by Paul Maharg on 16/04/2011

Long time no blog!  I'm thinking of moving platform, and about to start that soon (the task of shifting old posts is non-trivial, as I've discovered), but meantime there are so many interesting happening.  I've been on research leave since February, and the routine has been scribbling scribbling (digitally) in my wee room at home, thinking & reading as well, and visits and talks in the UK and abroad.  Last week I gave the keynote at the BILETA conference held at MMU entitled Sea-change.  The title and the epigraph was taken from an article I'm finishing up on William Twining, where I analyse and pay homage to his remarkable inaugural lecture at Queens U Belfast in 1967, still prescient, still relevant to what we do and ought to be doing in law school.

Presently, am at the third Future Ed conference, this time at NYLS, in their shiny new building in Tribeca, NY.  Live-blogging the second day…  All presentations were fascinating — the programme was structured like one long angel pitch.  All participants have $1M virtual or attention dollars to allocate.  Our pitch (John Garvey, Karen Barton) was on the University of New Hampshire project, combining Daniel Webster Scholar Honors capstone programme + Standardized Clients + SIMPLE.  Presentation here, paper here.  Good questions afterwards.  Let's see how many 'attention' dollars we gather. 

Second day, and Dean Matasar, NYLS, gave a powerful keynote, full of insight into the current state of legal education.  His themes were quality enhancement, at what cost, and how can it be done better and cheaper. In depth, very funny look at the options for law school, from the dean's perspective.  Costs — some Californian schools heading to break the $50,000 pa.  Shaving 10% or 20% off that won't change much.  There needs to be radical thought.  Where is the money, he asked?  In wisdom, mentoring, communication.  In doing things better, faster, cheaper.  Presentations from panels — very interesting.  More practical and more focused than the Harvard panels.  Burck Smith, useful analysis of costs; David Thomson gave a great presentation on simulation-based courses which got to the heart of many of the costs and feasibility issues.  Look out for his Prezzi presentation.  

Mixed discussion — many of the issues, I felt, were not well understood by faculty, though the problems were certainly real enough (eg pressure on campus footprint, and the place of DL and technology vis-a-vis f2f teaching).  Burck had intelligent things to say about quality and cost, eg Psych 101 cd be studied in a variety of ways, all of which have a cost implication in the way that they are taught & studied.  In response to one question Barry Currier, chair of the Leveraging Tech session made the astute point that maybe US News rankings ought to be based not on how much students are charged, but on how little.  In response to another, Burck observed that we need to take processes and technology into our hands, as a discipline — exactly the point I made in Transforming Legal Education.  

Next up, Leveraging Tenured Faculty, chaired by Gary Tamsitt.  Gary introduced the situation in his Legal Workshop at ANU in Australia, different obviously from tenure in the USA.  Interesting points regarding the use of adjuncts to free up time for full-time faculty.  Richard Neumann gave out a good paper on the issue.  Presentation focused on the dominance of the Langdellian model, and how it stifled creativity, CQ, in law faculty.  David Yellen  cited Yogi Bear — predictions are very difficult, especially about the future.  He argued for less regulation from the ABA, and more focus on learning outcomes.  Interesting points regarding outcomes and staff position and tenure.  I spoke out for having a mixed model, with little regulatory control: let the outcomes decide.  Outcomes-based education, if taken seriously, can address some of the staff issues.

Final session was Richard Miller, engineer, talking about engineering education.  Interesting definitions: eg an engineer is a person is a person who envision what has never been, and does what it takes to make it happen.  Some features of the Olin curriculum: required design core, team design projects in 6+ semesters; SCOPE senior project, corporate sponsored, year long; expo at the end of each semester; integrated course blocks in science, maths and engineering, study away in junior year, summer internships; business and entrepreneurship; all students must start and run a business for a semester,etc.  The final charts he showed re student engagement vis-a-vis all liberal college results and other engineering schools were just jaw-dropping.   Carole Silver, LSSSE, gave a fascinating description of her joint life with LSSSE on the one hand, and on tenured faculty at Illinois.  Discussion focused on exploring just why the results were so good (in part, staff-student ratio), and Richard gave examples of how Olin were disseminating their good practice.  Richard also discussed research profile of staff, and responded to the issue of diversity among students.  

Finally, after lunch, keynote from James H. Shelton III, Asst Depute Secretary for Education in the US Govt, on what changes are happening to education.  First welter of information on the web.  Second, the internet — digital content; ubiquitous; very cheap very high speed broadband; cloud computing; bigger data sets, with better analysis; retraining in industry.  Re the latter, Shelton pointed out how industry wanted training to be open and free and much more at the point of need. Shelton related a conversation with Obama when discussing his role — education, he said, shdn't be about compliance, it should be about innovation.  That's problematic, Shelton said, particularly when conversations don't travel even down the corridor let alone from building to building.  Ecosystem for education innovation is broken –R+D?  0.1% of R+D.  Knowledge industry is 25%.  Top priorities?  1,000s of answers.  Little strategy.  Demand & deployment?  Very fractured.  The whole ecosystem needs fixing.  

Shelton went into a number of applied cognitive approaches, eg cognitive task analysis, that could be built into educational courses.  We need more design work on this.  He talked about mastery as well — interesting that he's using language from the cognitive revolution, rather than the constructivist or even the connectionist revolutions; though I certainly agree with him regarding the point about educational design.  He talked about the commodisation of certain aspects of legal education.  Which is true of course — what happens is the scale, the context, who does this and for what profit.  Rather a bleak ending, but useful to be restated.

In response to a question, he focused on how the military enable learning in their sphere.  Were there HE examples he would like to see followed, like Olin College?  Shelton gave examples from K-12 rather than HE.  Some tough questions followed, which I don't know enough about US education to summarise, or his answers.  Nice analogies.  When it was observed that his dept wasn't going for 'bad actors' with a sharpshooter, but with bird-shot, he responded that sometimes your only tool is a battle-axe…

In response to a question about teaching to metrics and teaching skills in a fluid world, he was cautious about his language re assessment.  Good to see him avoiding phrases like 'demonstration of mastery' or 'demo of competence'; and making some good points about the need for more research work.  I'm revising my view of him as an out & out cognitivist.  

OK, the money handout in the angel pitches.  Three honourable mentions — Rebecca Purdom, then Jim Moliterno, and then our own Daniel Webster project.  Second, came Seriously Gamifying Legal Learning, David Johnson & Tanina Rostain, and first the Apps for Justice — Ron Staudt et al.  So at the end of three conferences, we came third.  Not a bad result…

Dean Matasaro wound up by announcing some collaborative ventures, including one that will try to develop and own a DL platform for law schools.  Great initiative.  Great conference.  


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