We’re six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think it’s clear by now that the way we learn, teach, and engage with each other may forever be changed. For better or worse, technology is an even bigger part of our lives than it was before.
So far, 38 states have adopted ABA Model Rule 1.1 on Competence. Notably, comment 8 of this rule charges lawyers with the duty of keeping up with “benefits and risks associated with relevant technology”. The AALL Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency (and, by proxy, the AALL Body of Knowledge) also state that an information-literate legal professional should be able to identify ethical risks associated with using tech and receive ongoing training to ensure they understand how to effectively use all research platforms — yes, including the new ones.
Sounds fair enough. However, with new technologies emerging so frequently, this can be quite a tall order. Lawyers are commonly expected to understand data security and practical technology skills (email, document storage, advanced word processing and other office software), along with e-discovery, social media, and other additional areas.
As an academic law librarian, I know that our patrons have to navigate a multitude of old and new technologies to effectively practice remote learning and online instruction. This includes a healthy understanding of video conferencing software, classroom management systems, large-scale virtual events like career fairs or conferences, and much more.
With this being said, how can law librarians formalize the ways in which we teach and encourage technological competence, especially when it’s not universally considered a “substantive” skill?
Many of our patrons never receive formal training in the area of technological competence. During this pandemic, lots of folks have been applying a sink-0r-swim, learn-as-they-go attitude to their everyday workload. Law professors may not want to spend a big bulk of instructional time troubleshooting technology issues, and internship supervisors may not walk students through relevant tech beyond a whirlwind orientation session. They expect students to come prepared with this understanding.
Many law students are digital natives, but it’s not safe to assume that all digital natives have an immediate comfort with learning new technology. I also have a few issues with the term “digital native” itself. Age is generally considered a defining factor in determining digital nativity, but I know from personal experience that not all law students come from the same economic background even if they’re in the same age group. Not all people grew up with the privilege of computers, mobile phones, laptops, and Internet access.
Many have already laid solid groundwork on teaching technology, so I know we’ll all figure out effective ways to instill these skills in our patrons. In addition to following best practices, we can also maintain connections with “real world” legal practitioners who can help us guide law students through the jungle of technologies they will be expected to master. I would love to hear your ideas on other strategies!