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In this monthly column, law professors and guest columnists comment on the many academic opportunities and challenges presented by Web technology.

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Internet Team Teaching: One Team's Experience
Professor Theresa Player
University of San Diego School of Law
Professor Michael Norwood
University of New Mexico School of Law
Professor Robert Seibel
CUNY Law School, Queens, New York

INTRODUCTION

During the Spring 2001 semester, three law school professors, Michael Norwood (University of New Mexico), Theresa Player (University of San Diego) and Robert Seibel (CUNY Law School, Queens, New York), team-taught a course called "Computer Applications in the Law" to students at their respective law schools. Each professor collaborated with the other two to develop and teach the same course to students at each of the three locations. The course delivery involved the use of several internet-based communications tools that allowed the teachers and students at all three locations to work together in various ways, not only at each site, but also among the three sites.

The experience of developing and teaching the course gave us a number of insights about this type of collaborative instructional arrangement. There are many issues relating to the use of technology to enhance instruction and the delivery of legal information and course content, but the purpose of this article is to focus on our professorial collaboration and to explore some of the more interesting issues that confronted us as we progressed through the stages of implementing the course. Beginning with our original concept for the course and its design, we move to a description of the specific methodologies employed in our collaborations, then conclude with an evaluation of the experience and how this approach might be transferred to other applications. Our focus will be on the distance team-teaching model of collaboration that we used, which allows complete collaboration between instructors yet preserves the individual professor's classroom autonomy and student-teacher interaction.

Before this course we each had twenty-plus years of law school teaching, including regular classroom courses, simulation courses, and externship and live client clinic supervision. Through our professional clinical affiliations, we discovered a common interest in the use of technology to enhance skills teaching, specifically for targeted skills exercises as well as for management and instructional tools to supervise students representing clients. We began to collaborate informally on the development of a "virtual clinic" project using technology to improve the quality of both individual student supervision and caseload management capabilities.

In developing the virtual clinic concept, we agreed on the need to expose clinic students to the use of technology to represent clients effectively. Prof. Norwood of New Mexico had taught a similar class in a non-clinical context, and we quickly decided that it would be beneficial to offer the course to students at all three schools. We made immediate plans to design such a course and obtain approval at each school for the following academic year. The course description was circulated to students at the time of enrollment. Because each professor met weekly with his or her own students and retained complete authority over local delivery of the content and methodology of the course, we did not consider that this was truly a distance course.

The class evolved into a three-unit graded course entitled "Computer Applications in the Practice of Law," designed to introduce students to various technological tools available to legal practitioners, and to expose them to the myriad of ethical, legal, and practice issues that arise through the utilization of these tools. We articulated three pedagogical goals: a) that students would acquire knowledge of the subject matter, including understanding of the basic tools, concepts and trends in technology, and their applicability to the practice of law; b) that students would develop skills and competencies in application of those tools to both general and specific tasks of lawyering; and c) that the students would attain some judgment about the costs and benefits of selecting and using various tools in law practice. We also intended to introduce the students to the use of these tools for collaboration among lawyers and between lawyers and clients or other professionals as a meta-theme.

At each school the professor had a small group of students (8 - 14) enrolled in a two-hour weekly classroom component with another hour devoted to computer lab time. We developed a common syllabus and a common class website, which was constructed and hosted by Prof. Norwood at University of New Mexico. Students were assigned readings from two class texts (one online and one in paperback) and various articles on the web. Classroom exercises and discussions were supplemented by a bulletin board where students were required to post responses or new listings. Students were required to complete a number of smaller lab exercises, as well as five major class projects, including: an internet research assignment, a billing statement linking a spreadsheet to a word processing document, an oral class presentation using Powerpoint in collaboration with teams from the other two sites, the design and publication of a law firm website, and a law office technology plan.

USING THE TOOLS FOR COLLABORATION

In the course of preparing for and delivering this course, we used a total of eight different communication/collaboration methods. This section looks at each of the tools in some detail.

Synchronous Internet Collaboration among the Faculty

Having agreed to collaboratively teach the class in the Spring 2001 semester, and considering that the course was intended to introduce our students to using internet tools in legal practice, we decided to conduct synchronous course planning meetings using internet conferencing tools. During the late summer and early fall of 2000, we scheduled weekly "virtual" meetings for this purpose. Based on our limited knowledge about the available utilities and with the advice of our technology support staffs, but with no budget, we selected a leading product that manages video/audio conferencing, shared white boarding, file sharing, and instant messaging. We stuck with this plan for six to eight weeks, had fun experimenting with the utilities, but never got them to work to our satisfaction. We learned after a few weeks that the utility we were trying to use was limited to point to point connections, and would not handle multipoint sessions, so we moved on to another product that would handle multipoint communications. During this process, we used instant messaging mostly to communicate about connection failures or quick notices about who would call whom on the phone to troubleshoot problems with these utilities. We never used the whiteboard utility. As the class startup date loomed nearer, we realized that we were spending far too much time fighting with the various products and far too little time in actual fruitful communication, so we abandoned the internet as our tool for synchronous meetings and relied on telephone conferences instead. Nevertheless, we remain open to returning to the internet in the future as a viable means for mediating these conferences and of course recognize that, for a price, multipoint technology is readily available.

Common Web Site

Early in the planning process, the faculty agreed to deliver some of the course material through a common web site. The web site was built from scratch with an HTML editing utility. Its navigation bar included links entitled "about", "activities", "resources", and "communication". "About" linked to information about the course, including the course description, explanations of student projects, the syllabus, and a brief bio of the instructors. "Communication" linked to the course bulletin board, the class list-serve, and individual email addresses of the instructors. "Activities" linked to descriptions of the weekly assignments (readings, hands on computer exercises, student presentations, and projects). "Resources" linked to online resources necessary or helpful for completing the weekly assignments.

The web site provided a means for structuring faculty collaboration around basic topics of course design and delivery. The site provided us a reference point throughout the semester for assessing where we were in the delivery of the content and in monitoring students' work through assignments and feedback. The faculty found the "about" section containing the syllabus and students project list a useful organizing device. However, as the semester progressed, we found it more difficult to keep the assignments and resources pages as current and detailed as we had hoped at the outset. As we continue to work together in the future we hope that these sections of the web site will be more robust and meaningful to both our collaboration and to the learning goals of the class and we recognize the need to have these in place when the course begins.

Telephone Conference Calls

Our primary means of collaboration during the time that the course was being presented was by conference call. Even before the course started in the spring we recognized the need to have frequent and regular conversations. This required us to make a commitment to set aside the time for the calls, and since the calls served as self imposed deadlines for working on the course, we had to set aside time each week to get our "homework" done for each call. Once the course started, we had a conference call each Monday in which we discussed the last class session and our plans for the coming class. We also discussed the assigned projects, reading assignments, resources for the course web site and other matters relating to the course in general.

The discussions covered the substance of each upcoming class's topics as well as the methods that we wanted to consider for presentation of the material. Through the calls we each gained substantive knowledge from the experience and learning of the others, we exchanged opinions about the relative importance of different aspects of the topics under consideration for the particular class, and we discussed different pedagogical approaches. For example, in the call prior to the class about designing a web site, we discussed possible topics that included: legal domain names, navigation strategy, disclaimers and professional responsibility considerations, goals and possible audiences for a law firm web site, content, and ways to evaluate the success of a web site. Each of us had greater knowledge about some of these topics than the others so we all learned about some of the topics and about resources for further study where it was needed. We discussed the relative importance and complexity of the various topics so that we could each make choices about time allocation in class. We brain-stormed about some possible methods of presenting material in class: visiting law firm web sites; visiting "good" web sites (law firm or otherwise) and "bad" sites; comparing the process of writing an opening argument for trial to the process of designing the home page for a web site; breaking into small groups in class for brainstorming or discussion of some of the topics; and accessing on-line resources for state ethical opinions relating to law firm marketing.

It is easy to see how these discussions enriched our ability to make choices for our individual classes and how they made the preparation and delivery of the class more interesting and exciting. It is likely that the time expended on the conference calls added to the time that would otherwise have been required by each of us to separately prepare for the course, but we all believe that the benefits more than justified the additional time. We might have been able to accomplish some of these benefits by exchanging e-mails. However, using e-mail instead of conference calls would probably not have taken less time than the calls, and though it would have avoided the need to schedule synchronous availability, it would have lost some spontaneity and continuity. A discussion board for exchanging ideas might have been a good supplement and would have provided the benefit of an archive.

E-Mail and list-servs

We made some use of e-mail for our collaboration. We supplemented our phone calls, sometimes with additional comments as a result of reflections on the conversation. Often we shared the URL's for useful web sites that we had discovered. Sometimes we simply shared materials, drafts of assignments, discussion questions, hypotheticals or textual materials that we proposed to use. E-mail exchanges allowed us to send or read info at our individual convenience and to take more time to formulate responses.

We also made use of several e-mail list-servs. We first established a list serv for the faculty and key computer staff supporting the project. This list was used frequently to send messages about a variety of administrative issues. This list remains active today as a key support tool for our ongoing collaboration. We also set up a listserv for each site's class, and for the small groups consisting of one or two students from each site assigned to a common project. The faculty chose not to be included in these small group list servs out of concern that our presence might inhibit the use of the tool by the students. This is one of the choices that we will revisit when we repeat the course in the future.

Bulletin Board

We also set up a list-serv including all of the students and faculty involved in the course at all three sites. This list serve doubled as a bulletin board with archived and threaded discussions. The classes at the three sites accessed a common bulletin board from a link on the class web site. The goal of the bulletin board was twofold: first, to introduce students to this utility so they could explore its advantages and disadvantages; and second, to provide a mechanism to bring the students and faculty at all three sites together in collaborative discussion related to the class. All students were expected to post to the site at least once each week. Although we did succeed in the first of our goals, the second was not successful. There were few meaningful exchanges among the students and no colloquies among the faculty. Perhaps the return on investment was not perceived as worth the time and effort, perhaps students felt a reticence to go public with tentative ideas, or students experienced the natural human reserve in opening up to the "strangers" at the other sites. Again we are convinced that bulletin board discussions have more potential than we were able to tap. We have discussed strategies for enhancing this form of collaboration. One suggestion is to assign responsibility for moderating the bulletin board to students on a weekly basis concluding with a moderators' report at the end of the week.

Face to Face Interaction

And last but not least, we employed the oldest, most effective, least technological, and by far most expensive tool of all, face-to-face meetings. We scheduled face to face meetings to work on the course both before and during the time it was being offered. During the course we linked these to guest appearances that we made in each other's class. Once during the semester the three of us actually appeared together in a class meeting at each of the three schools. These guest appearances necessitated some class rescheduling (regular Wednesday classes were moved to Fridays). We spent most of the weekend when we were together in one of the locations working on and debriefing different aspects of the course. (Yes, we did get to the beach in San Diego, the St. Patrick's day parade in NYC, and to the O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe!). But the work that we did when we were physically together was intense. Our meetings forced us to get away from the distractions of the rest of our schedules. Clinic teachers have to be available to students for frequent meetings and have to arrange their schedules to accommodate court calendars and client availability so this was a significant commitment. The experience was like attending a very small and sharply focused workshop. It was exhilarating and satisfying because we had an extended time to discuss and debate issues and to then reflect and revisit the topics in a concentrated time. The guest appearances that we made in each other's classes were truly guest appearances and not genuine team teaching endeavors. The guests played specific and discrete roles and were collaborators for the class, but the host teacher was the primary teacher.

Video Conferences

We did two team-taught classes during the semester. These were classes that were video-conferenced so that the students from all three locations were all participating in "real time". These classes enabled us to have the students "meet" each other. We also wanted to demonstrate the use of video conference technology as a tool that lawyers use. We scripted these two classes to be sure that we each participated and that we each had a chance to interact with the students at all three locations. In both cases, the video-conferencing feature was both an instructional tool for class communication as well as one of the topics under discussion. Our inexperience with the medium made the sessions quite labor intensive, but these classes also added a valuable dimension to our collaboration.

EVALUATION OF THE EXPERIMENT

Meeting our pedagogical goals

The first question in evaluating our project is whether the collaborative dimension allowed us to achieve our pedagogical goals. The answer for all three goals is definitely yes. Our ability to meet the first goal of providing the opportunity for students to gain knowledge about the subject matter, was enhanced greatly by the collaboration due to the increased capacity to review and select from a broader range of materials. Achieving the second goal of student skill development was also increased significantly by our frequent communications on teaching methods and specific ideas for each class. Meeting our third goal of encouraging student development of judgment about costs and benefits was especially aided by the collaboration, because it allowed us to fill in the gaps of our individual experience base.

One area of disappointment was the comparatively low level of interaction among students both at each site and between sites. Because the opportunity for students to collaborate using the tools we were studying was a meta-theme for the course, this is a result that we definitely want to examine closely. We also need to review the uneven level of student preparation and participation in the various class projects. Students came to the course with large variations in their knowledge and experience and this continued to play itself out as the course progressed.

Applications of the method

One measure of success for any project is the replicability. We believe that this model of collaboration is transferable to a large number of applications in legal education and in law practice. The combination of personal autonomy and student interaction in the classroom with intense professional collaboration regardless of the geographic distance with colleagues allows an exponential growth in the breadth and diversity of instructional opportunities.

In legal education, the applications are only limited by the creativity and imagination of the faculty members. The advantages of team teaching without the constraints of geographical proximity open up great possibilities for collaboration with colleagues to explore new approaches in both content and methodology. The opportunities are especially exciting for those faculty members with no colleagues in their area(s) of interest at their own school. Law practice applications are almost unimaginable in their scope. And in fact, many of the better-resourced firms continuously utilize various technological tools to provide both in-house instruction to geographically distant firm members and to communicate with experts and clients.

Limitations

While the rewards for using this collaborative model are many, it does require some investment of time, energy and frustration to use. This barrier is less obvious for a new professor, a new course, or for a professor teaching a new course. It is far more difficult to re-think approaches to older courses that a professor has already refined to a level of comfort and familiarity. The class size may also be a factor in terms of some content delivery issues, but we feel that class size alone does not limit the applicability of the collaboration model. Other issues that may affect the applicability of the model include the teacher's experience, comfort level with technology, affinity for regular professional interaction, expectations, even the culture of the school and the willingness of the students.

CONCLUSION

For us as teachers the collaboration was probably the most tangible benefit of the experience. We each experienced a high level of personal satisfaction from the frequent interactions; the discussions in which we compared approaches for past and future classroom discussions and exercises were especially fruitful. The most constructive time for us was during the face to face meetings. The intensity and synergy were very intellectually stimulating and the natural flow of conversation without distractions gave us the opportunity to explore many issues that would have eluded us otherwise. The positive evaluations and informal feedback we received from students reinforce our perception that the extra time and energy of collaboration improved both the delivery of the course and our professional satisfaction and development. We are anxious to continue our work on the virtual clinic, and have started at least one new project for a simulation course.

© 2001 by Terry Player. All rights reserved.
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The views expressed in this column are solely those of its author, and do not reflect those of JURIST, its Advisory Board, its staff or its host institutions.
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