“Digital Literacy” in #legaled, begins here?

There is an ongoing discussion about digital technologies in education and practice – in legal education, practical legal training and professional practice. It is a discussion that recasts itself from time to time, e.g. as “digital literacy”. My interest in this area involves a couple of prisms – academic and professional legal education, professional and individual practices. I studied flexible, online and distance education (“FODE”) as a subject back in 2009 as part of my Masters in Professional Education and Training at Deakin University. In the context of some recent discussions, e.g. Kate Galloway’s posts at the Curl blog, I reviewed my notes from 2009 and put these online via a YouTube video. (More after the video)

I’m focusing on teaching and learning here, whereas the digital literacy debate is broader, and includes issues such as the legal profession’s engagement with digital technologies in practice. I would argue, however, that some attitudes about digital literacy begin in the formative stages of legal education, and the assumptions of regulators who accredit and approve courses. These notes date from 2009, but some issues are durable. I’ll mention a few of these here.

“Interactions” – some commentators seem to conceptualise FODE interactions as wholly online interactions. Interactions in teaching and learning are important, and there appears to be some anxiety about the nature and quality of interactions in #legaled. See, for example the Roper Report [1] and Gaye Lansdell’s publications on this [2][3]. “Online-ness” is treated as antithetical in #legaled, and particularly in PLT. What is often overlooked is the “blended” nature of existing courses, i.e. a blend of face-to-face and online interactions, and in PLT the work experience and reflective component of the courses. I recall attending a final plenary session at the 2012 APLEC conference in Hobart, in which the panel was manifestly disengaged from the existence of blended learning with FODE as one (multi-dimensional) tool in the instructional design toolbox. The sector suffers from a lack of local empirical research concerning interactions in FODE and teaching and learning in legal education and PLT. We need this research to inform regulators and educators. Also, as the video mentions, FODE and non-FODE “interactions” occur across many dimensions. Interactions are important, and a holistic approach is necessary for effective teaching and learning. This includes recognition of a reflexive-dialectical dimension for interactions, involving reflections in individual and extra-individual aspects of teaching and learning.

“Enablement” and “Social Justice” – FODE has the capacity to overcome restrictions in time and space, and to provide alternative means of communication and engagement. This capacity potentially enables individuals, who might otherwise be denied equal opportunity, to engage in legal education and training. I have personal experience of this as a deaf person, but I’m not just talking about disability. In Australia, overcoming the “tyranny of distance” remains an issue for rural and regional areas. Information and communications technology is increasingly affordable across socio-economic levels. I believe the legal profession would be the better for diversity in its membership – and the equity and parity of opportunity that FODE can contribute in legal education plays its part in this.

“Flexibility and Overload” – It is a double-edged sword. Flexibility can offer equity and parity in opportunities, but there are some institutional and individual issues on the teaching side of things. There seems to me to be a widespread mistaken belief that FODE is a cheap business model. Well, it is, if you’re not really concerned about whether your teaching and learning model is effective and satisfactory. If you do care, then FODE takes substantial investment of planning, funding, time and personnel to realise  good outcomes. There seems to be an increasing tendency of institutions to casualise teaching positions in FODE environments, to use practitioners without adequate training in teaching and learning theory and practice and/or FODE technologies. That tendency, together with inadequate planning or instructional design, undermines the effectiveness of FODE. Also, I believe it places an unfair burden on teachers, particularly those who really care about their effectiveness, because they must often compensate for inadequacies in planning, design and training by contributing substantial hours of unpaid work.

“Industrialisation” of #legaled – Otto Peters [4][5] foresaw a situation where industrialised education would involve employing less-qualified instructors to “deliver” instruction to learners, with qualified personnel reserved for planning and policy. If teaching and learning was like the mass production of widgets (“work-ready lawyers”), the industrialised model might work okay. But I contend it isn’t, and it doesn’t. I mentioned above the reflexive-dialectical aspects of teaching and learning. Part of this involves thinking about the teachers and practical legal training practitioners. Individuals with substantial intellectual and practical expertise have self actualisation needs that should be considered, if they are to thrive and remain motivated.[6] To neglect this consideration disrespects and undermines those individuals. This aspect can communicate itself to learners, who might under-rate the relevance and importance of the teaching and so, in turn, undermine the learners’ motivation to engage with learning.

“thinking” – I am an “early adopter” of technologies, and personally believe FODE has enormous potential. I argue that it is important, however, to remember that technologies are extensions or enablers of action. They do not substitute for intellectual engagement, critical thinking, methodologies or planning, on which they depend.

[1] Christopher Roper, ‘Standards for Approving Practical Legal Training Courses and Providers’ (Victoria Council of Legal Education, 2008).
[2] Gaye Lansdell, Have We Forsaken Quality and Professionalism for Technological Convenience in the Training of Lawyers in the 21st Century? The ‘Flexible Learning’Paradigm (2010).
[3] Gaye T Lansdell, ‘Have We ‘Pushed the Boat Out Too Far’ in Providing Online Practical Legal Training? A Guide to Best Practices for Future Programs’ (2009) 19(1 & 2) Legal Education Review 149.
[4] Otto Peters, 1969, ‘New Perspectives in Correspondence Study in Europe’, paper presented to 8th conference of the International Council on Correspondence Education, Paris, May 1969, <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/33/fb/4c.pdf>.
[5] Otto Peters, ‘Distance education and industrial production: a comparative interpretation in outine’ in D Stewart, D Keegan and B Holmberg (eds), Distance Education: International Perspectives (1983) 95.
[6] Abraham Harold Maslow, ‘A theory of human motivation’ (1943) 50(4) Psychological Review 370.


Paper plug: ‘Gatecrashing the Research Paradigm…’

MonashNice to see Monash University Library directing law students to our co-authored article ‘Gatecrashing the Research Paradigm: Effective Integration of Online Technologies in Maximising Research Impact and Engagement in Legal Education’*

* Kate Galloway, Kristoffer Greaves and Melissa Castan, ‘Gatecrashing The Research Paradigm: Effective Integration Of Online Technologies In Maximising Research Impact And Engagement In Legal Education’ (2013) 6 (1/2) Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association 83.


From North America: David Curle: Legal Education in the Age of the MOOC

In his blog post, Curle observes:

“just as solutions for the legal services industry are coming from outside the industry including new technology and borrowed business models, so are law schools starting to see influences from elsewhere in education”

“[a] tightly-woven web of stakeholders that each hold parts of the reform puzzle; creating a new legal educational system that is truly forward-looking will require the cooperation, effort, and some sacrifice by the schools themselves, faculty, the bar, and legal ethics regulators.”

The blog post does say that much about MOOCs, however massive open online courses are at least symbolic of how information and computer technology continues to generate social change, which extends to how professions evolve, and how practitioners will work.

Imagine a circumstance in which it is possible to complete academic legal qualifications through a MOOC; what implications might flow for the practical legal training component of legal education?

Could regulators strategically drop the Ormrod compartmentalised 3-stage model of legal education, and favour integrated models of pre-admission legal education?

As a PLT practitioner, what kind of work might you need to do to scaffold the practical legal education of a MOOC educated graduate?

I suggest a bit of horizon-scanning involves war-gaming such scenarios, in planning for the future.


Paper re micro-blogging as a collaborative space in legal ed and PLT makes Top 10

Informed today, this paper:

Interconnectedness, Multiplexity and the Global Student: The Role of Blogging and Micro Blogging in Opening Students’ Horizons

co-authored with Melissa Castan and Kate Galloway

recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for: PSN: Communications

From the abstract:

‘…the authors explore the world of blogging and micro blogging (twitter) as a means of mediating engagement with students, lawyers, academics and other interested and interesting people around the world. Through the use of auto-ethnographic case studies of their own experiences with blogging and micro blogging tools, the authors propose that far from being a distraction from student learning, these tools have the potential to open up an international professional collaborative space beyond the physical classroom, for both academics and our students, from their first year experience through to practical legal training and continuing professional development.’




Blogging and Micro-Blogging in Legal Education and PLT

microbloggingpicI had fun working with my mates Kate Galloway (from the Curl blog) and Melissa Castan (Amicae Curiae blog) on the topic of blogging and micro-blogging in legal education and practical legal training.

JALTA have published our article here. It is a wide-ranging, partly auto-ethnographic account, of blogging and using Twitter in our work.


PleagleTrainer 2012 YouTube Videos in Review

Last year I began experimenting with YouTube videos as a way of presenting aspects of my conference papers, or just bits of my reading and research as part of the review of literature for my PhD candidature. I thought it might be useful to recap them here.

It would be fair to say that none of the videos went gangnambusters (or viral), but this was not one of my aspirations. It was interesting to see which videos attracted views, given the subject matter is a fairly nichey niche. For me the videos are a bit of note-taking, journal-keeping, doodling exercise.

At the time of writing, the most viewed video was Using Prezi to make Mind Maps (115 views). It seems the idea of using a dynamic presentation tool such as Prezi to create and display mind maps or concept maps (or other graphic organisers) was attractive. I occasionally launch my public Prezis here.

Next most viewed was Elements of Critical Legal Studies and Law & Society Movements Part I (114 views). Unfortunately, Part II attracted only half as many views (108). Perhaps Part I was too long – as I worked on videos I have aimed to make them shorter and not to exceed 3 minutes where possible.

My Mind Maps – Qualitative Analysis Strategies really was a private note-taking exercise, but I decided to share it. It attracted about 73 views, and I was contacted privately by researchers in the UK and USA, who seemed to like it.

I decided to represent some of the exploratory background research I was doing regarding PLT teachers’ engagement with scholarship of teaching. Australian PLT Teachers’ Formal Teaching Qualifications attracted about 52 views, which is miniscule by YouTube standards, but surprisingly high to me given there are only about 145 publicly listed PLT teachers in Australia. The partner presentation, Australian PLT Teachers’ Scholarship of Teaching Publications only attracted 30 views. I am not sure what conclusion you might draw from this, but over the last year my experience leads me to speculate that people are tangling with what ‘scholarship of teaching’ in PLT might actually be. A 2-part presentation scholarship of teaching in PLT was the least viewed over the group (see below).

The most ‘theoretical’ of my presentations, Bourdieu, PLT + Me Part I and Part II, attracted 36 and 27 views, respectively. This work represented a fairly early struggle in my coming to grips with Bourdieu’s conceptions of field, habitus, categories of capital, and the juridical field. With the benefit of further subsequent study of the literature I may well re-do these videos in the future.

Part 1 of a video version of my ALTA conference paper presentation concerning scholarship of teaching in PLT attracted 33 views, whereas Part II attracted 26 views.

There are so many aspects to producing these videos, running time, graphics, camera work, voice over, background music, editing, subject matter and the symbolic representation of the topic. It would take much more space to pull the above works apart and analyse them. I have decided that I really like working with the YouTube setup as a medium and I will spend more time on it. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that many of these videos were produced on a Macbook Pro in a hotel room in some remote locations – and as a 53 year old that grew up in the world of snail mail and carbon paper, I marvel at what we can do with information and communications tech now.



Research Tool Tip

I use EndNote for recording references and bibliographic details, and type my research notes into the Endnote research note field for that reference (I also add a pdf of journal articles etc in the figures field). This way I can save a research note with a page or pinpoint reference, and the research note is always attached to that reference. An added bonus is that the entire database can be backed up regularly to avoid future heartache.

But there’s more, I am using Scrivener to write ‘scraps’ and chapters; these can be sorted a bit like index cards and then eventually exported to Word as a final document.
In Scrivener, there is a research folder to which you can drag documents for ease of reference when working on your scraps/chapters.

Experimenting with Endnote this morning, I find I can easily export a single reference with its bibliographic details and all of the content of the research notes field to a text or RTF document. This document can then be dragged to the research folder in Scrivener, so you can easily switch between the research note and the scrap on which you are working.

The method: In Endnote, finish working on the reference and close the reference. Select the reference in the list of references in the main window. Go to File > Export > Type in a unique name for the export file > Select the location to save the file (I use Desktop) > Save as Text Only or RTF > in Output Style, select ‘Show All Fields’ > make sure the ‘Export Selected References’ checkbox is checked > Click ‘Save’. A text document or RTF document will save to your desktop.

I am also using Evernote to save internet pages and info – those items can be sorted and filed in Evernote, and then exported from Evernote as a document to be dragged into the research folder in Scrivener.

Of course, annotated PDF documents can also be dragged into the Scrivener research folder, together with other media such as audio and movie files.