At the AALS 2014 Conference, at one of two sessions sponsored by the Legal Writing, Reasoning, and Research Section, I will be moderating a panel discussion entitled "Erasing Boundaries: Inter-School Collaboration and Its Pedagogical Opportunities." With me on the panel are Professors Ian Gallacher (Syracuse), Robin Boyle Laisure (St. John's), and Amy Stein (Hofstra). It will take place at the Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2014, from 2:00 - 3:45 p.m. Here is a summary of what we will be presenting:
Legal writing programs rely on simulated experiential learning to teach their students about oral and written communication. The more realistic these simulations are, the more engaged the students can become with the problem, but the illusion of reality is shattered when a student encounters an opposing lawyer, or a witness, in the cafeteria lunch line.
This presentation will suggest that technology - particularly video conferencing technology over the Internet - opens up new possibilities for law schools by allowing students from different schools to participate in complex simulations that can, if carefully prepared, teach important lessons about lawyering skills, behavior, and the construction of a professional identity. The presenters will not propose that law school faculty should teach or grade students from another school, but that the faculty can collaborate on problems that are more elaborate and complex than could realistically be produced within one school, and that students from different schools can work together as co-counsel, or in opposition to each other, in a variety of projects, with students from other schools serving as judges or arbitrators, witnesses, clients, and so on. In this way, faculty members teach and grade their own students but both faculty and students gain the advantages brought by collaboration.
The presentations will not discuss or provide a demonstration of a completed project, but rather will describe and explore the possibilities presented by the rapidly-changing world of internet communication, and will suggest that this approach is something that can be undertaken now with minimal cost for the technology and by the faculty currently teaching in law schools. In other words, this approach suggests one way in which law schools can offer their students a richer and more interesting learning experience that will go at least some of the way to answering the questions about how they can offer experiential learning opportunities and help students graduate "practice ready" lawyers without incurring significant, or even any, additional cost.
I will start of the presentation by describing the thread that runs through the whole presentation: the increasing ubiquity of internet-based video technology. I will also offer my draft “definition” of experiential learning, as an introduction to the theme of the presentation: using video technology to break down walls between schools, and bring students from different classes to work together. I will also discuss how this could support and extend the experiential work already being done in classrooms in law schools around the country.
Professor Ian Gallacher will speak next on the role legal writing programs, with their long experience in preparing simulations for student assignments, can take in laying the groundwork for experiential learning opportunities throughout law school. Ian will also describe his theories for how the use of video technology will make for better experiential learning opportunities in simulation courses.
Professor Robin Boyle Laisure will speak about the theory of experiential learning, on the importance of experiential learning, and on the ways in which simulated experiential learning can be beneficial to law students. Robin will also talk about her contract drafting course and describe how it would work in a “split by school” format, with students in one course representing (for example) the Owner, and in the other course, Purchaser.
Professor Amy Stein will describe the skills courses that she teaches, and how she plans to incorporate these technologies into them. She will also talk about the various technological developments that allow us to think about these issues in ways that would have been impossible even a few years ago.
If you are looking for a general reference on the "flat classroom" concept, there is a good book about it in the K-12 space by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay entitled Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds which you can find here on Amazon. In terms of the technology to support this kind of inter-school collaboration, we will discuss and mention Skype, Zoom.us, Facetime, Voice Thread, and Adobe Connect. Increasingly, these technologies are becoming ubiquitous on desktops and our mobile devices, and many of our audience members will have had some personal experience with some or all of them. So this is not a presentation about technology itself, but rather a presentation about how we might use the technology we have in some new and innovative ways.
The PowerPoint that accompanied our presentation can be accessed here: Download AALS2014.