Harvard Law School’s New “Casebook” for the Digital Age

The casebook began with Langdell at Harvard Law School, and so it is reimagined by another Harvard Law School professor.  Jonathan Zittrain and other developers, introduced a new electronic “casebook” today at a luncheon held at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. 

The goal of the new system is not simply to provide students with a digital casebook, but a new suite of tools to help students and professors collaberate.  The suite is called H2O and includes a syllabus (called a “playlist”), a question tool, casebook creation tool, and a “rotisserie” discussion tool “which enables a structured discussion. Users respond to a question, then are assigned discussion partners, who critique their responses.”  The professor can also mark up the text using a resource called “collage” which “allows for tagging text, annotating it, and hiding portions of text without changing the original document.”

One key benefit to the system is to promote student discussion. “Students can outline and mark up cases they’re assigned to study and share them with a study group.”  Another benefit is that it could help create new course structures. “‘I like contracts, I like torts, I’m not going to teach contorts because there’s no book for it. but if I can easily do my own bespoke syllabus drawing on the work of others, I could.'”

There is a playlist currently available to view (click Playlist and scroll to Chapter 2: Battery).  The professor is able to give a brief overview of what is being covered and how the cases fit together.  Click on a case, and you will see how the professor has highlighted important aspects.

You can read more about it in a blog post at The Atlantic and in a blog post by Ethan Zuckerman.

The real question is: will this new method of teaching catch on?

Integrating Internet-Based and Teleconferencing Resources into On-Line Teaching

Note: This is a continuing weblog describing my experiences teaching an on-line course in government ethics.

The on-line government ethics course this semester has already benefitted from a number of internet-based resources as well as teleconferencing.  With one of my early organizing goals to keep the “virtual class” as interactive as possible through the use of discussion boards and wikis available on TWEN, I also looked to see what other resources might be available on the Internet. To my surprise, there were a number of opportunities to integrate interactive ethics training into the course. 

For example, most state ethics agencies now offer on-line training for covered employees.  I contacted the NYS Commission on Public Integrity and they were agreeable to providing each of the students in the course with a user ID and password to enable students to take the Commission’s on-line training based on the ethics laws in New York.  This training was a wonderful introduction for the students to the types of issues typically covered in an ethics regulatory regime.  Another aspect of this on-line training was that at the end of each topical interval there was a quiz for participants to complete.  The entire training could take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to complete, depending upon whether users go straight through the course, or take the opportunity to click on links to actual statutes, regulations and opinions that go into further detail on the particular subject matter being discussed.  I asked the students to evaluate this training experience when they concluded the program. Their reactions were interesting.  Almost everyone commented that the training was beneficial and a good introduction for government employees about the law.  Many students commented that they thought this on-line training was too basic, yet, a number of these students also admitted that they were surprised to have gotten a lot of the quiz questions wrong.  From this, several students observed how nuanced government ethics laws really are, and that the appropriate course of action when it comes to ethics is not always so obvious. This was an excellent teaching opportunity to point out how even people who are “trained” in the law can make mistakes, how individuals may not fully understand the application of the law to their actions, and why it is important to carefully read the statutes and regulations and to critically analyze the facts and the law. 

Early in the semester we studied the difficulties surrounding the question of attorney-client privilege in the government context.  As luck would have it, ALI-ABA was promoting a one-hour practitioner-oriented teleconference on the attorney-client privilege.  Although this was not focused exclusively on government law practice, I thought it would be a good opportunity for the students to get a fuller understanding of the practical issues involved in application of the privilege.  Perhaps because I frequently volunteer to teach ALI-ABA courses, I asked and was given permission for my students to participate in the course at no charge.  ALI-ABA sent each student a password to access the lunch-time program.  While many students commented that they wished the program had focused on the privilege in the government context, a lot of students wrote in their program evaluation to me that the course was interesting and they reflected on how it related to both what we studied in government ethics and what they discussed in their professional responsibility and evidence classes.  This proved to be another good experience and opportunity to weave together ethics and professionalism and evidence along the continuum of the overall law school educational experience. It was practice oriented and it also covered doctrinal subject matter tested on the bar exam.

Lastly, for fun, the federal Office of Government Ethics (OGE) offers interactive games to reinforce serious ethics subject matter.  I provided students a link in the weekly course materials folders to two of OGE’s interactive crossword puzzles where users can test their knowledge of federal ethics laws. While I didn’t specifically require the students to complete the crossword puzzles, I used it as an optional and alternative on-line teaching tool.

The above are just some of the examples of the various tools available to supplement a virtual classroom learning experience.  Although I have not used them yet, there are government ethics training videos available on You-Tube and other web-based sources, and a number of states post on-line the oral arguments before their high court, providing yet another great resource for many different subject areas.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

“I’d like to thank the Academy…”: Using Movies in the Law School Classroom

The conversation that follows reminds me that when we, those supportive of the Best Practice model, use words like “innovation” and “engagement,” what we really mean is effective innovation and efficient engagement. When venturing away from the traditional delivery methods in the name of engagement and innovation, the most effective and efficient delivery methods must be accompanied by clearly articulated educational goals.

On a Tuesday afternoon, early in the new semester, Professor Hillary Farber posted a short and direct question to the Law Clinic Listserv. She asked, “Does anyone have any good discussion questions for this film [12 Angry Men] you would be willing to share?

 These are the responses that were shared:
(please feel free to add your own comments) Continue reading

Course Design – Technology Meets Substance in On-Line Curriculum Development

After setting course learning outcomes for the on-line government ethics course, I had to revise my syllabus to better match my goals and desired outcomes mindful of the on-line format, and I had to develop creative strategies for creating a vibrant virtual discussion that would satisfactorily create a functional equivalent of an in-person classroom discussion.

To be honest, this was easier than I thought it would be using the functionality of TWEN.  I selected one soft cover book as the course text, and have supplemented that with readings mostly available on-line or in the public domain that are posted to the course site in weekly course resource folders.

I typically require students to complete assignments in my courses, and I wanted to find a way that these tasks could add to the vibrancy of the course by being shared with all  participants rather than being e-mailed only to me using the TWEN assignment drop-box. At the end of December, TWEN added a Wiki function to the site, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Each student was asked to sign-up for one state that they will follow through the semester.  I set up a series of Wikis where students will be posting short narratives and links to statutes, regulations and opinions from their state about subject matters we will be studying that particular week.  All of the states the students selected appear on the Wiki page for a given week, and each student accesses the Wiki and inputs the information for their state. So, for example, in week two, students have to merely find and post the on-line links to their state ethics commission, ethics laws and lobbying laws.  In week three, students will have to actually critically read and start to parse aspects of the state statutes in order to answer a series of questions about their state ethics commission.  The assignment reads as follows:

Using the state laws from the state you have selected for the semester (note: the following 10 states do NOT have ethics commissions – Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming), please find the applicable provisions dealing with the composition of the state ethics commission. Under your state listing in this wiki, please answer the questions below:

1. How many people are on the commission (board)?
2. Who appoints the members of the commission (board)?
3. What is the term of office for members?
4. Are there criteria/qualifications/disqualifications for members?
5. Are there provisions for removal of members?
 How is the chair of the commission (board) selected?
7. Who appoints the executive director of the commission (board)?
8. Is the executive director appointed for a term?
9. Does the law provide for removal of the executive director?
10. Does the commission (board) have subpoena power?
11. Does the commission have jurisdiction over both executive and legislative branch officers and employees; municipal employees; lobbyists?

Provide the on-line link to the applicable provisions of state law that support your summary.

When completed, the class will have a 23-state comparative overview of the differences and similarities of state statutes on this topic which will be the basis of a question on our Discussion Board (I’ll write more about the Discussion Boards in a future posting).

For those interested, my colleague Darlene Cardillo, our Instructional Technologist at Albany Law School has posted a summary of week one of the course from a technology perspective on her blog here. The results of our pre-course student survey about their familiarity with on-line learning and with TWEN can be viewed here, you can read about the only in-person class, a one hour orientation here,.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

Setting Goals and Evaluation for an On-Line Course

With the recent focus on outcomes for learning, I decided to provide students taking the first on-line course at Albany Law School with written goals for the semester.  The following was posted for the students:


By the end of the course, students who participate fully should be able to:

1)    APPLY acquired knowledge of government ethics laws in general, and regulations that apply specifically to government lawyers, statewide and nationally to challenges facing individuals who work in the public sector at any level of government in any state;

2)    RECOGNIZE & EVALUATE differing perspectives surrounding the public policy goals and dynamics of regulating the conduct of public officials and employees, and the roles of the various oversight agencies involved in the education, enforcement and prosecution of public actors for alleged civil and/or criminal wrongdoing;

3)    EXAMINE CRITICALLY  laws (existing and proposed), policies, systems and structures which govern  those who work in the public sector as well as those in the private sector who interact with government employees to identify applicable laws, loopholes and opportunities; and

4)    DEMONSTRATE COLLABORATION/COLLEAGIALITY AND PROFESSIONALISM through participation in the active on-line and team learning aspects of the course which will be essential to effective client counseling and representation and/or negotiation in the development of ethics laws and regulations.

Naturally, students want to know how they will be evaluated.  This required a lot of consideration for an on-line class.  When I previously taught the course I told the students I expected that they follow the Law School’s published attendance policy, and that class participation and completion of assignments would count towards their grade.  Since the course was taught seminar style, in lieu of an exam, students were required to submit a 20-25 page research paper at the end of the semester. The paper was weighted significantly in calculating grades. 

After reflecting on the goals to make sure that the students were being evaluated appropriately based on the desired outcomes, I developed the following grading rubric:

Assessment/Grading:  Your performance will be assessed throughout the semester as you participate in on-line discussions, and complete wikis and other assignments.  The amount of time you spend on-line in the course site and its various component assignments, combined with the quality of your postings which should reflect the knowledge and skills you acquire as the semester goes on, will be incorporated the feedback you receive during the semester as well as in your final grade.

Effort reflected by time on line                                                                  25%

Completion of all assignments and discussions                                  25%

(quality demonstrating reading and reflection of materials and other student comments)

Accurate and comprehensive completion of                                         25%   

Wiki assignments

Accurate and comprehensive completion of group                              25%


In future postings I will describe the discussion boards, the use of wikis and the group project.  To determine time on line, which is the closest I could come to an attendance policy for an on-line course, I told students I would view the “activity” reports provided by TWEN.  I cautioned students that I would be able to tell who simply logged on to the TWEN site and then left for a couple of hours with the browser open to make it appear as though they were actively engaged in reviewing information on the site.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

Objection! Helping Clinical Students Practice Trial Skills

For the better part of the last decade, students in Albany Law’s Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic have used a computer program called “You Be the Judge” to help them sharpen their evidentiary objections.  It takes about forty-five minutes for students to complete a simulated trail during which they must object to various pieces of evidence and/or testimony using the Federal Rules of Evidence.  The student must choose when to object and write an explanation for the objection in the time allotted.

The appeal of the program is that it offered a simple and entertaining way to practice trial skills without the need for elaborate hypotheticals or the cooperation of fellow students. However, the game also had several drawbacks.  It only worked with very old operating systems. Correct answers were not always accepted if the student didn’t word them exactly how the game did, and the game offered limited feedback as to why answers where right and others were wrong.

We are now in search of a replacement program that would similarly allow students to practice their evidentiary objections.  Ideally the program would be based on the New York Rules of Evidence, but the Federal Rules would suffice.

What similar programs do others use?  One newer program is the “Objection!” program (http://www.objection.com/products.html) has anyone used it?  Would anyone recommend it?  Thanks for any suggestions you could provide.

Organizing Technology to Teach On-Line

There are many technical issues to explore when setting up an on-line course.  The most important resource with respect to all aspects of technical course design was our superstar instructional technologist at Albany Law School, Darlene Cardillo (here is a link to her technology blog:   http://albanylawtech.wordpress.com). What follows are some of the important issues explored and lessons learned:

1 – What platform was available to “host” the course?  I had used Blackboard in the past, but Albany Law School did not have access to this.  In the end, TWEN was selected after Darlene’s recommendation.  I had some comfort with TWEN, having used some of its functionality last semester, but I definitely needed a tutorial on the possibilities it had for an on-line course. My next posting will provide details on how I am using the TWEN tools to deliver the course.

2 – What other software and hardware did I need? After deciding that I would not be having students log-in for live video chats (this eliminated the need for a webcam/camera in my computer and the need to download software (such as Skype), I did decide to try using slide presentations with my voice over to convey certain information for some weeks. To accomplish this, Darlene set me up with Adobe Presenter and a microphone.  I also got a small recorder that saves recordings as mp3 files for easy uploading to the course site.  This will allow me to post “podcasts” of interviews I might conduct during the semester.

3 – Practice.  I like the Adobe Presenter software since it allows me to record audio one slide at a time and save it.  I didn’t count on the amount of time it would take me to record the audio.  For week one I had 17 slides.  I figured it would take me 25-30 minutes to record the audio.  Wrong.  It took me 90 minutes.  I realized that when I went to record a “lasting memorial” of my words, I sought greater perfection than the more informal patterns of speech in front of the classroom.  I re-recorded individual slides more times that I care to relate.  I resisted though the temptation to “script” the slides.  I thought it would take too much time and my presentations/discussions in class are not “scripted” as such.  I wanted to words and speech patterns to seem real, yet polished.  The ninety minute investment was worth it – except, I did not save the presentation correctly, lost it, and had to start over again.  Hard lesson in what not to do!

4- Size of the files for posting.  Generally I have not had problems opening pdf files I have placed in the weekly resource files.  However, some difficulty was experienced opening the pdf of the slide presentation made with Adobe Presenter.  I may not have compressed the file when I saved it.  It was also advised that Adobe 9 was required to open the document. Aaron Cabbage at Westlaw who works on TWEN design/development has also recommended saving the slides in the future through Slide Share (http://www.slideshare.net ) and then posting a link from the TWEN site.  I may try that next.

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

Getting Ready for On-Line Teaching

This semester I will be teaching the first all on-line course at Albany Law School. The topic is government ethics.  The desire to experiment with the course format and new technology is due in part to the fact that each spring semester we send students to Washington, DC for a semester in government program (in addition to placing students in New York’s capital city) and all students in the full time semester in government experience are required, among other things, to take the government ethics course.  In the past we have been fortunate to have been able to use distance learning facilities at George Washington University School of Law to have our students participate in the class using the cameras in their classroom and the distance learning facilities at Albany Law School.  With the advances in technology, and my experiences teaching on-line professional development courses for lawyers and planners through Rutger’s, the time seemed right to experiment with the government ethics course for our JD students.  Over the course of the next several weeks I will post entries to explain how the course has been designed, the different ways in which technology has been incorporated into the curriculum, some of the lessons learned in terms of design and technology, and I will report “real time” on both teacher and student reactions to various apsects of the course.  Your comments and suggestions about improvements to the course design/approach are welcome as adjustments can be made along the way.  

Patty Salkin, Albany Law School

U of M third panel: Best Practices and Professional Purpose and Identity

(Continuing Report on U of Maryland’s 3/6 Conference)

The third panel presentation organically and beautifully modeled how to teach and communicate in accord with Best Practices.  (I will post the webcast to the Events tab above as soon as I receive it so you can view the discussion and interaction).

First, CUNY Professor Sue Bryant led an interactive discussion Continue reading

CPS Clickers in the Law School Classroom: A CRIM LAW EXPERIMENT

Darlene Cardillo, instructional technologist at Albany Law School, sent me the link to her article entitled, The Use of Clickers in the Law School Classroom, which was recently published in THE LAW TEACHER (pp.13-14). http://blog.engaging-technologies.com/2009/02/cps-clickers-in-law-school-classroom.html

Darlene has written an excellent article about Professor Daniel Moriarty’s use of clickers in his 1L Criminal law class and how he incorporated clicker questions into his TWEN (The Westlaw Education Network) website. I found most interesting the results of the online survey she sent students asking them how the use of CPS enhanced their learning of the course material. You can see the responses that she gathered from students on her blog: http://albanylawtech.wordpress.com/2008/05/19/getting-ready-for-cali-conference-presentation/

She and Professor Moriarty presented at the University of Texas School of Law on “Using Clickers in the Law School” at the CALI Conference on June 19, 2008.

Using Laptops in the Classroom as a Teaching Tool

Since I shared the first couple of emails in the current debate at UNM about laptops, I asked Alfred Mathewson if I could share his response.  He is working on using the lap tops as a teaching tool! 

“I am probably moving in the opposite direction of most of my colleagues here and in most law schools.  I am experimenting with the laptops.  While I am concerned about the extent to which they may be used to distract students, I think we must conceive of laptops as something more than notepads.  In many classes, notetaking is the only pedagogical use of the laptop.  I have been experimenting with other uses in the classroom.  If the laptops are going to be in the classroom, we should make use of them.  I am currently reviewing an online interactive casebook for Civil Procedure in case I teach it again. In Contracts this fall, I plan to experiment with bringing my laptop to class rather than using the big screen for Power Point presentations. I will use a TWEN course site. They will be able to annotate the PowerPoint but they will have no need to spend course time copying the slides. They will, however, have to use the laptop to see the PowerPoint. As I see it, we must prepare students to practice in an era far more technologically advanced than the one in which we were educated.” 

More on Laptops in the Classroom

My colleague Rob Schwartz is addressing the laptop issue in New Mexico this summer while teaching in the Pre Law Summer Program for Indian Students (PLSI) run by the Indian Law Center.  Here is his response  to Sergio Pareja’s email (described in my last  post).  Continue reading

Insights from Guanajuato re: Laptops in Class

One of my colleagues from the University of New Mexico, Sergio Pareja is here in Guanajuato teaching International Business Transactions.  He wrote the following email to our faculty about laptop use in the classroom.  I thought it would be of interest to other classroom teachers, so I asked him if I could share it with this blog.  He agreed. Continue reading

Using Clickers in the Criminal Law classroom

At the conclusion of our second year of using “clickers” (the CPS system from eInstruction) in several classes at Albany Law School, I asked students in the Criminal Law class what they thought… Continue reading

Family Law Education Reform Project

More synchronicity in the slow but steady march to transform legal education.  This email floated across the family law list serve.  This is an exciting project! 

Dear Colleagues:

We are pleased to announce a new initiative to help us address the integration of family law and family practice in the classroom.  In this email, we describe our goals for the project and solicit your input and advice. Continue reading

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