Learning / Technology in Legal Education: Special Issue of The Law Teacher

by Paul Maharg on 13/04/2016

The first 2016 issue of The Law Teacher is now out. It’s a Special Issue on legal education and technology, guest-edited by me, with an Editorial and six articles on the past, present and future use of technology in law schools.

It’s the second time I’ve guest-edited for the journal on the subject.  The first time was a decade ago, when Antoinette Muntjewerf and I co-edited.  Ten years is a long time in the digital churn, so it’s a good opportunity for reflection on what has changed across the decade, as well as what might be upcoming in the next few years.  Under future-gazing I list the increasing mobilisation of swathes of our educational cultures, the advance of algorithmic approaches to learning and learning infrastructure (and I cite the blockchain as an example of that), and the development of exocortices, particularly devices that can be driven by open-source SDKs.

One economic trend I mentioned but perhaps should have foregrounded more is the rise of publishers in the last decade as not just providers of content (and content that has DRM all over it), but as providers of learning management systems that tie content to system and charge for both.  I see that ploy as already a threat to law school autonomy, in that it hands control over the means of production (in the classic Marxist as well as a workflow sense) and often our innate expertise and even IP, to publishers.  As an update to the Editorial on this issue, according to a colleague at Nottingham Trent one corporate publisher, namely Pearson, has recently imposed restrictive licensing conditions unilaterally that are significantly more restrictive than those of other publishers, and set steep price rises with little or no advance warning (see also the original Telegraph article, and discussion of Pearson’s response in The Bookseller).

Another point made in the Editorial was how little, in general, we seem to be prepared for the endless unfolding of the digital revolution — indeed constantly taken by surprise.  A passage from Lisa Jardine’s fascinating history of consumerist goods in the Renaissance puts it well:

What scandalized the serious scholar Erasmus (as it fascinated Dürer) was the fact that, not much more than half a century after the first appearance of the printed book, demand had turned it into a product beyond the control of the scholars and specialists. The book had taken over as the transmitter of European written culture, before scholars and educators had had time to come to terms with its power and influence.[1]

Is the digital revolution getting beyond the control of scholars?  I think we know the answer to that.  The economic context and cultures of most law schools mean that the innate educational conservatism that has characterised much of legal educational culture inhibits the creation and systematising of deep innovation in our law schools.  And yet there are many inspiring examples of what can be done by educators and designers, and there is thoughtful development of theory; and the Special Issue offers examples of both.  The scholarly accounts of both learning / technology theory and practice, however, could be better organised by our discipline — as we pointed out in the LETR literature review, there are almost no systematic reviews, almost no guides to best evidence that would help students, academics, regulators and policy-makers identify helpful, informative, inspiring research.  A glance at medical education, and a body such as AMEE, will show how far we have to go in that respect.

I presented these and other ideas discussed in the Editorial at the BILETA conference, held a few days ago at the University of Hertfordshire.  Slides up on Slideshare and at the Slides tab above.  I’ve also started a discussion forum at the tab above right, called ‘Law/Tech Forum’, in the hope that readers may want to discuss the Special Issue’s articles there.  As I say in the Editorial’s final paragraph,

The articles are but a snapshot of corners of the vast and growing field of learning/technology, and the processes by which techne and poesis may bring each other forth. This Special Issue’s Editorial therefore does not end by asking its readers a question. Instead it invites you to comment upon and ask your own questions – of the pieces here and what they suggest to you; to think creatively about your experiences of learning/technology in your lives; to reflect on your identity as digital being. On publication date we shall release a public forum for debate at http://paulmaharg.com, and we shall be ready for your comments and questions. Should the experiment take off, we will consider publishing the forum as a unique internet publication, under the aegis of the PEARL (Profession, Education and Regulation in Law) Centre’s PEARL Press imprint. Over to you…


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