APLEC 2012 Day 2 – 10 November

I missed the first plenary session, unfortunately, because I was setting up my poster presentation based around my survey of PLT teacher qualifications and teaching scholarship outputs.

The first parallel session I attended was Tony Cibiras’s, ‘What does the Australian Quality Framework mean for Practical Legal Education?’. Tony provided an introduction to the AQF and the implications that has for the existing graduate diploma of legal practice offerings, particularly in relation to equivalent full-time student load weightings. But the discussion really became interesting around the issue of non-formal recognised prior learning. That is, where applicants could claim advanced standing on the basis of professional work experience, rather than academic qualifications. The discussion highlighted the fact that this would be an administrative challenge for PLT providers, given the infinite possible varieties of claims that would need to be evaluated. Also, it would be interesting to see how the regulators approach accreditation of PLT courses that propose to include RPL as part of the course design. It was recognised that the VET sector has already met the challenge of RPL, and that we might learn a lot from that experience. Also, the portfolio approach to course design might represent a way of resolving differences between full-course students and those who successfully claim RPL for part of their PLT.

The second session I attended was presented by Moira Murray and Margie Rowe, ‘Teaching and learning in teams in a Professional Practice course’. The presenters made some introductory comments and then opened up the session to a discussion format, and this was very successful. In essence, students were working in teams in virtual firms, charged with producing items of work; I think this was along the lines of John Harvey and Paul Maharg’s simulated practical learning environment (SIMPLE) design. Lecturers also worked in teams to manage the activities and to interact with the students and the virtual law firms. Issues about unsatisfactory participation and ‘dysfunctional’ firms, were discussed. The presenters noted that while these problems did not often occur, when they did arise they needed prompt action by the lecturer. This is consistent with my own observations in my online discussion research that it is important to have a lecturer’s (available, non-intrusive) teaching presence in the virtual environment. It was good to hear about the experience of using virtual firms and the benefits of collaboration in both the student and teaching domains.

After morning tea we attended a plenary panel session, chaired by His Excellency, The Honorable Peter Underwood, AC, Governor of Tasmania, with The Honorable Justice Alan Blow, OAM, Magistrate Peter Dixon, and Professor Peter Lyons. The subject was, ‘Advocacy Training’. It was interesting to hear different perspectives about what was important in advocacy training (although I was surprised that communication skills did not get much of a run). The ability to empathise was mentioned more than once. I was a bit dismayed that when the topic of whether advocacy could be taught by ‘online learning’ was discussed, there appeared to be a widely-shared misconception that advocacy was being taught by wholly online courses, rather than through blended program designs, that involve online instruction, together with face-to-face coaching, feedback, and assessment. The senior observers in the room seemed a bit surprised when I explained that ‘online learning’ is a bit of a misnomer in relation to the programs actually supplied in Australia, and that most, if not all, programs are blended programs.  It seems we have a long way to go before most of the profession understand how blended program designs actually work.

Associate Professor Allan Chay provided the closing remarks, and rightly observed, I think, that this was one of the best conferences ever in terms of the number of attendees, and the variety and quality of presentations. In my view, the outlook for scholarship of teaching in PLT is looking good – something I did not really believe 12 months ago!

These conferences are incredibly valuable learning experience and I encourage PLT teachers to get involved with them. I think the University of Tasmania Law School and the Centre for Legal Studies provided an excellent conference, and the organisers (including Naomi Bryant and her team) should be congratulated.