Ecolanguage, Symbolic Languages and Educating Lawyers Without Text

I ran across Lee Arnold’s video explaining the Bush Tax Cut some months ago and felt that it conveyed a complex topic with extreme clarity in a very short amount of time. I was gratified to see that Arnold has a series of videos on YouTube that you can access from here.

What is particularly interesting is his use of symbols that are apparently derived from the work of Howard Odum. Arnold calls it ecolanguage. Wikipedia tells me…

Howard Thomas Odum (1924–2002), known as H.T. Odum or Tom Odum, was an American ecosystem ecologist and a professor at the University of Florida. He was collectively known as one of the "Fathers of Ecology" together with his brother Eugene…

I am fascinated by Arnold’s multimedia creations that short, powerful and enlightening in so little space and time.

I am convinced that there is an interesting project to develop a similar set of symbols – and also multimedia presentations – that could bring clarity to teaching the law. This is an idea I have been working on for a while that I call "Talking Flowcharts".

The first examples I saw of them in law were done by William Andersen from the University of Washington School of Law and they are embodied in his CALI lessons on Administrative Law.

In the original CALI lessons, Andersen included video and audio of him talking and explaining the charts as he walked students through the Administrative Procedure Act. Unfortunately, this was 1993 and the size of the media files was too large to be able to effectively distribute and we have never gone back to re-integrate them now that video and audio flies around the web with such ease.

James Maule, author of many, many CALI Tax lessons likes to point to the work of Arnold Mitchel, an International Tax Attorney who has created hundreds of charts explaining short concepts on his area of practice.

Finally, there is the excellent work of Professor Karl Manheim on his Constitutional Law charts.

All of these charts can be produced using Visio or SmartDraw or other tools and it’s would be somewhat straightforward to use Camtasia to create screencasts where narration could be added, but I my goal is larger. I want to create a consistent system or software that lets any law faculty easily create their own talking flowchart. Lee Arnold’s symbology makes me think that we could create something that would resonate with a large number of faculty and would generate multimedia presentations that are powerful and instructive.

I may be wrong however.

Law can be viciously complex and difficult to reduce to such symbols and the whole project would be open to the criticism of oversimplification. I would counter, however, that the talking flowcharts should not replace, but supplement – the usual argument for new teaching materials.

I would also contend that a talking flowchart is closer to what faculty do in the classroom with the chalk … er … whiteboard. They talk and draw circles and arrows and stab and gesture to emphasize key points. Talking flowcharts would have to imbue those same "gestures".

More exploration on this topic to come.

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