Research in Australian PLT – Has Much Changed?

Here’s John Nelson,* writing in 1988:
nelson 1988Has much changed since those comments?

It is not always easy to know what current research is undertaken in PLT, because little is published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, and few practitioners in the field share their work by other means, e.g. social media. There was briefly a dedicated journal for Australian PLT and clinical education, The Journal of Professional Legal Education, which ceased publication in 1998.

There are few articles focused on PLT, particularly scholarship of teaching and learning in PLT, in Australian legal education journals such as the Legal Education Review, and the Journal of the Australasian Law Teachers Association. Of those that are published, few are cited elsewhere, save where the research is the result of collaborations with non-law disciplines, e.g. behavioural sciences.

I’ve nearly completed a bibliometric analysis of 10 journal articles published in scholarly journals since 2006, regarding PLT and relating to scholarship of teaching and learning concepts. My preliminary observations:

The ten articles do not have citation counts on Web of Science, or Scopus, so I was unable to able to do automated citation analysis there. Two articles have citation counts on Google Scholar.

The group of ten articles cited 186 sources:
Articles – 133
Books – 29
Conf Papers – 13
Research Papers – 6
Reports – 5

Google Scholar listed 166 of the sources, with citation counts ranging from nil to 8982 (median = 15) (June 2014). Sources with high citation counts were usually in behavioural sciences.

SCimago SJR ranked journals for 43 citations (June 2014). Of these four were published in The Law Teacher, the only SJR ranked journal cited in the articles that specifically focused on legal education. Five were cross-disciplinary law journals (e.g. involving sciences, psychiatry, behavioural sciences, and politics), and six were law journals. The remaining journals focused on education (15, including cross-disciplinary journals involving technology), psychology (7), and other disciplines including psychiatry, medicine, and management.

JCR ranked journals for 32 citations (June 2014). Of these three were published in the Journal of Legal Education, the only JCR ranked journal cited specifically focused on legal education. Five were cross-disciplinary law journals, and four were law journals. The most numerous disciplines were education (7), and psychology (7). The remainder were comprised of other disciplines including psychiatry, medicine, and management.

Personally, I do not accord any particular magic to citation counts.  I am interested in how we can use bibliometric analysis to empower individual PLT practitioners to operate strategically inside and outside conventional metrics, to make cases, to garner institutional support and allocation of resources to SoTL work. I am also interested in the “Kardashian index” phenomenon, where a social media profile can acquire certain cultural and symbolic capitals, which might help practitioners to garner support and resources for research.

As I have said elsewhere, I think SoTL in PLT is important for many reasons. We need to work on building institutional support and resources for SoTL work. We can also empower PLT practitioners to undertake such work.

* John W Nelson, New directions for practical legal training in the nineties : an evaluation of the curriculum of the College of Law’s P.L.T. Course and its relevance to students’ work experiences in practice / a research project conducted on behalf of the College of Law by John W. Nelson, assisted by Pamela E. Stewart (1988).