Educational Technology and the Social Web

June 19, 2008

Transforming Legal Education

Filed under: Education and Technology,Social Software — Ken @ 2:12 pm

I am here at the University of Maryland School of Law attending CALI 2008.  I will be live blogging for most of the sessions I attend. Here’s the opening plenary.

The title of this year’s conference is Transforming Legal Education.  John Mayer is opening the session with slide montage of all previous CALI conferences to Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen”. The opening plenary is by Paul Maharg from Glasgow Graduate School of Law. He recently published a book “Transforming Legal Education”.  His themes for today: signature pedagogy, transactional learning, SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Learning Environment), Into the future.

Transforming Legal Education book coverA main focus of his book is how simulations can be used in the teaching of law. Thorndike and Dewey in the 1920s had opposing views of how we understand education. Thorndike’s view won out according to Maharg, a view that emphasized a teacher dominated classroom. Dewey promoted experiential learning. See Dewey’s Lab school for more information. Four key themes to Maharg’s book: experience, ethics, technology, and collaboration. Maharg’s school promotes transactional learning, a specific form of problem based learning that is distinguished by active learning. In Educating Lawyers (Carnigie Study) the signature pedagogies are surface structure, tacit structure, deep structure, and shadow structure which are fundamental features of the case method. Marhag argues that his four key themes align with the signature pedagogy themes but this exposes gaps in how law is taught. For example, our use of technology is based upon the characteristics of deep structure, we’re forced to deploy technology in a way that fits outcomes of deep structure pedagogy.

Glasgow School of Law has developed an open source simulation environment that promotes transactional learning. It is being used not only in the teaching of law but other disciplines such as social work and architecture. A demonstration of SIMPLE shows us a very clean interface and an example project in the tool. Students are divided into groups of four, documents are prepared by adjunct faculty and they mentor and guide the students. The student’s goal is to achieve a settlement in 12 weeks. Project criteria include a body of evidence that is used to measure student learning and progress. Student feedback says that they learn extended teamwork, real legal fact finding, real legal research etc.  Plagiarism and free loading are guarded against because of the style of teaching, situational, project, collaborative work.

Going forward, SIMPLE will grow to include 3D simulations, perhaps data from Google Earth, and other resources to make it a more rich environment for learning. A little more on transactional learning from the SIMPLE web site:

What is transactional learning?

The common denominator in the use of the SIMPLE application is the legal transaction. The team has developed the concept of ‘transactional learning’, with the following characteristics:

  1. It is active learning – transactional learning goes beyond learning about legal actions to learningfrom legal actions.
  2. It is based on doing legal transactions – students learn about the practical realities of legal actions.
  3. It involves reflection on learning – for example documenting a file, thinking across transactions, reflecting upon group process.
  4. It is based on collaborative learning – students help each other to understand legal concepts and procedures by discussing issues, reviewing actions in a group, giving peer feedback on group work, and so on. In other words, students begin to learn how to leverage knowledge amongst themselves, and to trust each other’s developing professionality (learning about know who and know why, as well as know what).
  5. It supports holistic or process learning – in seminars and lectures and in their reading students engage with ideas and form understandings of legal concepts, documents, actions and the like. However such learning is ‘part to whole’ – the SIMPLE application provides opportunities for ‘whole to part’ learning, and for learning about legal process.

SIMPLE Foundation:


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