December 03, 2006

E. Langdell

John Mayer of the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction couldn't make it to the workshop I've been attending here in Pittsburgh, due to Thursday's snowstorm in the midwest. So he quickly put together three screencasts of his planned presentations. One of them, under the title eLangdell, is about legal education, but it should be of interest to linguists and people in other fields as well. [His other two presentations are also interesting: an "Introduction to CALI" and some thoughts about a "Fantasy Supreme Court project".] There are a few things in John's presentation with a specifically linguistic cast, like his discussion of the use of speech synthesis, but the real message is what he has to say about opportunities in legal education for new kinds of educational ecologies.

The analogous possibilities are especially relevant to the field of linguistics, for two reasons: screencasts and other new media forms are especially useful for presenting analyses of speech and language; and network-accessible resources are especially helpful in letting people learn about disciplines like linguisitcs, where courses are not widely available.

Being able to integrate sound and interactive images conveniently, in packages that are easy to distribute and easy to access and use, fits the needs of linguistic education in an especially helpful way. Such screencasts are always kind of neat, but they're not always really necessary. I'm now sitting in the Pittsburgh airport, waiting to board my flight home to Philadelphia, and as I'm writing this entry in one window on my laptop, I'm watching and listening to John's presentation in another. It's nice to hear his voice and have the information presented in an interesting and well-paced way -- and the narrated presentation allowed John to be present at the workshop in virtual form -- but frankly, I could have gotten the same information pretty well in a purely textual form. But some things are very hard to get across without sound and interactive graphics, and much of what we need to teach in linguistics falls into this category. In phonetics, for example, it's invaluable to be able to play sounds, to show waveforms and spectrograms and pitch tracks, to point out and comment on various features of the displays, and so on, all arranged in time and space just as we do it for someone in real time, sitting together in front of a computer. Similar things apply for presenting ideas in syntax or discourse analysis or pretty much any other kind of speech or language analysis.

Engaging, easily-available material of this kind would make linguistic analysis accessible to many people who are now effectively prevented from learning about it. If you want to learn physics or biology, it's pretty well guaranteed that your high school, college or university has a whole sequence of courses. If you want to learn linguistics, you're probably on your own, unless you're lucky enough to be a student at one of the relatively few colleges and universities that have a linguistics program. Accessible course materials would make it easier for interested students to start learning, and would also help interested teachers in other fields to include more and better linguistics in their courses.

[Update -- John Mayer writes:

Thanks for blogging about eLangdell.

I have a longer version of that presentation that I have at the 2006 CALI Conference online as well.

Here is the video...

..and here is the screencast...

I have never had to "phone in" a presentation like that before. I would appreciate your feedback on how well that worked in the room. Could folks hear what I was saying? Did it generate discussion? Was it too long or too short?

I thought that John's presentations worked pretty well, though I did miss the chance to ask him some questions (and hear the answers, of course). We could have been provided by a live voice connection, if we'd thought to set it up. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 3, 2006 06:52 AM