minutes about setting.  We asked a team of students to get out of their chairs and configure the seats in the room for a client interview.  Then we sat in the seats (I was the client; Harriet was the interpreter; the students were themselves).  We talked about how the arrangement felt and about we wanted to ensure that the client’s head would not need to jockey between looking from one student to the other.  Then we shuffled the chairs around a little so that the width of a table between the client and the students was a little shorter; it felt more comfortable.  The table did not feel as much as a barrier as it had when the longer part separated us.

We ended class with a short (7 minute) exercise about body language and posture.  We asked each student to sit in his or her chair as he or she would in an interview.  Then Harriet noted that by sitting toward the front of the chair with our arms resting on the table, our bodies appear more open, attentive and inviting.  She then demonstrated a few other seated positions that did not communicate the feeling of openness or attentiveness – such as sitting too far back in a chair, having one’s hands on the lap instead of the table, holding one’s head up.  We could also have students practice this in front of a mirror so that they begin to become attentive to what their bodies unconsciously say about their intentions.

 

I flipped my class yesterday.  And I think it worked!

The class was on persuasive lawyering.  Over the summer I made a video about persuasive lawyering.  It talks about persuasion in relation to classic rhetoric, and the elements of logos, pathos and ethos.  The video is available on LegalED here.

Here is what I did during the 55-minute class segment that I allocate in my syllabus for introducing the topic:

I assigned the video for students to watch as homework.  It is less than 5 minutes long.  Then, when we got to class, instead of starting the discussion of persuasion with a short lecture on the topic, I started with an exercise.  The students were asked to work with a partner to persuade my co-teacher (I am very fortunate to be co-teaching with Harriet Power from our university’s theater department this semester) and I that we should serve wine and cheese during each class.  The student teams had two minutes to come up with their arguments.  Then, each student team had one minute to stand up and persuade us, with each partner contributing equally to the argument.  Most argued about the health benefits of wine, others about how drinking wine would make the students more relaxed and open, which would facilitate better in class discussions, and others pointed out how the professors could benefit from the wine as well, at the end of a long, busy day.  The theme of culture was raised as well; some arguments tied the wine and cheese to our abilities to learn about different cultures through their food and drink.

My co-teacher and I then facilitated a discussion of the arguments in relation to the theory of persuasion.  We used the students’ arguments as jumping off points – we broke them apart to identify what worked and why, relating everything back to the theory the students had learned from the video and the tactics of persuasion – logos, pathos and ethos.  For example, the argument drew on logos when it referred to the research on the health benefits of drinking red wine.  The part of the argument that was more personal about us as professors and how we could also enjoy the wine, was about pathos, appealing to the audience’s emotions. 

I have taught a class on persuasive lawyering about ten times before and this one seemed different; it was better.  Instead of my talking at the students about the foundations of persuasive argument, by flipping the classroom my students could learn the foundational information before coming to class.  That opened up the class for an activity in which the students could actually try it out. 

Another added benefit was that we could provide feedback on the students’ presentation skills as well.  We told them whether their tone was appropriate and authoritative.  By getting the students out of their chairs, we could provide feedback to the students on their posture and stance and how body language can enhance or detracted from the persuasiveness of an argument. 

I hope to make shorter videos on each of the three elements – ethos, pathos and logos – in which I flesh each out in more detail in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments section below.  I’d be happy to share more about the experience.  I also welcome comments on the video. 

Flipping learning refers to a growing educational practice (increasingly being adopted in higher education) of using videos to teach doctrinal subjects -- which students watch outside of the classroom -- and then using face-to-face classtime for active, problem-based learning that reinforces what students have learned through online video instruction.  

I think flipped learning could be applied in legal education too.  If students watch doctrinal videos as homework, then classtime can be devoted to activities that reinforce the learning and provide more feedback and assessment.

This website will assemble a growing collection of short videos (each 15 minutes or less) on law and law-related topics (substantive, procedural, practical skills and professional values) so that we can begin to “flip” the law school classroom and devote more face-to-face class time for active, problem-based learning.  A series of videos on contracts is already up and being used by students around the country.  The videos on substantive law could be assigned to students for viewing outside the classroom, thereby freeing up class time for activities that bring in more training on the other competencies proven necessary for successful lawyering, practical lawyering skills and professional values.  This is a blended model of teaching, where we leverage the web for passive learning (listening to lectures) and open up class time for more activities that call on students to use their knowledge in active ways that reinforce and support learning.

We realize that many professors are not trained to teach in this new way.  Our website is designed to support them as they make this transition.  The website also hosts a collection of tools directed at professors interested in bringing teaching innovations into their classrooms.  We are assembling a series of teaching materials (videos, assessment tools, problems and in-class exercises) created, contributed to and curated by world-class teachers in their fields.  The series on pedagogy will be directed at law professors.  These videos will explain how to incorporate more active learning and teaching of lawyering competencies into doctrinal courses with the hope of inspiring others.

Join our growing community!  If you have materials that you would like to share, please let us know.