Want law profs to embrace technology? Show them how it improves their teaching
From left: Jennifer Wondracek, Nicole Morris, Debbie Ginsberg and April Dawson. Photo by Stephanie Francis Ward.
April Gordon Dawson, a constitutional law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, uses QR codes to take attendance. Additionally, her students submit summaries of what they have learned—and have an opportunity to ask questions—on the online platform Airtable.
“In terms of how I decide to use technology, I ask myself if it will make me a better instructor. I never try to use technology just because I want to use technology. There’s got to be a pedagogical reason,” Dawson said.
She was one of four members of a Thursday panel titled “Skills Building: Best Practices for Teaching Tech to Law Students” at ABA Techshow at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The other panelists were Nicole N. Morris, a profesor in practice at Emory University School of Law; Jennifer L. Wondracek, a professor of practice at the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law; and Deborah I. Ginsberg, an educational technology librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Some law professors, particularly those who teach doctrinal courses, resist adopting technology, the panelists said. They also said students who are “digital natives” are usually well-versed on social media but may not have experience with business offerings like the Microsoft Office suite.
“There’s a disconnect between what they are learning doctrinally and the technology,” Morris said. “They’re definitely comfortable with social media, but they aren’t connecting the dots to how to use those platforms—or whether they should use those platforms—to solve problems.”
Morris, a patent lawyer, also directs Emory Law’s Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results program. It brings together graduate students from Emory and the Georgia Institute of Technology to work on startup projects, and it is referred to as the TI:GER program.
Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the ABA Techshow 2020 here.
According to Wondracek, who also serves as UNT’s director of legal educational technology, 38 state attorney licensing agencies, including the State Bar of Texas, have a provision requiring tech competence and knowledge from attorneys. When law professors tell her they don’t need to understand technology, she asks them if they are a member of the Texas bar.
UNT Dallas College of Law is a new school, Wondracek said, and when it started, founding faculty members were told that they would need to work with technology.
“The driving force was the change to the Model Rules and the Texas rules,” she said, referencing ABA Model Rule 1.1, which addresses competence and added a comment in 2012 requiring lawyers to maintain requisite skill and knowledge in technology.
The job market plays a role too, Ginsberg said.
“We’ve been hearing the lawyers say again and again that the students need these skills. We’ve been looking to see where we could educate students with these skills,” she said, adding that an area many students find frustrating, like legal writing, is a good place to start.