Monday, November 06, 2006

What is innovation in legal education?

Elmer Masters (Director of Internet Development at CALI and new contributing editor at the Law School Innovation blog) writes in his introductory posting:

When I first visited this blog I was encouraged by the title, 'Law School Innovation' and hoped to find a new forum discussing the impact of technology on legal education. With my background in law school technology, innovation is about using technology in new and interesting ways to further the vision and goals of a law school. What I found was quite different. The discussions on LSI are more about bringing innovation to the curriculum and the scholarship of law schools, no mention of technology. This apparent divergence of the meaning of 'innovation' certainly got me thinking. We are using the same language, but our connotations are different. My innovation is not necessarily your innovation.

Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines innovation as "the introduction of something new" or "a new idea, method, or device". By this definition the application of technology to further legal instruction, changes to the traditional law school curriculum, and advances in scholarship all present opportunities for innovation. In thinking about this it has occurred to me that what I am seeing are different facets of innovation. The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) is focused on the 'how' of innovation. How do we bring technological innovations into the classroom and into legal education? How are the tools we develop used in legal education? The community emerging around the LSI blog is focused on the 'what' of innovation. What are we teaching? What is the focus of our scholarship?

These facets are not mutually exclusive. CALI does think about what innovative subjects are being taught in law schools and the LSI community is concerned with how innovations to curriculum are implemented. Understanding these different connotations for innovation are important because any innovation is difficult and needs all the help it can get. No matter the connotation, innovation that is well grounded and well thought out is a good thing. My hope is that I can bring some of 'how' of innovation to the discussion here while understanding more of the 'what' of innovation that is discussed.

I posted a comment which I cross-post here below the fold:
CALI has done a great job of promoting and facilitating technological innovation in law schools. They're best known, of course, for the computer-based interactive tutorials, but in the last couple of years, with the development of Classcaster, they (largely Elmer, in fact) have been on the forefront of helping faculty adopt both blogging and podcasting in their teaching.

On the other hand--Elmer's assumption that "innovation" means "technology" is telling. I was on the CALI Board of Directors for several years, and I declined to stay on after my second term because I was increasingly put off by the tenor some of the discussions I heard on the board. The assumption seemed to be that law faculty who were not interested in "technology" were not interested in innovation, or even in improving their teaching. Faculty, it was often suggested, are interested only in their scholarship; teaching is something they put up with. Perhaps I've been lucky in my choice of employment, but in all the law schools I've worked at, faculty take their teaching very seriously and seem to get a great deal of joy out of it.

Secondly--and as a podcaster myself, this may be surprising coming from me--I'm not sure that the CALI model of course podcasting represents innovation. The most engaging law school classes tend to be those with a high degree of interaction among the instructor and the students. I'm not talking about the tedious first-year "Socratic method" which seems largely to be a thing of the past anyway; I'm talking about smaller classes and electives where students are truly engaged in the subject matter. Podcasting in this context seems to be a step back, to the "sage on the stage" model of teaching. I think podcasting has great value, but I'm not sure that classroom instruction is its best use.


Betsy McKenzie said...

I agree that podcasting misses the most exciting part of good law school classes. There is no substitute for BEING THERE. The interaction between prof and class is the heart of the enterprise. And many of our most tech-oriented faculty also recognize that they want their students interacting with them.

Lawexperience said...

I know that all who care about improving legal education are indebted to Judith for her incredibly powerful contributions to the Carnegie team which produced Educating Lawyers. I very much look forward to reading this new piece.