Day 2, CALI conference: Patrick Wiseman

by Paul Maharg on 20/06/2008

Attended Patrick Wiseman‘s session, ‘The Rich Syllabus’. Consisted of an overview of the evolution of Patrick’s syllabus Property I, from basic HTML in the mid- to late-nineties, through VLE use to Google Earth, podcasts, loosely-coupled pages etc (he even has an RSS feed to podcasts of the class meetings and whiteboard). It’s rare that someone focuses on the evolution of educational resources in this way, and it was fascinating to see how a course put together by someone with an abiding interest in technology and teaching that Patrick has can be enriched over a period of time. But Patrick is moving beyond this…

His ‘Law and the Internet’ course is quite different. It’s a constructivist course, where the students provide the structure while Patrick contributes to the content. Entirely different approach to legal learning. The content that’s generated — forum content, papers, etc — is completely different from the previous approach to Property I.

He’s also dumping the casebook. Contrast these two syllabi with his Constitutional Law I syllabus, which he characterised as a syllabus in transition. Here, there is a transition from text-based to all-online course. In part because of adverse changes that an author made to the structure of a casebook he used in prior courses, he is moving towards a course that doesn’t have a textbook at its centre. Instead, he uses online decisions, at, and comments on cases on his course web pages. One of the things he needs to do, he admitted, is edit (some of) the cases; and to do so in a way that is uniform in its look and feel.

Patrick argues that we need to drop the metaphor of the casebook. It is a metaphor that constrains our thinking about the possibilities beyond the book. He believes that a syllabus that frees itself of a book can be transformative in many ways. For example he asks students on his course to make constitutional arguments for themselves — most courses merely have students read constitutional argument.

Points raised included issues of print-outs (which I don’t think would cause that much of a problem, as long as solutions re guidelines etc are designed into the environment) and online services for additional content, etc. Good session, above all because it shows that transformation of a syllabus isn’t achieved overnight with technological solutions, but only when staff persist, maintain materials, reflect on them and the shape that resources give to a course, and take account of small incremental changes to technology that offer big returns. Made me think about the PI transaction, which has been incrementally developed and enriched over the passage of nearly 10 years.

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