CALI Conference Idea Diversity

I’ve been doing some of the think-work in preparation for the 2006 Conference for Law School Computing to be held at Nova Southeastern Shepard Broad Law Center on Thu-Sat, June 15-17, 2006.

I fear that for some attendees, this conference is getting….stale.We have consciously designed the conference to attract folks from three major communities…techies, law librarians and faculty. The original idea was that these folks didn’t interact and share ideas and concerns as often as they might and that the CALI Conference was a way to mash-up the disparate needs of these three broad communities under the common rubric of technology in legal education, research and administration within law schools.

You may or may not have noticed that the idea of "tracks" in the conference has consistently been downplayed. If you look hard, there are tracks sort of meant for faculty and sort of meant for tech staff and sort of meant for tech administrators, but the slight ambiguity was purposeful to encourage some cross fertilization of ideas.

By far, the biggest number of complaints I get are from the "hard" techies and from the faculty. Both seem to feel that the conference does not have sufficient numbers of sessions to attract their attention. It has been suggested that we be much more specific about tracking or even sponsor *seperate* conferences for different constituencies.

Both of these ideas (tracking and seperate conferences) work against the original goal of the CALI Conference and that worries me.

A second important goal of the CALI Conference was to establish a sense of professionalism for tech staff at law schools. Faculty have AALS, Librarians have AALL, techies have techie conferences like COMDEX, Educause, TechShow, etc., but nothing aimed directly at the common problems of law school computing that all tech staff confront.

Balance, I believe, is important, but I struggle to find that balance every year. I fear that new tech staff don’t know about the conference and that the sense of Law School IT Professionals has diminished as our jobs have diversified and roles have become both more defined and less defined.

More defined in the sense that 10 years ago, the typical law school IT staffer was a "jane/jack-of-all-trades". This is less so today where responsibilities are more clearly defined and we only need (or want) to know about things that are specific to our roles within our institutions.

When I was Director of Computing Services at Chicago-Kent, I adminstered the network, programmed in dBase and VB, repaired and sold student and faculty computers, changed toner cartridges and created strategic plans for future IT initiatives. Today, these responsbilities would fall under network administrator, programmer, help desk, lab technician and CIO/Director with much clearer lines of delineation. Of course, today, you must add a plethora of new responsibilities…webmaster, faculty liaison, classroom technology, instructional design and support, audio/visual….forgive me if I don’t list everything here.

Less defined in the sense that what we do in law schools is no different than what anyone does in any school and so a conference aimed at "law school" computing makes less sense today. I don’t believe this. There are all sorts of things that make law schools different from anything else, but this requires us to realize that we need to understand our institutional goals and not just our technology. The more defined our roles as webmasters, programmers, network administrators et al, the less we see the "law school" differentiator in them.

I ran across a very interesting article that sparked this post

Give it a read and tell me what we can do so that the CALI Conference remains relevant, interesting and valuable.

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