Impressions from ALT Annual Conference 2014 Day 2

image Day 2 of the conference (Monday 14 April) began for me with presentations by Rachael Field (QUT), Elizabeth Lee (ANU) and Caroline Strevens ( University of Portsmouth) on the topic of “The Law Student Well-Being Projects”. Rachael provided a comprehensive overview of Australian developments regarding this topic, including the research by the Brain Mind Research Institute commissioned by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, and subsequent literature. I was surprised that Michael Appleby and Judy Bourke’s work on mental health and well-being workshops in PLT did not get a mention. That said, Rachael’s presentation was a good overview of the literature, and provided some interesting insights regarding her ALTC fellowship and work on curriculum interventions. She argued that we need to “interrogate what we are doing in teaching and learning” in legal education, in the context of law school’s impact on student well-being. There is evidence to suggest that conventional legal pedagogy is a contributor to stress and depression in law students. Caroline Strevens and Elizabeth Lee gave a concise description of their proposed research involving a comparison of UK and Australian law students, based on previous Australian research. They reported that several UK law schools had already indicated willingness to participate, and they are keen to recruit more, for interviews and focus groups. It sounds like a worthwhile project, and I look forward to hearing more about it.

The Routledge / ALT Teaching Law with Technology Showcase followed, with Linda Jotham (City University) on ‘Collaborative Blogging as a Means of Learning Support in Law’, and Matthew Homewood (Nottingham Law School) on using Twitter as learning support. Linda used a WordPress blog as a discussion forum to respond to student queries and enhance their learning experience. She drew on community of practice and community of inquiry frameworks to operate the blog. The choice of WordPress was interesting, and Linda explained that she felt this was the most robust technological option available. I agree with Linda that a robust, low-tech, option is best when building student trust and enrolment in online discussion forums – bells and whistles are less than important than easy-to-use robust technology in this context. Linda reported that email queries from students virtually disappeared, because the online forum was an effective way of responding to those queries. Matthew used Twitter with a dedicated hashtag to respond to student queries. He advised students that he would be available to answer queries via Twitter at set times. He reported a positive response, with collateral benefits such as peer-to-peer interactions on Twitter and via other social media. A good use of micro-blogging for teaching and learning, with potential to expand in other areas. It is good to see legal educators using these free tools effectively, and I think there are good opportunities for mining additional features of these tools, including analytics, to extend our understanding of teaching and learning through computer-mediated communications.

Next up was Julie Brannan from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, speaking to “Training for Tomorrow”. I’m not completely up to speed with the various training and assessment schemes in the UK, so what I say here needs to be read in that light. I was interested in Julie’s discussion of developments for an assessment framework to follow on from the competence statement for solicitors. The assessment framework is being developed through quantitative and qualitative studies, including interviews and online questionnaires directed to stakeholder groups, and a Delphi group of experts. The functions of the competence statement are to inform training providers about what training should achieve, instructional design, to inform aspiring lawyers, and to provide an assessment tool. The assessment framework is intended to be flexible, focused on what practitioners need to do, i.e. focused on outputs rather than knowledge inputs. It is expected that the assessment framework will be completed in 2016. I will keep an eye on that, because I am interested to see if this process has implications for the qualifications process in Australia.

I attended the ALT AGM, which dealt with routine matters, but was conducted in a light spirit with a lot of goodwill and laughter. I am really impressed by the good-natured collegiality of the ALT constituency. There is no truth in the rumour I attended only for the over-the-top cup cakes.

The next parallel session I attended began with “The Use of iPads in Learning Law”, from Michael Blissenden (University of Western Sydney), and Sandra Clarke and Lucy Yeatman (both from University of Greenwich). Michael described how UWS supplied students with an iPad on enrolment. Sandra and Lucy explained they were issued with 6 iPads to use in their classes. The presenters then discussed the apps they used in classes. For example, Michael referred to the “AustLii”, “Australian Constitution” and “AGLC” apps. Sandra and Lucy introduced the “Show Me”, “Socrative”, and “Display Note” apps. Those of us with our own devices were then asked to participate in a demonstration of Socrative, which involved downloading the app, logging into a class room, then answering quiz questions. On conclusion, the “teacher” displayed a spreadsheet of responses on her iPad. Quite a nifty “clicker” tool, useful for formative assessment in the face to face teaching. Several references were made to existing literature: Cradduck (2013), Prensky (2001), McNeill, Diao and Gosper (2011), Hardy et al (2009), Matthew (2012) and Biggs and Tang (2007). A really useful session for those unfamiliar with this kind of edtech. I should mention my thesis supervisor, Dr Julianne Lynch from Deakin University, is undertaking research with the use of iPads in infant and primary teaching, that might well generate insights useful for higher education, including legal education.

Rachel Wood and Emma Whewell from University of Western England spoke to “Culture Change, not Rule Change”, first steps towards becoming a reflective practitioner through use of e-Portfolios in a Dispute Resolution Skills module on the LLB. This was a interesting account of working with students who had failed an ADR subject, and were given a “last chance” opportunity through blended learning (online and F2F activities) and ePortfolios. Rachel and Emma discussed concepts such as ‘formation of professional identity through skills learning’, ‘collaborative approaches to learning’, providing a safe place for practice in an online space, and ‘guerrilla learning’. The instructional design emphasised organised learning, building trust and confidence, and learner ownership of the coursework. The results included improved pass rates and happier and more relaxed students.

Last presentation of the day was delivered by Patricia Pattison from Texas State University, on “Outrage and Engage: A Story of Eminent Domain”. This involved Patricia’s captivating account of how she engaged students on the first day of a mandatory law class, noting that “first impressions count”. Patricia uses the case of Kelo v City of New London, together with newspaper accounts, photographs, cartoons, quotations to demonstrate the effect of a Supreme Court ruling in a compulsory acquisition of land case (this case involved the acquisition of homes for private commercial purposes). Using this case as an example, Patricia tells her students, “I can tell you things that will make your life better”, showing how knowledge of the law can empower individuals and groups. A really engaging session, and I would have loved to have Patricia as a teacher when I was at law school.

This was a pretty solid day of legal education conferencing and a source of inspiration for me.