Directions conference, parallel session 1

by Paul Maharg on 03/06/2016

I’m joining the Technology-Enhanced Learning session (there’s a surprise).  First up is Lutz-Christian Wolff, talking on the intriguing title of ‘Legal Education without Teaching?’.  Does the question mark have the same function as in Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?

Powerpoints are outdated, old-fashioned, compared to social media tools.  But this requires investment in money and time, though of course we can use the achievement for our purposes as researchers in legal education.  We also need to assess the effects of the new technologies.  Is this over-engineering legal education?  Does it help our students to become better students or indeed better people?  What are our goals in legal education — the new technologies prompt these questions.  We don’t encourage students to be better students by spoon-feeding them — this creates immature students.  Lutz’s experience in a German university was salutary listening — highly passive, his professors were bad teachers, he didn’t attend classes because he had his own study plan that helped him to pass the exams.  All that was quite different from the experience of teaching in Hong Kong.

In a perfect world, he said, students can organise their own learning and self- and peer-assessment.  In a perfect world we would stop teaching and basically administer and assess students.  Intriguing idea.  I’d ask: what constitutes support environments for students in this new world?  Clearly there would need to be such an environment.  Lutz still believes his early experiences in learning law were useful because they stimulated him to become an independent learner.  He argued not for investment in teaching, but for investment in allowing students to develop their own legal knowledge and skills independently.  He said he was regarded as a tough teacher; but Lutz said that the students didn’t mind because he had communicated his approach to the students; and students appreciated the approach.  Students had chosen law — therefore there should be no need to motivate them — in fact, students should motivate staff to work with them.  I like his closing idea that contemporary legal education is over-engineered, in fact in many respects I agree with him on that.

Next up, Mimi Zou on ‘Micro-modules under the microscope: in and beyond flipped classrooms’.  Mimi argued for a different approach, leveraging the power of digital technologies.  She showed  part of her course on Caring for the Elderly – What is good care for the elderly.  It was an interview with an octogenarian man — a case study.   Videos are short (the one we saw was six mins in length).  Also included are interviews with experts on good care for the elderly, and how that can best be regulated.  She also had interviews with students who gave feedback on the method of using such micro-modules — interesting that one of the students wanted more in the way of feedback.  Very interesting approach.

Next, Paula Hodgson and Betty Hui, on ‘Potentials in extending learning experiences’.  Paula, who presented this as a video presentation, talked about MOOCs in HE and law schools in particular. She analysed six in particular.  Michael Sandel’s famous Justice; Contract Law: from trust to promise to contact (also from Harvard); Intellectual Property and Policy — Part 2: Copyright and Trademark Laws, R. Polk Wagner (Penn State U); English Common Law: Structure and Principles, Adam Gearey, (U of London); A Law Student’s Toolkit, Ian Ayres (Yale Law School); Copyright for Multimedia, Kevin Smith, Lisa Macklin, Anne Gilliland (Duke, Emory, Chapel Hill, North Carolina).  The student numbers are huge — didn’t catch them, but tumbling zeros, as you would expect.  Paula gave examples of student work from the forums.  It was clar that there was a broadening scope of understanding through poll questions and answers.  There was also some grading.

How do MOOCs related to full-credit courses?  Paula argued for a blend of credit bearing courses + MOOCs, and investigated the positives in this, eg for educators, the creation of an innovative learning environment, the enriching of teaching content, and the inclusion of local and international cases in f2f interactions.  In her words the online re-framed the f2f encounter.  She concluded by saying that law student can establish self-directed and self-regulated learning skills through learning in MOOCs.  I didn’t agree with all she said — too positive, I think, re MOOCs — but I definitely agree with this final point.

Throughout I was sparring with Lutz over approaches to learning.  Great fun, and absorbing.


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