BILETA Conference – Law and technology rule OK! – Emily Allbon

As someone who gets most fired up about law, technology and learning, the annual BILETA conference (29-30 March 2012) seemed like an ideal match for me, and I was suitably chuffed when my paper was accepted. Sod’s law dictated of course that our GDL programme was undergoing revalidation Day Two so I’d just be able to attend the first day, but what a day nonetheless. We heard about e-reader and iPad pilots, alongside law apps and teaching with film and twitter.


Here’s a quick-fire roundup:

Patricia McKellar & Steven Warburton – Flexible learning with e-readers

The speakers spoke of their e-reader pilot at the University of London – issuing kobo e-readers to their students, pre-loaded with content from OUP and Palgrave, alongside their own materials. The pilot included students from 5 different geographic regions – 2 from regions in the UK, and one from Germany, Kenya and Singapore. Drivers for this include the vast boxes of print material that they need to send out to their students all over the world – incurring massive costs around postage, storage in warehouses and the inevitable need to over-purchase as numbers of students uncertain. The publishers involved were keen to work with the university once they could be sure their materials were secured to the individual reader. Student reactions were reported as positive, with the expected comments around portability, battery life and functionality. The speakers also noted some negative comments around the same issues.

An interesting pilot particularly considering the scale of operation involved, interesting to hear that this is not considered by either the university or those students piloted as a replacement for hard copy, but a complement.

Sandy Meredith raised an important point at the end of the session around referencing – asking if the page numbers differ in the e-version to hard copy. It was confirmed that this was the case and that handouts had to be adjusted to refer to chapters and sections. This could cause major disruption to law programmes.

Philip Leith – Discussion of BAILII survey findings: getting students reading cases

Philip reported back on the results of a recent survey carried out by BAILII, of which he is a trustee. Of particular interest was the breadth of users who use the service and took the time to respond to the questionnaire – over 3000 of them. A wide variety of professions were noted, including ‘Housewife. I just like reading the cases‘ (!) Almost 10% of respondents were students. Questions asked included the proportion of users using the service in preference to commercial services like Lexis or Westlaw, which balanced out at around 50% each way (perhaps expected being that the survey is of existing BAILII users). Leith was concerned that more lecturers weren’t linking to BAILII content from their VLE’s and remarked on the preference of students for succinct summaries rather than the full text.

Martin Jones – Courting controversy: introducing Twitter into law teaching

Teaching with tweets? Credit: eldh

Have been mulling over the possibilities here for a while so was keen to get some ideas from Martin. He started by saying that he was considered by his school as the tech guy and although was keen to try and integrate new technologies into his teaching (where it added value),he was aware of the mental scarring left on his students after a stint on Second Life as part of his course some years ago!

He stated his motive as ‘increasing engagement with EU law’, a subject oft-considered dry and dull by students before starting the course. Martin noted they lacked interest in the wider political implications within the subject, seeing it as something which had little relevance to where they saw themselves in practice.

Martin envisaged using Twitter as a prod; a way to fire topical EU news their way, as well as somewhere to make course announcements, help with seminar preparation and to get the students talking. He told us that he did feel a little of that ‘pressure to tweet’: coming up with new stories to interest them was quite time-consuming, and then invented the TweetCase concept – summing up key cases in 140 characters. This was a really interesting concept and sounds very difficult indeed! He flashed up a couple of examples – including Cassis de Dijon (120/78).

The impact wasn’t as resounding as Martin had hoped despite gaining a good deal of followers; the students didn’t really interact with each other and also in the post-course survey more students indicated they picked up course notifications via their email than via Twitter. Martin will be trying to build on this interaction next year, possibly with the utilisation of a tweetwall. Asking the students to write their own TweetCases is also an option he’s looking to pursue.

Really interesting case study – I definitely want to try it out now…

Me – Too cool for (law) school? Using technology to engage students in legal skills

Don’t think it’s the done thing to blog about my own session! See the slides via slideshare…

Janice Denoncourt – Using film to enhance business law education: The Social Network

Janice, from Nottingham Law School, provided us with lots of cinematic food for thought (though no popcorn unfortunately), with her session about the use of film within her business law teaching. Janice uses The Social Network to get the students thinking about contractual points of law, showing them clips to provoke discussion; was Mark Zuckerberg employed by the Zimmerman twins to work on their Harvard Connection website? Janice spoke of how students find it difficult to connect with all those ‘archaic’ cases in contract, commenting that bog-standard problem-style questions about made-up companies can also fail to hit home. She has found that the use of film has allowed her to illustrate legal concepts, inspire debate, as well as highlight the legal complexities present in business.

Other films Janice noted which might be of use to anyone considering weaving visual clips into their law teaching include The Corporation (2003) a Canadian documentary, the TV series Borgen (2010), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Last Station (2009), Erin Brockovich (2000) and Skin (2008).

Keynote – Professor Richard Susskind OBE – What are we training our young lawyers to be?

Training lawyers of which decade? Credit: stopherjones

Richard Susskind used part of his keynote to tackle head-on the issues around oversubscription of law courses at a time when training contracts and pupillages are ever elusive. Generally appreciative of the need for academic law as a subject, Susskind however criticises the lack of understanding of how legal roles are to change. Calling on law professors to make their students aware of the changing opportunities and give them the opportunity to learn about them if they wish (via elective modules). Future legal roles listed by Susskind include legal knowledge engineer, legal technologist, legal hybrid, legal process analyst, legal project manager, online dispute resolution practitioner, legal management consultant, legal risk manager…

He ridiculed the time talented legal trainees spend ‘training’; leafing through papers in archives and basements rather than getting involved in the processes that will become their bread and butter early on. Susskind placed an emphasis on moving away from the solitary tasks in favour of creating a workforce of flexible, team-based lawyers who work in hybrid roles.

Susskind asks the question ‘why are we training our students to be lawyers of the 1980’s?’ calling on the academic and professional sides of law to forge more explicit links and ensure that students are armed with knowledge about the development of legal services in the UK and opportunities that will become the norm in the coming years.

Jonathan Bainbridge, Paul Maharg, Rebecca Mitchell, Joel Mills, Freda Grierly, Rory O’Boyle – iLEGALL (iPads and Legal Learning) mobile legal learning

Funded by a BILETA grant, HEA Teaching Development grant and by Northumbria Law School, the iLEGALL project was something I was keen to hear more about…

After a rousing introduction from Paul Maharg around mobile learning and personalisation, we heard from Jonathan Bainbridge from Northumbria Law School. At Northumbria they’ve been trialling the iPad on their LPC, giving a device to each student. Bainbridge reported being surprised that students didn’t feel confident with the device at all, needing significant support to get them up and running.

Credit: JaredEarle

Issues noted included the age-old University IT suspicion of Apple products and subsequent securing of a level of support, lack of knowledge about cloud computing from students and the sometimes odd formatting of documents on the iPad. The formatting was an issue as a big emphasis of the trial was on getting students drafting. Jonathan noted some problems around accessing legal databases via the device too.

Rebecca Mitchell took over to talk about the positives. No-brainers included portability, speed of turning on, and the iPad’s ability to be ‘useful for most things’ (student quote). For teaching staff it proved excellent for getting the class collaborating and helping each other, as well as making it very easy to walk around and check work in progress.

Very little was dictated by Northumbria, emphasising the device is owned by the student. Students were simply required to download Dropbox and PDFExpert (allowing you to digitally sign a document).

The experience at The Law Society of Ireland was similar in that iPads were given to the student with the user free to use it as they wanted. The course was one that practitioners could sign up for and indeed 80% of those enrolling noted that their key driver to do so was because of the device. The aim was to run a paperless course, guiding practitioners in how to use the device as a professional tool and information manager. Like the students at Northumbria, much support was needed in the early weeks to understand the functions of the iPad; the Law Society offered workshops, forums and for some 1-2-1 tutorials. External speakers also came to pass on their expertise in using the device in practice. Impressions shared by participants included reduced wastage of paper, the ease at which they could record meetings and accessibility to such a wide range of resources at their fingertips.

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