BILETA conference 2015

by Paul Maharg on 10/04/2015

Am giving a paper at BILETA 2015, entitled ‘Disintermediation and legal education’.  Slides up on Slideshare and at the Slides tab above.  Abstract:

Disintermediation is a concept well-understood in almost all industries. At its simplest, it refers to the process by which intermediaries in a supply chain are eliminated, most often by digital re-engineering of process and workflow. Amongst its many effects it can result in streamlined processes that appear more customer-focused. It can also result in the destruction of almost entire industries and occupations, and the re-design of many aspects of client-facing activity. To date, legal education has not given much attention to the process. In this article I explore some of the theory that has been constructed around the concept in industries and professions. I then examine some of the consequences that disintermediation is having upon our teaching and learning, and on our research on legal education, as part of the general landscape of digital media churn; evaluate its effects (particularly with regard to regulation) and show how we might use aspects of it in three versions of the future of legal education.

I hadn’t given the issue much in the way of thought before, but it was Richard Susskind’s paper, Provocations and Perspectives, written for LETR, that focused some questions for me.  The more I researched the issue within the context of legal education, the more important it seemed for us, not just in understanding the future of legal education, but also its intellectual, political and economic history.  The slides serve as an outline for a chapter in a book I’m writing on Genealogies of Legal Education.  

More later on sessions from the conference – too busy to liveblog, but fascinating presentations and arguments.


Apologies — liveblogged, but forgot to post this from the conference…

First on, McComas Taylor and Grazia Scotellaro, ‘E-texts: a new experience in learning objects’. Took us through the example of ANU E-View student textbook, The Joy of Sanskrit.  Excellent presentation taking us through the process of creating and using the e-text, which students loved.  The book is a first-year course — students wanted one for second-year studies.  Downsides — hard to correct errors, and students download the errors even while they’re being corrected.  Also, they want more interactivity, eg quizzes, in the book.  Grazia demonstrated the book – video didn’t work (poor connection throughout the conference, and audio was poor, too), McComas stepped in with neat examples.  The book is rendered like a pictorial book, same aesthetics as the Mac bookshelves mimesis on the screen.  Skeuomorphic design, rather than a flatter, cleaner design.  Can we not invent an aesthetic that is different from printed text?  Also, when I have a book I like the feel of it, the sense that I’ve read thus much of it, and have got thus much to go, etc – which I don’t get from a graphic render.

Next, Kathy Bail, Chief Exec, UNSW Press Ltd: ‘Monographs: new frontiers’.  The company is not for profit.  Largely a description of the Press and its output.  Print sales exceeded downloads of e-book of a poetry collection, but no analysis of why that might be so – topic? price? aesthetic of either? Inter-relations of these factors and others?

Finally, Agata Mrva-Montoya, Publishing Manager, Sydney UP, on ‘Beyond the monograph: publishing research for multimedia and multiplatform delivery’. Can’t hear her too well but presentation on Prezzi bodes well – seems to be comparison between ‘tradigital’ books (print driven, discrete and static, stability as a sign of a text’s authority) and other newer formats of books.  She noted the scholarly ecosystem – HERDC + ERA requirements.  See Oberlin Group and their Faculty Survey (2014), according to which most important is prestigious publisher, high-quality peer review, etc. See also Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescencewhich is up on Media Commons Press.  Digital scholarly editions?  these are researcher-led, collaborative projects in digital humanities.  Digital format only, few presses involved since 1990s, and typically no publisher involved.  One example of this is The Charles Harper Library.

Publishers have been focusing on online content platforms — access to journals and books, subscription-based, metadata, and alerts and social networking options, what we’ve seen happening, eg Oxford Scholarship Online, University Publishing Online, Project Muse, Books at JSTOR.

Going beyond tradigital?  Book + website — see The Ma-yawa wangga repertory.  Or Book + blog, eg Sherman Young, The book is dead.  Long live the book.  How about Publisher’s website — see OpenBook Publishers — you can read books online and there’s lots more functionality.  Also Apps — grammar apps, dictionaries, and pronunciation guides, etc.  See OUP for examples.  A great source is Touch Press — see especially their The Waste Land app.  And another is Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Agate drew upon Com score Report 2014, time spent on digital media, mobile app vs browser splits, revealing the rise and rise of mobile devices. But how does mobile affect our reading – what do we read on them, or merely access information?  See Andrew Rashbass, The Economist (2012) – Leanback 2.0 – first, second, third ages.

Ebooks vs print books — greater accessibility, treater portability, easily quotable and searchable, dictionary integration.  downsides no random access loss of graphic interface and conventions, confusing interface, clunky note-taking interface.  Apps give multiple lawyers of content including multimedia.  She showed this graphic –


Apps were suitable for translational and education purposes, bridge from theory to practice, opportunity to broaden audiences, greater engagement with content (interactivity and gasification), ability to access multiple literacies.  Eg The Front-line Leader, Chris van Gorder. (?)  Cost is a major factor.  Multiple platforms?  Multiple devices?  Ongoing maintenance?  It’s often a closed commercial environment, too.  Excellent presentation, full of insight and suggestions for future development.

Final session, Harold Short of Digital Humanities Research Group, U of Western Sydney, on ‘Digital editions: opportunities and challenges’.  Early ideas included this slide


which led to this slide:


So what is dig hum?  It’s a space for collaborative engagement, large-scale or small, multiple technologies and audiences. We’re now into third generation projects, with wide use of social media for conduct of research and dissemination of results, crowd-sourcing, visualisation, emphasis on play, imagination and interpretations.  What are digital editions?  Source materials may be multiples & or complex, rich contextual materials, multiple access paths, types of users and publication modes.  Eg Henry II Fine Rolls Project, a project by King’s College London.  Collaboration between Kings and National Archives.  Print publisher Boydell & Brewer.  Online publication preceded print volumes, 3 printed, fourth in preparation.  Print vols are apparently preferred by researchers for specific fines or days; online for searching and analysis.  There is a ‘fine of the month’ and a Knowledge Transfer Advisory Group/exhibitions/courses/blog, involving teachers, journalists, academics, archivists.

Another eg — Journey to Horseshoe Bend – an archive of films, sound recordings, photos, documents objects — ceremonial life of Arunda people is a particular focus, with many ceremonies and objects sacred.  It’s allied to the concept of digital repatriation, and work with communities, eg ‘digital story telling’.  Another — Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England.  Collection of information about all known people in A-S England.  Used crowd-sourcing to develop narratives around factoids about A-S persons.

What about sustainability of these projects — it’s not just preservation of data that’s important, it’s also the structure of the data that counts.  See Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, or Sydney Graffiti Archive.  Or The Pompey Project, and the use of para-data to show what is reconstruction, guesswork, or has actual evidence.  Or Life After Wartime — curation?  Long-term preservation of these?

Challenges are that digital methods of research are changing as rapidly as methods of dissemination.  Change is the new constant.  There is blurring of authorial/editorial roles.  Scholarly acknowledgement of reward needs to be there; also curation issues – management, standards, etc.  Sustainability: content + technologies?  Long-term preservation, digital ephemera and re-use?  All important issues.

There are great opportunities for new forms of scholarship – enabling new questions to be pursued. Library engagement is essential from the start.  There are a variety of approaches to publication, and re-use and multiple audiences.  What about public engagement?  And greater engagement with creative processes?  See also Academic Book of the Future, funded project by AHRC

Great examples, great presentation.

Next up, Tim Sherratt, digital historian, web developer and cultural data hacker.  Gave a plug first for Trove.  He wanted us to think about the implications of linked open data — not just documents in containers, but free data that is shared.  What’s shared?  The labels or identifiers; the vocabularies used to describe an item.  Used in Facebook & Google.  He redefined a historian as a data-modeller – interesting idea, perhaps analogous to law as a platform.  Showed some of his work on Inigo Jones, weather forecaster, but lost me in the depths of JSON-LD.

Fading fast, so I’m going to skip the wrap up and call it a day, final thoughts this evening…


I missed the keynotes and some other sections of the conference, but from what I saw I thought it was a useful, in fact essential, conference for any academic staff thinking of digital publishing for research, data curation or learning and teaching purposes.  There were a few descriptions of University Presses etc that weren’t really reinventing university publishing, though they were clearly successful operations (on second thoughts, maybe that does reinvent university publishing).  But it was good to come across new organisations, new university presses and new projects in the field.  The best presentations were from those giving us practical, imaginative solutions to the near-intractable financial problems our libraries face, thanks to ever-rising purchase costs.  And from researchers in the field presenting new ways of thinking about wide varieties of scholarly publishing, reading and writing.  The multi-disciplinarity was really impressive.  Nothing from Law!  That has to change – actually there are rich comms innovations in our discipline; but we probably need to do better on innovation in scholarly communications generally.  One final thought – weren’t we all rather too polite to journal publishers?  For more on their practices, see here.  Or see George Monbiot here, where he observes that in 2010 ‘Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn)’ which he observes was the same ratio as in 1998 — and in the midst of a global financial crisis.  That surely has a major effect on how much innovation we can fund in scholarly publishing.

Best conference poster, for me, was Georgina Taylor’s Open Access Button – more information here:


I couldn’t stay for the final wrap-up session, but I’d certainly like to see a follow up conference.  Many thanks to Roxanne Missingham and her conference committee colleagues Ross Coleman, Lorena Kallenopoulis and Agata Mrva-Montoya for planning and hosting this one.  For at least several projects that I’m involved with in the ANU College of Law, I found it very timely and very stimulating.


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