Hopefully you'll find this class fun—note this disarming and playful website. ;) That doesn't mean, however, that it won't be hard. It will probably be hard, but my job is to help you succeed. If you put in the effort, you will do well. You can also choose to do good with your final project, and honestly, how often does the work you do in a class directly help folks in the real world, outside of the clinical context that is?
Some things you should know:
- The Fall 2021 instance of this course follows a hybrid format. This means that we'll be meeting in-person most weeks, but not every week, and not always for an hour and fifty minutes. Fully online sessions will take place on October 18th, and November 8th, 15th, and 22nd. The expectation is that all other sessions will be in-person though this could change if events call for it. This change, however, should only be one way, from in-person to remote, not from remote to in-person. So, plan accordingly. FWIW, I love virtual backgrounds. If you do too, here's a nice source for royalty-free images. There are 13 levels (weeks of instruction), and it takes roughly 7 hours to work through each level.
- This class does NOT aim to turn you into a professional coder. You will, however, learn enough coding to be dangerous. Understanding this and how to avoid endangering others are among this course's chief concerns. It aims to place the use of new technologies (specifically the most hyped, e.g., “AI” and data science) in the broader context of law and society. It aims to help prepare you for the holistic evaluation of novel tech applications. For example, is the use of algorithmic risk scores in pretrial release a societal good? Does the same conclusion hold when measured against one's individual rights? The answers prove to be extraordinarily fact dependent. Consequently, answering such questions places a premium on the ability to conduct cross-disciplinary discussions around expectations and definitions of success. This class should help prepare you for such discussions.
- If you are not a coder, this course is not designed to make you into a production-ready coder. You may produce a project or two worthy of public release, but this will come largely from following directions and a lot of support. This is analogous to how most people can “bake” because they can follow a recipe. True bakers, however, know enough to improvise. They can innovate. For the most part, you will be following recipes. The hope is that after this class you will better appreciate software creation as a skill, not some dark magic, and that this will help prepare you to partner with technologists to create just and useful solutions and to ask the right questions. It should help acquaint you with the realm of the possible and provide you with a lay of the land.
- If you are a coder, you will be free, within certain constraints and after pre-approval, to deviate from our standard recipes and produce projects that utilize your existing skill set. But as we have made clear above, this course should primarily help pair your technical skill with the critical eye of a legal practitioner.
- There will be math, but not how you think. You won't be asked to do sums, but you will be asked to interpret data and use mathematical thinking. If this sounds scary, don't worry, we'll give you the support you need. For more on why this is important and what I mean by mathematical thinking, check out the first chapter (When am I going to use this?) from our course text, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg.