Developing legal education (including Laptops in class, again!)

As with the first set of parallel sessions, the second set of parallel sessions in the third Legal Education Symposium also covered a diverse range of interesting topics, including experiential learning, web 2.0 and teaching law in a global context.

There was another session on Experiential Learning, this one chaired by Prof Colin Scott of the School of Law, University College Dublin. Dr Theo Lynn of Dublin City University, picking up points which Rapheal King made this morning, in a jazzy presentation with lots of examples from teaching a masters level programme which incorporated a team assessment project built around a series of case studies, made the case for inculcating teamwork in law school education. Moreover, as he pointed out, in modern law firms, teamwork and problem solving skills are highly valued and Law schools need to respond to this reality by integrating teamwork into the curriculum. Larry Donnelly, of the School of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway) who, so far as I can see, is the only person to have contributed to all three of the symposia, picked up many of the points made by Avrom Sherr earlier as well as by Theo Lynn. Larry reflected on his experience of establishing and directing a fledgling Clinical Legal Education programme at NUI Galway. In his view, legal educators in Ireland have a duty to impart not just theoretical knowledge, but vocational skills, which are best learned experientially. He described successes and problems associated with placement-based programme in Galway, and noted that some practitioners of clinical legal education overseas do not recognise placement as clinic and instead prioritise the law school clinic model, but he argued that clinical legal education is far more protean than that. Dr Jennifer Schweppe of the School of Law, University of Limerick, prefiguring the theme of the second plenary, examined what is meant by the term “curriculum” in law, and considered the impact of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and she argued that the Bologna Process will have a long-lasting and positive effect on how law is taught.

The second session concerned Blogs, Podcasts, Social Networks, Wikis and other social media, and it was chaired by John O’Dowd of the School of Law, University College Dublin (another person working double). TJ McIntyre of the School of Law, University College Dublin, who blogs here and contributes here, in Slogging thru’ blogging, looked at ways in which blogs and other electronic resources can be used for teaching purposes in Ireland. There are some Irish law blogs (look in the blogroll left): some are personal (eg Lex Ferenda, Irish Law Updates), some are institutional (eg Human Rights in Galway, CCJHR in Cork), but they all reflect the personal choices of the bloggers, and so the coverage is relatively random and not usually course-ready. Nor are Irish students major participants in discussion fora such as the Irish Law mailing list or the UK’s Law Student Forum. Students are not entirely happy with electronic delivery of materials generally, and are notoriously reluctant to interact, whether in the real world classroom or online. In his experience, then, by and large, for the students, blogs haven’t really worked as a teaching/learning tool.

TJ briefly mentioned something I’ve considered in an earlier post: the vexed question of laptops in class, and this question was taken up by Scott Taylor, of the School of Law, University of St Thomas, Minnesota, USA. Against the background of a famous (or at least famous on the blogosphere) survey on the issue by Eugene Volokh, and of the hilarious (it is, I promise!) NYU Law Revue preview video Please repeat the question, he reported on a survey he conducted with his students about the use of laptops in class, wi-fi, social networks, blogs, daily emails, wikis and podcasts (the full paper is on SSRN; and he’s blogged about it here). 80% of the students in his tax law class thought using laptops in class a positive thing. Althogh many law schools are pondering (in the words of the title to Scott’s paper) to ban or not to ban, that is the question, and they are still to decide whether they enhance, interfere with or detract from the student learning experience. He also found that students were not very willing to engage with blogs. He tried to integrate Paul Caron’s TaxProf Blog into his class, but found that less than 10% thought it had educational value.

Finally, in this session, Dr Fiona Donson, of the Faculty of Law, University College Cork, spoke about her experiences of blogging on the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rightsblog, which had been mentioned by TJ. It is an institutional blog which she inherited – it is used mainly as to share information on interesting recent developments, cases, and articles, as well as the centre’s events. She said that the blog gets lots of traffic (which is more than can be said for this one), especially – even – for older posts with substantive content. But she also said that it is hard to find the time to write a post (I know the feeling). And she is beginning to see participation in the blog as another way to involve research postgraduate students. She is also looking at the use of blogs in the undergraduate curriculum; it has proved useful in a small reflective practice-based course, where students use blogs as interactive learning journals; and the challenge is to scale it up. It will be obvious that I think that blogs are an excellent idea, and have lots of pedagogical value.

The third session considered Teaching Law in a Global Context, and it was chaired by Joanne Blennerhassett of the School of Law, University College Dublin. Chuanman You, a graduate student in the School of Law, University College Dublin, provided an introduction to the Juris Master program in the Peoples Republic of China since 1995, evolving as the Chinese equivalent of the JD (there is a good example here. It demonstrates that (in an interesting example of political and economic globalization and in particular of China’s integration into the world trading system) China’s initially soviet/civilian system is now moving towards a more American style hybrid. This is very much a recent development, since law (espeically in the universities) was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, and much of it turns on the accessibility to Chinese lawyers of material in legal English. Helen Callanan (founder of the new Irish Institute for Legal English Instruction) spoke about training people who want to speak legal English, usually foreign lawyers but also local lawyers. Like Marie Luce, earlier, she stressed the importance of linguistic and cultural issues, and how they can be not only misunderstood but also manipulated.

In oh so many ways, therefore, we should be talking to each other.