OER: Where Law School Lags Behind K-12 and Undergrad

Open Education Conference LogoI recently had the opportunity to attend the 8th annual Open Education Conference in Utah along with CALI’s Executive Director, John Mayer. The conference brought together educators, administrators, and technologists from the K-12 and post-secondary worlds to share information, show off projects, and discuss the current and future state of Open Educational Resources. Wikipedia defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as:

digital materials that can be re-used for teaching, learning, research and more, made available for free through open licenses, which allow uses of the materials that would not be easily permitted under copyright alone.[1] As a mode for content creation and sharing, OER alone cannot award degrees nor provide academic or administrative support to students.[2][3] However, OER materials are beginning to get integrated into open and distance education.[4] Some OER producers have involved themselves in social media to increase their content visibility and reputation.[5]

I attended sessions, participated in discussions, and met interesting people. From all of this I came away with a few things that I think are important to CALI and the future of OER in law schools. First, teachers and schools are very interested in OER but not just because of the cost savings. Second, from telephone driven podcasting to annotated video to web-based lessons to eBooks, CALI is not alone in the wider world of designing and building education resources. Third, a reminder that CALI is about education assisted by technology. Finally, law schools are behind on the development, adoption, and implementation of OER — and that needs to change. Let’s take a look at each of these.

The several hundred attendees at the conference were very enthusiastic about OER and open source in generally. While much of the enthusiasm stemmed from the cost savings that OER represent, saving money is only one of the factors that  makes open resources attractive. Many recognize an increase in the quality of OER as there is more institutional support for developing open resources. The open aspect of OER means that faculty are free to tailor OER specifically for their course and school in a way that is not possible with traditional resources. This customizability allows faculty to be more effective in teaching. So, quality open materials are highly valuable based on their flexibility; the fact that they are easy on the budget is a tremendous bonus.

Open Education WordleI saw a number of projects like DS106radio, a wonderful digital storytelling course that allows students to participate in a digital radio station via blogging and telephone tools. It served to remind me that our work at CALI doesn’t exist in some sort of vacuum. CALI projects like Classcaster, eLangdell, Legal Education Commons, Free Law Reporter, and MediaNotes, along with the new CALI5 Viewer which brings our Lessons to the iPad and other mobile and tablet devices, are a lot like some of the technologies being used to create OER in K-12 and undergraduate courses on a regular basis.

One of the striking things about the Open Education Conference was that often the technology took a back seat to the content. Folks were seriously concerned about the content and function of open education, less so about the technology used to create and distribute OER. There was a sense that educational needs would drive the technology, not vice versa. This attitude served to remind me that CALI is at its heart about legal education assisted by technology, not technology driving legal education. This is an important distinction especially in today’s high tech world. The technology needs to be out of the way to let education happen, and the resources that drive that education should be open for all to use.

Open Source Your UniversitySo, where are law schools in terms of OER development and adoption? While a few schools and individual faculty have produced some open materials, there is no widespread adoption of open resources in legal education. The primary focus of the OER movement has been K-12 and undergraduates courses because this is where the greatest demand is. So little attention has been paid to OER in the graduate education world, it is not surprising that law schools have not seen much impact from OER. As open resources have become more common in K-12 and undergrad, more thought is being given to how best to bring OER to graduate studies, including law.

Law schools, however, have a big advantage in developing and implementing OER thanks to several CALI projects and tools. Law faculty and schools should be looking at CALI projects like eLangdell, Legal Education Commons, and Classcaster to find and create custom electronic casebooks, share teaching resources like syllabi and presentations, and blog and podcast courses. They should be exploring tools like CALI Author to create custom Lessons for their students. These resources give law schools the ability create Open Educational Resources. The law school community may be a long way off from embracing OER to the extent of other educational communities, but at CALI we believe we are a part of the solution to bridge that gap.

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About Elmer Masters

Elmer R. Masters is the Director of Technology at the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (www.cali.org) where he works on interesting projects involving technology and legal education like eLangdell, Classcaster, Lawbooks, QuizWright, and the CALI website. He has over 30 years of experience building tech tools for legal education and systems for accessing law and legal materials on the Internet. He is the admin of the Teknoids mailing list (www.teknoids.net) and has been blogging about legal education, law, and technology for over 20 years (www.symphora.com). He has a JD from Syracuse University College of Law and was employed by Syracuse, Cornell Law School, and Emory University School of Law before joining CALI in 2003. Elmer has presented at the CALI Conference for Law School Computing (where he organizes the program), the AALL and AALS Annual Meetings, Law Via The Internet, and other conferences, symposia, and workshops on topics ranging from IT management in law schools to building open access court reporting systems to information architecture design and implementation in law.
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One Response to OER: Where Law School Lags Behind K-12 and Undergrad

  1. Forgot to mention in the article that my notes from sessions I attended at the Open Education Conference are online at http://liveblog.classcaster.net/tag/opened11/.

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