LILAC conference, January 2008

by Paul Maharg on 23/01/2008

The only thing wrong with the Learning in Law Annual Conference (LILAC) is that it appears much too earlEuan_leading_up_summit_gully_scnby for Scots, whose welcoming of the New Year generally extends a decent three days at least into January and for me often includes climbing a mountain.  For some, Hogmanay, bridged by the mid-Jan Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, dances neatly into Burns night, but even as a postgrad student I was never able to last that long.  On the 2  Jan, then, I descended the shoulder of the great Stob Coire View_from_scnb_nw_to_loch_linnhenam Beith in Glencoe with Euan (left, leading on an earlier climb), and raced back to Glasgow in time for the late plane down to Birmingham — me and about 3 others on that flight. It has to be something special that drags you away from all this…  

And it was.  It always is.  LILAC is a great conference — lots of networking, lots of activity, very friendly, good papers, astute comment on papers, good dinner, and this time they put on what sounded like Scottish post-dinner entertainment with The Thirty-Nine Steps (in homage to the novelist MacDiarmid hailed as the Dean of Faculty of Scottish Lit) — but which was really a fantastic band fronted by Professor Scott Slorach of the College of Law, no less.  And there’s another celtic connection — he and I share a passion for Buchan’s fiction. It was a great night.  I remember staying up well past midnight in the bar debating with someone the nature of legal education as a jurisprudential activity (who, I can’t quite recall, which I regret for it was a fine conversation). 

Some significant papers for legal education at the conference — see the list of keynotes and parallel sessions here.  Nigel Duncan and Sarah Chandler’s international survey on the teaching of legal ethics is an excellent project and very interesting for legal educators.  Interesting new work being done on reflection, work-based practice and professionalism at Derby U. Law School by Karen Clubb; while at De Montfort U. (Coles, Ravat, Conboy) there’s fascinating work being done on creativity and e-learning in teaching of Law & the Humanities.

Throughout, I noted lots of reference to both Roy Stuckey et al’s Best Practices volume and the Carnegie report.  I’ve reviewed both for The Law Teacher journal here in the UK (next issue), but feel the need to write a more extended analysis sometime soon.  Both texts deserve a lot of attention here and in most other jurisdictions, for they are powerful critiques not merely of the case-dialogue method, but of the teaching cultures that gives rise to it, and which flourish still in too many places in most common law jurisdictions. 

At LILAC I gave two papers — slides are up on SlideShare, link below left.  The update on SIMPLE was accompanied by offprints of the article Karen, Patricia and I recently published in the Clinical Law Review — Authentic Fictions: Simulation, Professionalism and Legal Learning, pdf proof under Publications to the left now up on SSRN.  The second was an exploration of wikis for legal learning and research, based upon the Transformation wiki and website.  The wiki itself is divided into four sections which, to put it crudely, summarise what I think we need to give thought to, in order to transform legal education: experience, ethics, technology, collaboration. By experience I mean the siting of legal education in real-world experiences of law, the use of interdisciplinary trading zones, and creative, purposeful acts of education.  By technology, I mean the word in its widest sense to represent all aspects of the learning experience, ie the construction of the learning space (rooms, lecture theatres, etc), the notion that law our discipline, and we need to design technologies for our discipline, or be designed by others; and an example of that would be transactional learning.  By ethics I focus on ethical education in action, Dewey’s emphasis on habitual action, and the reclamation of moral spaces in the curriculum.  By collaboration, I mean between students, between institutions, between academic and professional learning, and an open-access culture.  I’m hoping that legal educationalists will add to these four sections, to make them a narrative Four_transformation_qualitiesand research resource for all others.  Here they are, summarised in this quadrant to the right (click to enlarge — my original colour scheme seems to have been altered in copying over, but I’m red-green colour blind anyway…). 

I wrote of the four qualities in my book, Transforming Legal Education.  At around the same time, Lee Shulman was taking his seminal concept of the signature pedagogy and applying it to legal education in the Carnegie Report.  The signature pedagogy has four features: a surface structure, with observable, behavioural features, a deep structure, with underlying intentions, rationale or theory that the behaviour models, a tacit structure, with values and dispositions that the behaviour implicitly models, and a shadow structure — the absent pedagogy that is, or is only weakly, engaged in the current pedagogy (Sullivan, W.M., Colby, A., Wegner, J.W., Bond, L., Shulman, L.S. (2007) Educating Lawyers.  Preparation for the Profession of Law, Jossey-Bass, p.24).

Shulman’s qualities of a signature pedagogy, arranged as a grid, might look like this. Signature_pedagogy_representation_2 The more I thought about it, the more interesting this representation of Shulman’s ideas became, because it’s easy to take Shulman’s descriptions as static qualities of his concept.  But as he has described a number of time elsewhere, they’re not static at all.  In fact they represent qualities that are constantly in tension, constantly interrogated, constantly morphing.  As Shulman points out in a keynote address, ‘the “signature pedagogies of the professions,” are not eternal and unchanging. Even though they seem remarkably stable at any one point in time, they are always subject to change as conditions in the practice of the profession itself and in the institutions that provide professional service or care undergo larger societal change.’

So the surface structure is in tension with the deep structure, because if underlying intentions change, that affects surface.  Surface structure, though is often the only observable way of understanding deep structure, eg for students working through the curriculum. Tacit and deep structures seem to be the same, but they’re not: tacit refers to values which feed into surface, but can change surface as well; and the effect of surface on others (eg teacher realising that certain forms of teaching are having certain effects on students) can change values. The shadow structure is in constant tension with all other three. 

OK, now compare as a similar quadrant to Shulman’s descriptions of signature pedagogies the quadrant of qualities needed for transformation of legal pedagogy.  Overlay the quarters of the quadrants, one on the other, and you begin to see interesting convergences. Experiential learning is similar to the surface structure of a pedagogy: it’s the way the pedagogy is embodied in the world.  And I hold that there needs to be more of this in legal pedagogy — the pedagogy of engagement, to adopt another of Shulman’s terms.  Technology might seem to have no relation to deep structure, but actually technology often provides the deep structure for our activities.  How much of what we do is governed by the availability, shape and structure of books, the availability & quality of wireless comms, the shape of a room and available teaching/learning furniture within it, and so on…?  Tacit structure and ethics map easily onto each other — there’s an obvious synergy there.  As for shadow structure onto collaboration — surely no relation there? But I would say there most definitely was, because the shadow structure that haunts legal pedagogy, that is absent most, is not experiential, ethical or technological learning — it’s collaborative learning. At all levels throughout law schools we’ve barely begun to engage with collaboration, either with our students, with each other as staff in / between our law schools, between institutions, between academic and professional learning, between professions. 

This final correlation, of course, must lead me to make a category distinction — Shulman’s is what might be termed a meta-description of the patterns that any established signature pedagogy anywhere, anytime can take.  The four qualities above are a description of the qualities I would hold that are required to transform a pedagogy, including a signature pedagogy.  In that respect it’s more historically bounded, referring to specific pedagogies in a specific discipline, at a specific time.  Where Shulman provides a toolset of analytics with which to dissect a signature pedagogy, I’m providing a set of value-laden tools to transform legal pedagogy.  Two quite different purposes, but with strong underlying intentionality that’s quite similar. 

That was what I was saying in my session at LILAC.  And that’s one of the ways that the wiki can go — with analysis, with narrative, and — like LILAC itself — with a collaborative community.

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