The Australian Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) has circulated the Victorian Council of Legal Education’s ‘Standards for PLT Providers and Courses – February 2013‘. LACC commends the standards (“the 2013 Standards”) to admitting authorities outside of Victoria, observing the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC) has approved the 2013 standards.
My own interest in the 2013 standards relates to two main themes:
- The treatment of online or blended PLT programs for accreditation or evaluation; and
- Teaching and learning requirements.
As to my first theme, by way of background the 2013 Standards were preceded by a ‘preliminary’ report commissioned by the Victorian Council of Legal Education and prepared by Christopher Roper AM (the ‘Roper Report’). I was troubled by some proposed standards in the Roper Report including Standard 1.3(e):
The PLT provider must provide an argument for the basis upon which the effectiveness of the distance learning can be assured…
‘Distance learning’, in the Roper Report, included ‘online learning’. My view is the criterion for ‘an argument for the basis upon which the effectiveness of … learning can be assured’, would be problematic, and if it were adopted should apply whether a wholly face-to-face or blended program of online and face-to-face instruction is involved. In other words, the medium is not the message and evaluation should be holistic and not discriminate between one mode of delivery or another solely on that basis.
It is good to see the 2013 Standards are substantially revised on this point at part 1.4(d):
to remove any possible implication that on-line teaching and learning is to be treated differently from other modes of teaching and learning.
As to my second theme, ‘teaching and learning requirements’, part 2.4 of the 2013 Standards focuses on ‘appropriate’ design, teacher-student interactions, timely feedback, adequate supervision of students, hours needed for learning, assessment methods, and monitoring of student work .
Part 2.5 mentions student-teacher ratios, simply stating the ratio should be ‘adequate and appropriate’.
Part 3.1 of the 2013 Standards specifies that teaching staff must be ‘appropriately qualified’, have ‘substantial recent experience practising law in Australia, or comparable relevant qualifications and experience’. Those involved with designing instruction should have ‘appropriate qualifications and experience’. PLT providers ‘must operate … adequately resourced and appropriate development programs’ for teaching and assessment staff. Finally, annual evaluations are required for teachers, designers and assessors. It is interesting to note that if PLT teaching staff are not substantially full-time employees, PLT providers are required to explain to admitting authorities why the arrangement is appropriate.
In time we might see how ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’ qualifications and experience for teaching staff are determined, and whether ‘scholarship of teaching’ attributes are included.
Also, if PLT providers employ practising lawyers as assessors (encouraged at 2013 Standards p. 10), will those individuals take part in the ‘development programs’ and annual evaluations mentioned at Part 3.1?
 Christopher Roper, ‘Standards for Approving Practical Legal Training Courses and Providers’ (Victoria Council of Legal Education, 2008).