Education Topics and Tools for Staff and Judicial Officers

Reported by John R. Meeks

Approximately 15 people attended this session, including both NASJE and NACM members. The attendees discussed several topics.

Distance learning
There was extensive discussion about the value of distance education for court managers and staff, as well as how it should be done and for what purposes distance education is most beneficial. The attendees agreed that there is an expectation that distance learning can and should be part of the solution to the fiscal constraints facing judicial branch education. Not only is it less costly for people to do on-line education than to attend live courses, but the technology has improved and is itself less expensive than before and offers many more options for judicial education offices. (Most of the attendees are in courts/offices that provide DL for their court managers and staff.)

The challenges with distance education include that it does not offer the benefits of face to face networking and it is very difficult to accomplish high level objectives, such as those found in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Often the audience for DL education is unenthusiastic about using a computer for education (many use computers all day long in their regular work) and they do not always have a quiet place or time to dedicate to the program. There was general agreement that distance education is more effective in the delivery of technical content and that if it is used in conjunction with traditional education that is when DL is most effective.

Curriculum development vs. event-based planning
Many of the attendees reported having success with curriculum development and implementation for court manager and staff education. North Dakota and Ohio are two examples. It is more likely to be achievable when the judicial educator can work directly with discreet groups of staff who have common educational needs and when the staff has planning input and serves as faculty for their programs. Faculty development has been an important component for some of the states implementing curriculum design into their planning.

Some attendees said that even when they work with groups for which a curriculum would be beneficial, the court staff may not understand or accept that they “do not know what they do not know” and that their professionalism, competence, and job satisfaction could improve by using a curriculum design for their education. The default in this case is to “nuts and bolts” and event-based planning.

Participation of committees of court managers and staff in governance and education planning
Some states have had success in involving court managers and staff in governance and planning and others have not. It seems to be most successful when, as with curriculum development, the judicial educator can work with a group of staff who have similar job responsibilities. Most attendees agreed that it is desirable to have participation by these committees, but that it can be hard to get court staff who can or will act as representatives of their work peers. There can also be resistance if the court staff will believe they are being asked to do someone else’s work. “Why should we do your job?” can be the attitude of some court staff toward judicial education staff who want to use active planning committees.

Use by attendees at education programs of an electronic device such as a BlackBerry
This was acknowledged as being prevalent at all education programs and there was disagreement about what, if anything, to do about it. Some believed that there is little we can or should do to stop or discourage the use of electronic devices, because “multi-tasking” is how work is done these days. Others thought the use of these devices in class is disruptive, disrespectful of other learners and the faculty, and that it is actually not possible to “multi-task.” There was a lively debate and no consensus.

The attendees seemed to agree that this shared interest group meeting was relevant to the issues they face in their work and that hearing from others with similar challenges can inspire us to try new approaches and not take for granted the current court staff and manager education practices in our organizations.