Since I signed off on my privacy book, I’ve been experiencing a surge of creative energy. It turns out that removing a weight that’s been hanging on one’s shoulders for three years does that. Who knew? While that energy is largely focused on my personal hobbies, I have been giving some thought to what sort of side project to do next.
One idea I briefly toyed with was writing another book, similar to the privacy one, but from much higher up. It would have been a broad overview of all of the issues that policy folk like me deal with at the coal face of internet governance, written once again in language for non-policy professionals.
I’ve set that idea aside for several reasons, some personal and some less so.
The most obvious one being that someone has kind of done it for me.
For many years, I’ve been “collecting” (if that’s the word) course syllabi from various educational programmes, both university-based and otherwise, which touch on all things internet law and regulation. I like knowing what it is that other people are trained to know. I like seeing what it is they’re taught, and why they’re taught those things. And I also like spotting the gaps in their training, or the places where they might be getting the right knowledge but from the wrong perspective.
I recently spotted a course syllabus which was so comprehensive that it cancelled out my speculative second book.
But it’s not just the structure which did that: it’s the fact that the syllabus was developed by someone who’s as much of a coder and a geek as he is a lawyer and an academic. The syllabus has its feet firmly on the ground, not cloistered in an ivory tower.
In other words, it’s something that anyone can read and understand right away. Yes, the material is a bit more higher-up than your average Smashing article or conference talk, but you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t ready for that challenge.
That syllabus, which is available for anyone to read and follow, is Michael Veale’s course on Internet Law and Policy at UCL.
Go have a look.
Now obviously, this syllabus is just the reading. You’re not getting the educational experience itself: the lectures, the classroom discussion, the interaction, or Michael’s enthusiasm in communicating these ideas.
That sucks, but.
As I’ve recently written, when you work in a field like web development where there is no set educational curriculum or requirement for continuing professional development, and where you are simply expected to magically educate yourself on your own initiative throughout your whole career, something is better than nothing.
If that something you give yourself is a few months of structured reading, via the syllabus, which will work you through all of the issues which may cross your path in the next few years, you will give yourself a competitive advantage which almost none of your peers will have.
And if that something sends you down a rabbit hole of further education and research, which may well take your career in another direction, all the better.
While the syllabus may look intimidating at first, you should keep in mind that you do not have to be a lawyer, or studying to become one, to read the course material. (I’m not, and it’s never done me any harm.) “Internet law” courses are meant as broad overviews for anyone whose work may touch on these areas; they are not meant to be the esoteric knowledge of the wig-and-robe set.
What I also like about Michael’s syllabus is that, rather obviously for a course based on this side of the pond, it is not grounded in the overly legalistic and tortuous US approach, which makes it a hell of a lot easier to settle into. Like my book, it’s there to educate you, not to terrify you.
Finally, what also impressed me is that Michael has taken care to select external readings which are largely open access. Only a few of the readings, marked “UCL Link”, are behind a university shibboleth login or paywall. It is not the end of the world if you can’t access those.
So I’d recommend setting up a new blank notebook, whether that’s a virtual or physical one, bookmarking the UCL syllabus, and diving right in. Your goal should be to answer each of the questions set out in “Learning Objectives” with confidence and assertion.
And, if you’ve got any questions, your friendly neighbourhood policy wonks are here to help.
(Yes, Michael, I’m buying next time.)