Storified Tweets from #altlaw15

altlaw15Being in the submission phase of my PhD candidature, I was sorry to miss the Association of Law Teachers 50th Annual Conference in Cardiff, Wales held during 29-31 March 2015.

I was able to vicariously enjoy the conference via Twitter – you can view a Storified version  of the tweets as a slide show below:


Impressions from ALT Annual Conference 2014 Day 3

imageThe third and final day of the ALT Annual Conference (Tuesday, 15 April) consisted of two rounds of parallel sessions.

First up, Gemma Davies and Emma Piasecki from Northumbria University spoke to “Where to now for the Bar after LETR?” They began with the question, ‘Is the bar training course fit for the purpose?’ They observed the LETR prima facie accepted legal education was working well, but there is room for improvement, although changes should be accomplished with a “light touch”. This involves taking into account existing positions and structures when dealing with the bar, including the notion of an independent bar. Gemma and Emma observed that the existing “blue book” regulation of the bar training course is very prescriptive and inhibits innovation, with implications for diversity in the profession. There are some ‘encouraging themes’ emerging through an education strategy framework, with a focus on an outcomes-based approach. It remains uncertain whether regulation of the bar training course will be eased to allow more innovative approaches to training.

My presentation followed, ‘O where are you going? O do you imagine? Reproduction and Response – A reflexive sociology of scholarship of teaching and learning in practical legal training’. The Prezi can be viewed here. A draft paper can downloaded from here. I tried to fit too much into this presentation (although an awful lot of work was left out – but isn’t that always the way?). Feedback was positive, with half a dozen people following up with questions and requests for a copy of the paper during the morning tea break.

After the break, Jane Ching (Nottingham Law School) spoke to “The Judge and the Jedi II: the Academy Strikes Back”. This interesting session explored the power or occulting of legal language, through a series of vignettes or games. It is an occult power that law students need to “get” to practice law. Jane took us through different points of view – what people think lawyers do with language, what lawyers think lawyers do with language, what linguists think lawyers do with language, and whether linguists, social scientists and psychologists can help us to understand what lawyers do with language. There were some interesting examples of how this can be explored through teaching and learning in legal education. One example was converting a terse memorandum into an email to counsel, a letter to a 60 yr old financial director client, a text to a 22 yr old Iranian asylum seeker client, and a case summary to be filed at court. An interesting reflective session that took me back to my undergraduate studies in socio-linguistics.

Last presentation of the day and of the conference, was Nigel Duncan’s (City Law School), “Representation: Developing Objectivity and Artistry for trainee lawyers”. Nigel’s presentation described an innovation to help students develop professional objectivity as lawyers. In particular, students were given realistic case files to run over several sessions, from taking instructions, writing an opinion, attending a mediation, drafting pleadings and attending opposed interlocutories. The clients’ instructions were problematised in some way, by blind spots or gilding the lily, for example, or problems of capacity. Students were encouraged to reality test instructions, to maintain professional objectivity and ethical standards, and to resist wilful blindness in pursuit of victory in an adversarial context. The aim was to develop realistic scenarios to provide students with insights about professional objectivity and practical artistry, and constructively align learning activities with assessments. Nigel shared interesting evaluations, where some students clearly “got it”, in terms of objective assessment of client instructions, whereas others might have missed the point. It shows how challenging it is to inculcate certain skills within a limited time; it also shows innovative curriculum planning can improve learning outcomes in skills training. A good synthesis of theory and practice, I look forward to Nigel’s book chapter that draws on this work.

So, that was my experience of the ALT 2014 Annual Conference in Leeds. I am impressed with the open and generous approach attendees adopted in sharing work for external scrutiny, and the generous and constructive approach to discussion and critique. As a newbie, I was made to feel welcome and encouraged to return for next year’s conference in Cardiff. I aim to be there.


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.


ALT Annual Conference 2014 Day 1

image I am at Leeds in England for the Association of Law Teachers’ Annual Conference. My attendance is supported by funding through Deakin University’ Higher Degree by Research Program, and ALT’s Stan Marsh Bursary. The conference venue is Leeds’ Queens Hotel, which is an Art Deco marvel. I’ve been made to feel welcome by the conference organisers, particularly Beckie Huxley-Binns and Jess Guth (thank you!). People are very friendly here in Leeds, which is nice after 35 hours travel with no sleep (delayed flights and missed connections etc).

Day One of the conference was opened by Rebecca Huxley-Binns with passionate (and often funny) remarks around the conference theme of “responding to change”. “Change”, here, is in the context of the recent Legal Education and Training Review and the ensuing reforms. Rebecca observed how personally felt some changes are, with responses analogous to Kubler-Ross’ description of stages of grief, and “genuine fear of what’s coming.” Rebecca called on law schools to “articulate their raison d’etre”, to declare what they stand for, to “embrace change”, and realise new opportunities for the future of legal education.

Pat Leighton, Director of the Legal Education Research Network (LERN) spoke to “The Urgency of Research for Legal Education” at the first keynote address. Pat described knowledge gaps in legal education, particularly around effective understanding and delivery of legal education, which is exacerbated by failures to take note of existing research. Pat identified policy and law-making as key areas neglected in legal education research, and noted the paucity of research regarding professional legal education. She described LETR as a usefully generative early stage report, that flags areas needing attention in future research. In other words, LETR is a preliminary report rather than a conclusive set of findings. Pat recommended that legal education researchers “find new friends” through interdisciplinary work, to generate fresh insights about research areas, methodologies and methods. These could include revisiting existing data to undertake secondary analyses. Pat described LERN’s facilitative role in legal education research, and urged attendees to engage with LERN’s resources. (I know I will).

We split up for parallel sessions (3 streams), and I attended sessions by Egle Dagilyte and Peter Coe from Buckinghamshire New University, and Kumari Lane from Birbeck College.

Egle and Peter’s session was entitled ‘Professionalism in Higher Education: Important Not Only For Lawyers’. They identified “narrow” and “broad” definitions of “professionalism”. Narrow definitions were aligned with conventional legal education and trajectories, whereas broad definitions were associated with new or evolving legal education trajectories, including unreserved legal practice. Both versions require lawyers to acquire skills, values and certain professional attributes. Here, some attributes were illustrated by fact situations involving early lawyers confronted with novel situations and dilemmas, without supervisor support. Individuals’ capacity to react appropriately was linked to professional attributes that ought to be acquired through legal education. There was some discussion of how lecturers ought to role model professionalism in their teaching and interactions with students. The concept of acquired embodiment of professional attributes is an ongoing preoccupation in legal education. I recently read similar discussions in the 1970s Bowen Report and Brown Report regarding professional legal education in New South Wales. In my opinion, embodied attributes take time to acquire, and appropriate learning conditions are necessary to support this. I am interested to see where Egle and Peter take their research.

Kumari’s presentation was about her research on using online discussion groups for teaching and learning. She found that most students agreed student-student interactions supported their own learning, but lecturer presence was important for guidance and support. Kumari passionately supported online discussion forums as a teaching medium, however she noted that they required substantial support and do not run themselves. Kumari remarked on the difficulty in persuading the organisation to include discussion group activities as assessable work, and the impact this had on student participation in the online discussions. This project looks interesting and I hope Kumari gets support to develop it further.

In the second parallel sessions I attended presentations by Lars Mosesson, Chloe Wallace and Cath Sylvester.
Lars (from Bucks New University) spoke to ‘Responding to What? Busy Chasing the Buzz’. Lars questioned assumptions about what has really changed in legal education, and asked if lecturers were any better at their work than in the years before legal education reforms. It is important to question what changes are proposed, the motivation for those proposals, and identify who is behind the proposals and who stands to benefit from change. It is also important to assess the effectiveness of changes brought about by the reforms. Lars questioned whether there ought to be compulsory CPD for law lecturers. Some in the audience appeared to support professional development for law lecturers, but balked at the proposition of compulsory CPD, with at least one person remarking that it could be counter-productive.

Chloe (from University of Leeds) presented a very interesting theory session, around “connectivism” (Bell 2009; Siemens 2011) and successor theory, in contrast with behaviourist and post-behaviourist theories. Chloe remarked on a “default to behaviourism” and cited legal education’s preoccupation with “thinking like a lawyer” as an example that could fall prey to the default to behaviourism. I am a keen reader of education theory and aware of Siemens’ work but would like to learn more about connectivism and the network theory approach to learning. Not often you see a good theory session at legal education conferences.

The final presentation of the day by Cath (from University of Northumbria) concerned “Measuring Competence In Legal Education: A View From the Bridge”. Cath spoke to a “richer concept of competence” and drew on Miller’s Pyramid (1990) and de Vleuten’s utility index (1996) to discuss how to test for competency in a regulatory environment pressing for “robust” and “rigorous” assessment. It’s a real issue, I agree, particularly in practical legal training, where it can be difficult to reach consensus between assessors about what “competence” is for a given task or practice.
A really good first day at the conference, stimulating and inspiring.


Association of Law Teachers (UK) – Stan Marsh Bursary

I am the grateful recipient of a Stan Marsh Bursary to support my attendance at ALT’s annual conference in Leeds during 13-15 April 2014. The theme of the conference is “Responding to Change”.

I am especially thankful to Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns and Dr Jess Guth for their patient support during multiple exchanges of correspondence and planning my attendance at Leeds.

I am very fortunate to be in the position to undertake my PhD on a full-time basis, supported by an Australian scholarship award, and occasional funds from Deakin University for specific purposes. That said, the three years I’ve set aside for the research are lean times financially, and unexpected support like the Stan Marsh bursary is enormously helpful.

I’m really looking forward to this conference, and meeting the many legal education experts I’ve come to know through Twitter, LinkedIn and various blogs! The benefit of attending these conferences cannot be understated – exposure to others’ ideas, exposing own ideas to constructive confrontation, serendipitous moments that arise from discussions during breaks – they are substantially generative and informative.


To Leeds in April 2014

Old Map of LeedsI am really excited to have my presentation abstract accepted for the Association of Law Teachers (ALT) annual conference in Leeds during 13-15 April. The conference theme, “Responding to Change” is of particular interest to me in the context of my PhD research.

My presentation paper is entitled “‘O Where Are You Going? O Do You Imagine?’: Reproduction And Response –  A Reflexive Sociology Of Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning In Practical Legal Training?”. I think the nod to Auden’s poem is apposite to the conference theme.

The acceptance of that abstract means that I will be in Leeds for two conferences. The other conference is the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) annual conference, and the theme is “Changing Society”. My presentation paper for this conference is entitled “The Forks of Law: Structure and Agency in Australian Post-Graduate Pre-Admission Practical Legal Training.”

Each of the papers draws on different aspects of my PhD research about PLT practitioners’ engagement with scholarship of teaching and learning. The guiding questions in my research are: What are PLT practitioners’ motivations and capabilities for engaging with scholarship of teaching and learning? What symbolic support do PLT providers give to PLT practitioners’ engagement with scholarship of teaching and learning, and what resources do PLT providers allocate to this?

In approaching these questions, I am considering the relation between social structure and agency – are social structures “inscribed” into PLT practitioners’ practices? Can PLT practitioners’ practices affect structures in the PLT field? My approach is framed by sociology and cultural theory, rather than psychology.

In studying PLT practitioners in this way, I  effectively objectify them. In this context, I adopt Bourdieu’s “reflexive” sociology in which I, as the researcher, take “two steps back” to objectify my own objectification – this forces me to give an account of my own biases and assumptions.

In a similar but different way, I adopt de Certeau’s approach to “heterologies”, which involves both the “birds-eye” and the “kerb-side” view of PLT practitioners’ practices.

I am looking forward to learning from the other presenters at both conferences, and having an opportunity to subject my work to some constructive confrontation outside of Australia.