Annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing Wrap Up

The 27th Annual CALI Conference for Law School Computing was held on June 15th and 16th in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. The temperature reached a high of 108, but it was cool inside the newly constructed and beautiful ASU Beus Center for Law and Society building.

As usual in law library conferences, change was the theme: the conference name was The Changing Rhythm of Legal Education. For the rhythm part, the conference kicked off with a drum circle experience facilitated John Fitzgerald, Manager of Recreational Music Activities at Remo, Inc. Participants worked together, playing drums and other percussion instruments, to create not only beautiful music but also to build community and create wellness and positivity for the next two days.

The keynote address, entitled Collaboration and Control:  Building the New Collaborative Web, was delivered by Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University – Vancouver. Mr. Caulfield argued that the initial promise of Internet facilitated collaboration remains unfulfilled and that even contributions to Wikipedia have started to decline. He expressed disappointment with this loss of possibilities and discussed his ideas about how student collaboration and open access can benefit both students and society. He had specific suggestions on how the legal academy can encourage law students to contribute their knowledge and skills for the greater good. He pointed to the shortcomings of the Wikipedia article about reasonable doubt, pointing out that the entry about this important legal concept has been flagged since 2009 as one needing “additional or better citations for verification” and “attention from an expert in law.” He noted that law students could greatly contribute to the public understanding of law and increase access to justice by contributing to Wikipedia, creating access to justice apps, or writing open source textbooks.

Though I didn’t notice it on the schedule at the time, the conference presentations were identified by type – those that might appeal to faculty, librarians, technologists, or everyone. There were four presentations specifically designated for librarians:  The Human Element in Search Algorithms: Bias and Accountability in Legal Databases; How to Talk to your Dean (or other Decision Makers); Visual Thinking:  Strategies, Assets and Tools; and Legislative Advocacy and the Law School:  Librarians Unite?!

For faculty, most of the presentations focused on online courses – student retention, effective asynchronous delivery techniques, introduction of online courses into the curriculum, creation of PlayPosit interactive videos, effective synchronous video techniques, student video preferences, and use of CALI QuizWright.

My favorite presentation was Deborah Ginsberg’s Blocked! What is Blockchain and What Will It Mean for the Future of Law? I was pretty vague on blockchain so luckily, Ms. Ginsberg started at the beginning. She explained that blockchain is a distributed ledger that runs on multiple computers and keeps track of records (blocks). It can be used to keep track of anything – money, titles, deeds, or even identities or votes. Since the digital ledger is decentralized it doesn’t rely on a government or organization to establish trustworthiness. Currently, blockchain is mostly associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin but there are lots of potential uses in the legal field for anything that requires recordkeeping – land records, intellectual property rights, and smart contacts, to name just a few examples. As for information I can use, I didn’t know much about cryptocurrencies but once she said that one could buy some with apps such as Coinbase I got out my phone to install it and, after a fashion, became the proud owner of $10.00 worth of both Bitcoin and Ethereum!

The conference had a lot of great presentations and I am looking forward to attending again in the future.

Reference Librarian and Professor of Practice at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

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