We are beginning our Dean search at Texas A&M. The next several years are going to be a very exciting period of time for our law school, and the position of Dean will be a great opportunity for the right person.
My two posts about a law school of the future were labeled “visions,” but they were blueprints rather than visions. Visions — organizational, institutional visions — aren’t so detailed, and if there is any hope for a vision becoming reality, then it can’t be mandated from above. Visions don’t come on stone tablets, and they don’t get carried down from the mountain top. As much wiser people than I have written, visions get built, and they are built around values, purposes, and big themes and goals.
In those senses, I don’t have a vision of legal education. Not yet, anyway. I do, however, have a set of intuitions about what I’d like to do with my students, things that are rarely captured in conventional conversations about law school pedagogy and exam writing (and techniques), about faculty identity (“classroom” faculty, “clinical” faculty, “legal writing” faculty), about the types of jobs that students should aspire to securing within nine months of graduating. Those things are important to many, many people; in their usual form, at least, they’re not that important to me.
I want to arm law students — all law students — with a sense of overarching personal capability and self-confidence that in some fundamental way can pull them through the troughs, valleys, and crises that are too often associated with not remembering the black-letter rule, not knowing how to draft a discovery plan, and other, similar nuts-and-bolts issues. Here is why: Continue reading
Last week’s post on the future of legal education – “One Vision of the Future” – in many ways didn’t go far enough. So here is a refinement and extension. I like “things,” and here I am designing a “thing.” Version 2.0, if you will.
As with Version 1.0, the point of this exercise is not only to engage in some science fiction regarding what we do. It’s to see if the science fiction leads to recognizing some things that we might do today that would help our students and the profession. Continue reading
What should legal education become?
Back in August, my preview of coming activities for the year included this sketch of my role as chair of a University of Pittsburgh School of Law task force on innovation in legal education. Figure out the future. That’s our charge.
Our little band has done a lot of reading and reviewing and listening and talking, and one of the things that we tasked ourselves with was independently coming up with our own respective visions of the future. If we were to remove a variety of real-world limitations, such as compliance with accreditation requirements, the need to get changes approved by our faculty colleagues, and the cost of putting things in place, what could, would, and should law school look like?
Since this is a blog that talks in part about innovation and innovation processes, I thought that readers might be interested in what I and I alone am responsible for so far as my vision of innovation in legal education. Call what follows “My Law School,” or “MadisonLaw,” version 1.0, meaning that I have undoubtedly missed things, mischaracterized others, and added in unnecessary stuff. Much of what follows owes its inspiration to colleagues near and far, both in space and in some cases in time; I will not cite to them or otherwise annotate this sketch, even though the provenance of many of these ideas will be reasonably clear to many. As a last preliminary note, it will quickly become clear that this is almost entirely infeasible as an actual working model of any existing law school. It is what I would build and what I would do, if I had all the time and the resources in the world. Give me $200 million (substantially less than all the resources in the world, but still a lot of money), and (as Jackie Gleason once said) away we go. Continue reading
It dawns on me that Turing tests may have a role for the future of education and MOOCs. In short, can one create a Socratic style system that automates probing what a student knows? A combination of gamification (not a great word) and machine learning might allow a system to press a student to express more than “I memorized X” and move to explaining why in a discussion. If I understand the simple idea of Turing tests, one should not know that the other side is a machine in a conversation. It should be a discussion. That is what a professor does in Socratic method. There would likely be a wall of sorts where the student has no more questions or perhaps the machine determines that some level of mastery is in place. To me, a key reason to press questions is to see whether the student can answer why their claim or understanding is correct. When they can do that they may at last “own” the idea and then do something with it. Insofar as the key is to keep questioning, this approach will hit a different wall where a person may need to engage with the student. In addition, when a student asks something the teacher has not considered, a “does not compute” response will likely be a let down. Assuming one solves that personal dimension, that moment would be a signal to shift to other resources including instructors to go deeper into the issue. Otherwise we are left with test passing equals knowledge. As Erika Christakis put it, we have:
a broken system built on the dangerous misconception that testing is a proxy for actual teaching and learning. Somehow, along the path of good intentions, testing stopped being seen as a diagnostic tool to guide good instruction and became, instead, the instruction itself. It’s as if a patient were given a biopsy, learned she had cancer and was then told that no further medical treatment was necessary. If that didn’t sound quite right, we could just fire the doctor who ordered the test or scratch out the patient’s results and mark “cured” in the file.
Although I am leery of easy solutions, I think that a system that may prod a student to see what they know and then come to a teacher to gain further insight and evaluate what they grasp would be great. It might be a step away from a system that asks students to jump through a hoop and receive a star or treat for performing a trick without knowing why the words or ideas coming from them matter or how to apply the words and ideas to new contexts, which I think would be knowledge rather than inert data.