Benkler’s Wealth of Networks: Malleable and Transparent Culture and a Legal Education Syllabus Commons

Two snippets from Wealth of Networks …

"…the networked information environment offers us a more attractive cultural production system in two distinct ways: (1) it makes culture more transparent, and (2) it makes culture more malleable…"


"… culture is becoming more democratic: self-reflective and participatory…"

Both are from page 15.

My interests lie in how the Internet can legal literacy and legal education. Substitute "legal education" for "culture" in the previous two snippets and we have…

"…the networked information environment offers us a moreattractive legal education production system in two distinct ways: (1) itmakes legal education more transparent, and (2) it makes legal education more malleable…"


"… legal education is becoming more democratic: self-reflective and participatory…"

This syncs perfectly with work that I have been working on for many years. How to bring to the surface what faculty do when they teach and how to get them to share best practices or even all practices and let the best float to the top.

One of the aspects of podcasting that we want to explore with the Legal Education Podcasting Project is the improvement of the lecture. We already have anecdotal evidence of this from faculty who have told us that they have listened to their own podcasts and used this to improve on the delivery of their classroom lectures.

It is not a far stretch to imagine that faculty can listen to each other’s lectures and learn from them – especially if they are teaching the same class.

This thinking was not accidental. We have explicitly designed the CALI Fellowships so that the participants review each other’s draft lessons and contribute ideas and suggestions as to how best teach a topic or explain a concept. On a related note, CALI Fellows have told us that the process of writing CALI lessons and interacting with the other Fellows improved their teaching. It made them more reflective of how they are communicating to students. Professor Stephen Bradford gave a talk about this at the 2004 CALI Conference in Seattle. His Powerpoint Slides for the talk are illuminating and hilarious.

What are the obstacles to creating a community of law faculty that share their teaching techniques in a sufficiently granular way that the participants benefit from the knowledge and experience of the group?

One obstacle is a shared vocabulary about teaching specific concepts, but we overcame that by designing the CALI Topic Grids by culling the language from faculty syllabi and chapter/section titles in casebooks. In Web 2.0 speak, we created our own folksonomy of tag phrases that roughly correspond to one hour of teaching. That’s how they are listed in a syllabus and that’s (roughly) how long it takes for a student to do a CALI lesson covering that topic.

What we have not done is create Topic Grids for all legal subject areas and we have not opened them up for the larger law faculty population to comment, amend, suggest or change.

Doing this might be a very good idea, and a way to start would be to create a sort of syllabus commons for legal education so that we can run a concordance to see what the most popular terms of art are for teaching any particular hour of class.

Will a critical mass of faculty participate?

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