Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Another New Tribe: Attendees at the Global Legal Skills Conference

Part of my transition as a new resident of the Arabian Gulf region involves finding new tribes to join and help lead.   In March 2016, I talked about the ADR tribes that I’ve found in Dubai and Doha.  I found another tribe that reflects my new place in the world.

At the end of May, I attended the Global Legal Skills Conference in Verona, Italy at the University of Verona's Facolta Giurisprudenza.  Last year, I attended this conference for the first time.  I came back for the reason that the folks organizing and attending this conference are highly dedicated professors of law from all over the world who want to learn how better to teach law across cultures and across languages.

In other words, they are process people – my type of people.  Mediators often say that if the process is good, the outcome will be just fine, too.   So, if we continue to explore skillful ways of teaching students for whom English is not their first language, then those students are likely to respond with higher engagement, greater feelings of success, and a deeper sense of connection. 

Attendees included people running and teaching in U.S.-based LL.M. programs.  Many law schools have started these programs to fill the gap created by declining enrollments of U.S. law students.  I suspect many law schools start these programs without having sufficient support systems in place for students arriving from many parts of the globe. 

Other attendees, like myself, teach courses in law schools located in countries other than the U.S.  Many of us are trying to describe the common law legal system to students embedded in a civil law culture.  We talked about the challenges of teaching the value, weight, and use of case law in a system reliant on precedent.

Still other attendees teach English as a Second Language (ESL).  They are often not lawyers, and they bring a completely different perspective to the conversation.

The conference is designed to give us all exposure to innovative ways to teach these students.  These colleagues have experimented with different teaching approaches and resources in an effort to find the best way to support student learning. Many of these teachers must create the handouts, readings, and other teaching tools they use because so few resources exist for each course topic.

I spoke on a panel about delivering high-quality online legal education.  My co-panelists explained a very sophisticated online program in Canada offered at the Osgoode Hall School of Law and the hybrid legal education (the first one approved by the ABA) at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.  These educational programs are supported by sophisticated (and expensive) technology, video, and teaching platforms.  

I was there to talk about my cheap work-around using a Google application called WebinarJam Studio, a Yeti microphone, a tri-fold screen as a backdrop, Thinkstock licensed images, and a Logitech webcam. 

I have to mention the fabulous location of the conference in Verona, Italy.  This city is designated as a World Heritage Site.  People were friendly and helpful.  

My centrally located hotel gave me easy access to the Roman stadium, Juliet’s balcony, the old city wall and arches, the medieval fort, the Justinian Gardens, Basilica San Zeno, and the medieval bell-tower.  After three days logging over 10,000 steps a day, I finally used the hop-on, hop-off bus tour for a day to cover more territory. 

I also discovered a cocktail that found its way to cafe tables at lunch and sunset -- the Spritz Apperol (or Spritz).

On my last day in Italy, Profs. Mark Wojcik and David Austin, the energy behind the whole event, organized a day-trip to Padua.  In many ways, I enjoyed this little college town more than Verona.  

Located here is the first independent university in Europe, which
offered its scholars and students greater intellectual freedom from the influence of the Vatican and the Italian government.  Founded in 1222, it educated Dante and Copernicus. Among other treasures, we saw the wooden lectern of Galileo, who taught there for many years.  It struck me how one teacher could so vastly influence the world and how we thought about it. Sorry, I could not take any photos once we entered the university buildings.

Our guide also showed us a work of art that commemorates the resistance of many university professors to Nazi politics and repression.  I keep that art in mind during this U.S. presidential election cycle. 

The 1594 Anatomical Theater in the medical school was an extraordinary example of advances in teaching.  During classes, a small chamber -- lit by candlelight -- held the cadaver, the professor, and the person doing the dissection. Above this chamber was a several story room that was shaped like a steeply-sided funnel. In the levels above, students would stand to watch the lesson.  Each level had a carved wooden railing high enough to prevent fainting students from falling over the railing and onto the dissection table several floors below.  Here, in the 17th century, scholars and students first understood blood circulation. 

I wish I had a photo.  In any event, a photo would not have captured this awe-inspiring place.  What a dedication to a whole new way of teaching!  Not quite active learning -- where students would later do their own dissections -- but a step away from pure lecture.

On our way out, we saw a fresco of a student.  As the image climbed the stairs, it showed the young man gaining age and wisdom.  

A sculpture paid tribute to Elena Cornaro Piscopia, the first woman to earn a degree at the university and the first woman in the world to earn a Ph.D.  She did that in 1678. 

This university tour had a profound affect on all of us.  We carry so much responsibility for teaching our students. It was the perfect ending to a conference focused on becoming better teachers. 

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