ALTA thoughts

by Paul Maharg on 02/10/2013

Very enjoyable conference.  This was my first ALTA, and as I said in the keynote I learned so much about what was going on in legal education in Australia from those sessions (which were the majority of the conference streams) on the subject.  You could say of course that I was talking about a sample size of one; that we were a self-selecting group, not representative of the wider constituencies of Australian law schools; and that we were simply hyping legal education.  I didn’t get that impression though.  It seemed to me, in the legal educational streams at least, that there was a culture of openness, more of a willingness to share than I’ve seen in a lot of jurisdictions, a combination of frankness and civility that’s so important when thinking and talking about innovation and change, and a willingness to consider innovative and imaginative alternatives to the status quo.  The best papers were focused, grounded in the literature, and exhibited imagination, perseverance and thoroughness.

It was also impressive to see so many participants at the conference.  Australia’s legal ed community is a lot smaller than the UK’s — roughly half the number of law schools, though only a little over a third of the population, so more law schools per capita of the population in AU than in the UK.  And AU leads the USA in this regard too.  In spite of that, though, the law school community is relatively small in numbers, by UK standards.  And yet the numbers attending this ANU ALTA (169, I think) were very respectable by the standards of ALT or the now-defunct LILAC (organised by UKCLE, the HEA subject centre for law at Warwick U).   In part this may be because ALTA is still a generalist conference, rather than one with a focus only on legal education; but with tightening budgets and time-strapped academics it was good to see so many come to the conference.

Two ideas for improvement:

  1. In my keynote slides I mention Henry Jenkins’ analysis of the Harry Potter fan fic sites, and how these provide a model for collaborative peer-review and mentoring on the web, where newbie fic authors are mentored, and their writing is helped through the process of re-drafting.  Could we apply that to ALTA?  Conferences have gatekeeping functions (to adapt the theme of the conference…) but how much better, especially if you’re new to the scholarship of teaching & learning, to have a conference mentor who can help you through the process of preparing paper & slides, etc?
  2. What happens to all the presentations after the event?  I didn’t see any process to capture slides & papers and organise this on the ALTA site.  As I argued in my keynote the archiving of papers, presentations, projects and much else is essential to the memory of the discipline, in which regulators should be taking a leading role; but until that happens, professional bodies such as ALTA need to do that for the academic profession, and a good place to start would be with the annual conference.  In the UK,  BILETA (of which I was Chair some years back) has an unbroken record of such going right back to 1990 — a great resource for the law, education, technology communities.  The UKCLE site is a model in that respect, also — great web design, easy to locate resources, and plenty of them.

I’m not a member of ALTA yet.  But I’ll be joining.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann Priestley October 2, 2013 at 16:24

How nice to wake up to a post calling for better conference memories! I’m still following law conferences, most lately Law on the Internet and GIKII – see the series at

The current bottom up amplification and curation goes a way to help, but with the tools and techniques on offer changing all the time there’s still a need for skilled top down info mgmt, resourced by the conference organiser. But I would say that, wouldn’t I : P


2 Paul Maharg October 4, 2013 at 12:47

> there’s still a need for skilled top down info mgmt
Entirely agree Ann.

> resourced by the conference organiser
Again, agree, so long as it isn’t the local organiser. ALTA conferences, like BILETA, migrate from one institution to the next, unlike LILAC. There’s a need for centralised curation design year on year, so ideally ALTA wd be using the services of yrself 🙂 to do that!

But this scales up beyond professional bodies to regulators, which was the argument in LETR and what I was saying in the keynote. See recommendation 25 @ ALTA is one conference, and has a strong legal education presence, but there will be others annually that also need archiving, and from different sectors of legal education — possibly a clinic conference, maybe a CLE conference such as the CLEAA conference upcoming in Brisbane later this month – Regulators should be archiving and distributing the collective knowledge of the whole community — apart from anything else, it may help sectoral data and scholarship to be more widely understood.


3 Ann Priestley October 5, 2013 at 23:08

To generalise hugely, I think there’s an issue around how conferences are perceived – as a face to face encounter with little need for preservation. There’s a need to rethink events and the purpose they serve, particularly in a time of rising costs.


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