On April 17, 2013, Michele Pistone, Professor of Law and Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES) at Villanova University School of Law, spoke to the Albany Law School faculty on the topic of “How Emerging Innovations Will Disrupt Legal Education.”
Her engaging presentation began with a clip from 1994 of Bryant Gumble and Katie Couric from the Today Show debating the pronunciation of a mysterious keyboard symbol, the”@” symbol. From there and Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A Changin”), she reminisced about buying books and records at neighborhood stores, seeing movies in the theaters, and when TV shows only played once a week, and if you missed them, you had to hope they’d be rerun during the summer.
Yes, this has all changed. Books and newspapers are now digital. TV shows and movies can be watched at anytime and on computers and phones. These changes are result of innovations which have created a new world.
However, this is the only world that our students know!! They were born digital.
As a result, our students are visual, connected, relate to one another through technology, have an abundance of information that is available at any time from any place. They are used to convenience, speed, multi-tasking, immediate feedback and working together on projects, collaborating, sharing, and creating.
So the important question that Prof. Pistone raised was: In light of these changes, have law schools changed enough?
And her answer was: “Law schools have not changed much in the last 100 years.”
K-16 education has been changing. We have the addition of MOOCS (massive open online courses); Khan Academy which offers videos and quizzes that can being used alone or to flip the classroom. TED ED which makes videos for use in high school – students watch videos online for homework and then can come into class ready to do active problem based learning (thus “flipping the classroom”).
Prof. Pistone recommended reading the book Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clay Christensen. In it, he introduces the key concepts of sustaining technologies (those that improve the performance of established products) and disruptive technologies. Although “disruptive technologies” result in worse product performance in the short term, they are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use (Skype being an example.) So we need to adapt to them.
A study conducted by the Department of Education found that blended learning (a combination of online and face-to-face instruction) obtained better results for students and than either face-to-face or completely online learning. This is something to keep in mind.
So what is next for law schools?
Prof. Pistone recommends focusing on:
- What we teach – in light of our changing, globalizing, interdisciplinary world
- How we teach — to cover a wide range of competencies and reach different learning styles
- How we assess what students are learning – supplementing the final summative exam with formative assessment
- How we signal to others a student’s competencies
Lastly, Prof. Pistone introduced her new project called LegalED. LegalED is a web-based platform that will host teaching materials for legal education. The materials will include:
- short videos made for internet viewing
- problems and exercises
- assessment tools
This online platform of teaching materials (esp. the short videos) can be used to supplement law school and to “flip” the classroom.
Prof. Pistone’s presentation concluded with a lively discussion by faculty on law school competencies that cannot be taught online (such as empathy), mapping competencies to the teaching process, mastery/adaptive learning, bar exam…
If interested, here is the video recording of Michele Pistone’s Tedx presentation, which focuses on the future of higher education: