Learning in Virtual Worlds.
By David J. Bilinsky
My music can be slightly amusing. You shouldn't take lyrics so serious. It might be confusing. Trying to separate the truth from entertainment... – Music, Lyrics and recorded by: Marshall Bruce Mathers III (Eminem)
Video games in law school? Is that the future of legal education? According to Paul Maharg, one of the contributors to the Zeugma blog that focuses on legal education, technology, rhetoric and legal theory (http://zeugma.typepad.com) and author of the book: “Transforming Legal Education” (www.transforming.org.uk), that is a distinct possibility.
Maharg is working with CALI (the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction – www.cali.org) to create software that enables legal educators to run legal practice simulations. According to the Law School Innovation blog (http://lsi.typepad.com/lsi/teaching_pedagogy), this SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Legal Education) software provides: “a framework for students to engage in transactions typical of real-life legal practice, providing the kind of contextualized knowledge and skill” that a Carnegie Foundation study (and others) have demanded.
The LSI blog notes that this context-rich simulation is very effective at teaching knowledge, skills and values. It uses virtual worlds with “twisting plots, colorful characters and devious puzzles.”
“Students become protagonists who grow in strength by overcoming challenges. Non-Player Characters (“NPCs”) present most of these challenges, whether as the client in need of rescue or the witnesses guarding precious evidence. Fictional websites provide a virtual landscape for the students to explore in order to build their cases. And battle is joined not with the clash of swords but the exchange of documents. All of this might make for a poor adventure film, but it can add up to a believable, even exciting, legal conflict.”
Students enter as associates of Kerrigan, Burns & Robertson who have been retained to represent a company that has been sued on a slip and fall in the fictional town of Ardcalloch, Scotland. Another team of students represent the Plaintiff.
“Students then engage in both informal and formal discovery, wandering through Ardcalloch via the town’s online directory listing and virtual map (think fictional Yahoo directory and Mapquest pages). They might, for example, contact the local landscaper responsible for maintaining the area where the fall took place; within a few hours or days, they should (if they made a well-formulated request) get a witness statement. (Behind the scenes, what’s really happening is that the students send a SIMPLE message to the simulation staff, who assume the role of the landscaper and respond to the request in a manner consistent with the landscaper’s version of the facts and with the character’s personality.)”
“As the team builds their evidentiary case, they revise their overall strategy. For example, the team might uncover new data that contradict the client’s initial statement of facts, forcing further discussion with the client and perhaps a revision of the overall theory of the case. At some point the two teams meet and negotiate a settlement (court action falls outside the scope of the simulation). The teams then step out of role and review their own performance and learning.”
Is this Computer-Aided Instruction new? Well, perhaps for some but certainly not for all. The CALI Excellence for the Future Awards (www2.cali.org/index.php? fuseaction=excellenceawards.home) recognizes excellence achievement by law students in these studies. The award is given to the student with the highest grade in their class. Awardees receive a printed certificate as well as a permanent URL VirtualAward that they can link to from their online resumes or biographies (www2.cali.org/excellenceawards/images/SampleAward.gif).
There have been 146,754 awards given from among 107 participating law schools. Unfortunately, only U.S. law schools who are members of CALI qualify at this time.
This learning environment offers immersive, effective learning in a hands-on (albeit virtual) environment. While some might find this virtual environment simply amusing, there is no question that it holds great promise for the future of legal education. What is interesting, of course, is trying to separate the truth from entertainment.
The views expressed herein are strictly those of the author and may not be shared by the Law Society of British Columbia. David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the LSBC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Blog: www.thoughtfullaw.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk and is reproduced here with permission of both the author and the Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch.