#aplec2013 Day 1 – First Parallel Session

The Importance of Assessments in Practical Legal Training Programs

Suruj Skarma

University of the South Pacific, Fiji

I could not attend all parallel sessions. I’m blogging about those I could attend.

This session picked up on similar themes expressed in the first keynote. What follows are my impressions, in terse form. Errors and omissions are mine.

Given PLT is focused on preparing graduates with usable professional skills on completion, it is important to examine the assessment design. Awarding marks in PLT assessment might not be appropriate, and give an unreliable picture of the graduates’ learning outcomes. Starting questions, when do you measure, how do you measure, what do you measure? Need good information about what learned-centred approaches are achieving. Need strategies to get feedback from trainees about what they are learning in their own time, to identify what needs to be followed up, as part of a daily conversation. Need to adapt the teaching and learning style to local circumstances, and trainees’ circumstances and attributes. Trainees from a range of professional and practical experiences, so space needed to accommodate trainees with different levels of ability and experience. Some learning accomplished through assessments, can sometimes be the most appropriate way to learn certain concepts or skills. Using a combination of instruments and interactions – sit-in and take home tests, short tests, practice runs, examinations and evaluations. Rankings can be an issue – consider need for continuity of external measure of learning outcomes, need to be weighed against more complex assessments less amenable to quantitative rankings. Assessments essential but difficult, usually the trainer’s responsibility, questions around ranking or pass/fail approaches, consider in-progress assessments, consider whether formal assessment by itself is incomplete assessment. Unavoidable logistical challenges might influence choice of assessment timing and type. Also consider accountability to trainees and to other stakeholders regarding assessment decisions. Consider whether we’re focused on “good grades,” or competent and capable entry-level lawyers. Should trainees who “fail” assessments be required to undertake whole program again, before re-attempting assessment? Might be preferable if you’re aiming for actual competence. Consider holistic assessment of overall performance vs strictly criteria-based approaches. Need to be clear about responses to missed/failed assessments, repeat assessments, moderation processes, and avenues of review.

Lots to say and discuss here – couldn’t quite cover it in the time available.