“Forks of Law” at #britsoc14 BSA annual conference

I will present at Roundtable Session 29 (Sports Hall 2) on Friday 25 April at the British Sociological Association annual conference at Leeds University. The images below are from my introductory handout.

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Briefly, from the Teaching-Research Nexus Symposium

Teaching-Research Nexus SymposiumI attended the Teaching-Research Nexus Symposium at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide on 15 February 2013. The Adelaide Law School, the Centre for Law Governance and Public Policy, and the Legal Education Review presented the event. Thank you to the Legal Education Review for kindly providing me a place at the event as an attendee. (I am a teetotaller – regrettably I cannot report on the wine).

Leon Wolff, from Bond University presented the keynote address, ‘Let’s talk about Lex – narrative methodology and the reinterpretation of the researching-teaching nexus in legal education’. The topic was a pleasant surprise for me, because I am interested in narrative inquiry methodology and, as Leon pointed out, narrative is ubiquitous in law. Narrative appears through case reports, ‘war stories’, recitals, chronologies, exchange of correspondence, and witness statements, to name some examples. I commend Leon’s article, ‘Law as Lore'[1], as an introduction to narrative inquiry in legal research and legal education. (I recommend Ruthellen Josselson’s work for an in-depth introduction to narrative inquiry*)

Following the keynote, there were three presentations. Firstly, Patricia Easteal (University of Canberra), followed by Irene Baghoomians (Sydney University), then Marina Nehme (University of Western Sydney). Each of these presentations relate to articles published in a special edition of the 2012 Legal Education Review Volume 22 Issue 2  pp. 237-338.

Patricia shared insights from a case study of research-led education (“RLE”) at the University of Canberra. RLE enables the development of law student research skills and provides a context for teachers to reflect on their own research interests and scholarship of teaching. ‘Intersections’ identified in the case study include; i) research about teaching, ii) teachers teaching about their research, and iii) students doing the research. Organisational and individual commitment and support for RLE would be important for it to succeed [2].

Irene provided a fascinating account of an elective international law course involving a 3-week trip in Nepal. Sydney Law School and Kathmandu Law School are partners in the experiential learning arrangement. The residency in Nepal involves site visits, lectures, and assessments. Irene’s presentation focused on the logistical and procedural hurdles involved in the innovation. I envy the students who participated – I would have loved to have an experience like this course when I was an undergraduate law student (wouldn’t you?). The article is practical and informative; a valuable resource for anyone considering a similar approach [3].

Marina presented an energetic overview of the challenge facing teachers obliged or desiring to undertake research [4]. Marina asks ‘Is there a nexus between teaching and research?’, and then reviews studies that claim a negative nexus, nil nexus, or a positive nexus between teaching and research. Marina proposes the nexus between teaching and research is complex and depends on the discipline involved, whether certain strategies are deliberately adopted, and other factors. Marina also observes variability in definitions of research and teaching and characterisation of the nexus between teaching and research. Marina identifies strategies for a positive nexus including embedding research in curriculum and cultural change that values scholarship of teaching. I am particularly interested in the latter strategy as part of my own research into how PLT teachers engage with scholarship of teaching. I commend Marina’s article to you.

There was a choice of three parallel sessions after lunch: research methodologies, using teaching excellence to secure promotion, and a collaborative workshop. I was torn between the methodologies and collaborative sessions. I opted for methodologies and a friend chose the collaborative session – I am hoping my friend will guest blog about the collaborative session soon.

Professor Tina Aspland from University of Adelaide facilitated the methodology session. Tina introduced the subject by first discussing epistemologies and ontologies. She presented a sliding scale of positivist/objectivist and subjectivist paradigms, with constructivist methodologies such as grounded theory and mixed methods toward the centre of the scale. This excited some discussion in the group with some members tending to identify with positions at one end of the scale or another. I was interested to observe in albeit brief but animated discussions an apparent cognitive dissonance between vocal participants. Such was the interest, I believe Tina was unable to introduce a number of other planned discussion points. I was encouraged, however, to see qualitative methodologies being discussed in this forum. It was clear a number of participants were acquainted with a range of methodologies, which is promising for future research.

Unfortunately, I was obliged to miss the last sessions to make my flight back to Melbourne. The concluding sessions were presented by Molly Townes O’Brien from the Australian National University  (‘The Learning Journey – please take me with you’), and James Arvanitakis from University of Western Sydney (‘Do researchers dream of student-free universities?’). If a participant from those sessions would like to guest blog here, I would be happy if you would contact me.

I am pleased to see an event like this and look forward to more like it. The inclusion of qualitative methodologies at this symposium, such as narrative inquiry, prompt me to wonder how articles involving these methodologies might be received and reviewed by Australian legal education journals. For example, if a journal’s style guide proscribes the use of personal pronouns in articles submitted for review, what impact might this have on writing involving narrative inquiry or analytic auto-ethnography?**

[1] Leon Wolff, ‘Law as Lore’ (2012) 1 Journal of Civil & Legal Sciences e108.
[2] Sarah Ailwood et al, ‘Connecting Research And Teaching: A Case Study From The School Of Law, University Of Canberra’ (2012) 22(1/2) Legal Education Review 317.
[3] Ben Saul and Irene Baghoomians, ‘An Experiential International Law Field School In The Sky: Learning Human Rights And Development In The Himalayas’ (2012) 22(1/2) Legal Education Review 273.
[4] Marina Nehme, ‘The Nexus Between Teaching And Research: Easier Said Than Done’ (2012) 22(1/2) Legal Education Review 241.
*Ruthellen Josselson, ‘Narrative Research – Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Story’ in Frederick Wertz and Kathy Charmaz (eds), Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis : Phenomenological Psychology, Grounded Theory, Discourse Analysis, Narrative Research, and Intuitive (2011) 224.
**Helen Sword studied a large number of academic journals and their style guidelines – she found very few proscribe use of personal pronouns: Sword, H 2012, Stylish Academic Writing, Harvard University Press, Cambridge & London.


Blogging and Micro-Blogging in Legal Education and PLT

microbloggingpicI had fun working with my mates Kate Galloway (from the Curl blog) and Melissa Castan (Amicae Curiae blog) on the topic of blogging and micro-blogging in legal education and practical legal training.

JALTA have published our article here. It is a wide-ranging, partly auto-ethnographic account, of blogging and using Twitter in our work.


Presentation in November – APLEC 2012 – Hobart

‘Skills’ in LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers – a Comparison using CAQDAS

I am presenting a brief paper at the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council conference hosted by the University of Tasmania Law School from  8 November 2012.  The abstract follows:

This study analysed the Threshold Learning Outcomes (“TLOs) specified in the Bachelor of Laws Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement December 2010, and the Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers for Practical Legal Training, as updated by the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council and Law Admissions Consultative Committee in February 2002 (“Competency Standards”). Qualitative analysis was undertaken using the NVivo computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (“CAQDAS”), to investigate how skills were categorised and defined in each of the documents. The data were then analysed to compare the respective categorisation and definition of skills, and to identify potential complements, overlaps, conflicts, gaps, or blind spots, between the TLOs and the Competency Standards. The findings, and the methodology adopted, might provide insights for future instructional design, content, and delivery of Practical Legal Training programs, and for future reviews of the TLOs and Competency Standards.


Are Lawyers using Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS)?

I have attended two introductory and three advanced training sessions on using NVivo, which is a computer-aided qualitative data analysis software. I plan on using this tool as part of my research into practical legal training teacher engagement with scholarship of teaching.

I have started using the software to undertake literature reviews and I have found it to be a very powerful tool, particularly when comparing critical writings around a specific topic, such as a sociological theory.

In brief, the software allows you to code parts of text (documents) and media (pictures, video, audio) and to classify the sources and coding for certain attributes. The data can then be explored, analysed, charted, and modeled to draw out and represent insights concerning convergences, conflicts, gaps and blind spots, around a concept.

My experience with this software has made me wish that I had access to it when undertaking legal research (analysing primary and secondary legal materials) and also in legal practice (analysing evidence such as affidavit material, exhibits, witness statements, and transcripts).

I would be very interested to know if there are any lawyers already using CAQDAS for this purpose. I certainly would encourage lawyers to consider learning about these tools if they have not done so already. Have you experience with CAQDAS in legal research or legal practice? If so, please let me know via the comments.


Taking into account ‘affect’ in Practical Legal Training

This post is an edited version of a comment that I posted to the Practical Legal Training Educators Australia discussion group.

I recently finished re-reading Julian Webb’s chapter, ‘The Body in (E)motion: Thinking through Embodiment in Legal Education’ in Paul Maharg and Caroline Maughan (eds), Affect and Legal Education – Emotion in Learning and Teaching the Law, Emerging Legal Learning (Ashgate, 2011) 211.

I think Julian Webb makes a compelling argument (at p 227) that, ‘By enabling our students to get social in the classroom, to come together in a more structured and reflective way, group learning can actively support their social and moral development, and – maybe, just maybe – enhance their ability to become ‘better’ social actors…’

This chapter follows nicely from Graham Ferris and Rebecca Huxley-Binns’ chapter, ‘What Students Care About and Why We Should Care’ in the same book. They rightly argue at p 195, ‘…that those delivering education should explicitly and deliberately consider the purposes of learners, meaning the things they do or might value, or care about, or strive for. Whilst the choice of purpose is that of the learner, we can use our experience and knowledge of teaching law in higher education to facilitate purpose, choice or value adoption or rejection.’

It seems to me that these positions are applicable to the practical legal training environment, not just the academy. That said, some might be understandably concerned about leaning too far toward what students care about and losing sight of the integrity of the training and the PLT accreditation. This is the ‘springboard’ for my following comments.

Taking the skills workshop situation as an example, we can design the instruction and plan certain learning objectives for this experiential learning experience.
There may be ‘global’ objectives embodied by ‘global’ statements in the Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers; ‘instructional’ objectives the students’ performance goals, the conditions for that performance, and the the criterion for satisfactory performance. We can frame specific educational objectives as a subject-verb-object sentence: ‘[During the role-play interview] the student will be able to obtain all instructions necessary [to commence work on the client’s problem and to provide preliminary advice in plain language]’. We could specify what ‘plain language’ means in this context (e.g. we could decide to exclude ‘txt-speech’, and explain why – notions of professionalism, regularity, respect, integrity, etc.) Here, I’ve drawn on Mager, R.F., Preparing Instructional Objectives. 1997, Atlanta, Georgia, USA: CEP Press.

It is also possible to explicitly plan the learning across different levels of processing (e.g. retrieval, comprehension, analysis, knowledge utilisation, meta-cognition, and the self-system/affective level) across different domains of learning (information, mental procedures, psychomotor procedures). Here, I’ve drawn on Marzano, R.J. and J.S. Kendall, eds. The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. 2nd ed. 2007, Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California. I have previously blogged about this taxonomy.

Taking the above into account when planning the workshop, we can decide to adopt certain evidence-based teaching methods, such as advanced organisers, graphic organisers, whole-class interactive or co-operative learning approaches, and use a range of media to do this. I am drawing on Petty, Geoff, Evidence-based Teaching – A Practical Approach (Nelson Thornes, 2nd ed, 2009) here. Of course, it is important that the material and methods we use are ‘authentic’ and relevant to the learning objectives.

When we actually ‘perform’ or ‘deliver’ the workshop, ‘stuff’ comes up during discussions or arising out of the practice role-play interviews. It may be the student asks a question about how to handle a certain situation, or a student recalls an analogous situation from their volunteer legal work or graduate placement. We might respond by opening the question up to discussion, or share an illustrative ‘war story’ anecdote from our own practice to give an example of how we solved a problem. These are usually good opportunities to employ, and model, ‘reflection-in-action’, and ‘reflection-on-action’ approaches to teaching, learning and professional practice. I am thinking about the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, but in particular Schön’s book., Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass higher education series. (Jossey-Bass, 1st pbk. print. ed, 1990). Peter Senge is also good to read about this – Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline – The Art & Practice of the Learning Organisation (Doubleday Business, 2nd ed, 2006).

These interactions have social as well as educational qualities; both of which involve the students emotionally to some extent.

Running through all of this, from planning to delivery, are considerations concerning the affective domain / self-system level of processing learning. What students want and feel is relevant to emotionally driven judgements about whether the learning task is important and relevant to their learning goals and their ability to complete the learning task: motivation to learn = value x expectancy. This can be especially important with adult learners who can resist what they perceive as ‘supplementary’ learning (Atherton, James, ‘Resistance to Learning: A Discussion Based on Participants in In-Service Professional Training Programme’ (1999) 51(1) Journal of Vocational Education and Training: The Vocational Aspect of Education 77).

Some tend to focus on these aspects in relation to initial engagement, but I think they’re equally important to student satisfaction with the learning and could possibly affect their feelings about continuing professional education. In other words, what we do during the interactions is relevant to the immediate educational objective, but also could affect young lawyers’ commitment to life-long learning, and either impinge or enhance their satisfaction with their professional development, and their chosen profession. I think these factors are also relevant in training entry-level lawyers to pursue thinking about ethics and professional responsibility.

So, I agree that it is important to be clear about what are our teaching and learning goals in facilitating our students construction of themselves as lawyers; I think it is important that we are able to justify our instructional decision-making; it seems to me that both of those propositions involve developing our understanding of the affective domain of learning in practical legal training so we can continually improve the way we train lawyers.


‘Transactional Learning Environment’ and ‘Developing Professional Character’, in Affect and Legal Education

Karen Barton and Fiona Westwood’s chapter, ‘Developing Professional Character – Trust, Values and Learning’ in Paul Maharg and Caroline Maughan (eds), Affect and Legal Education – Emotion in Learning and Teaching the Law, Emerging Legal Learning (Ashgate, 2011) 235, is a very good read.

This is a copy of my post to the LinkedIn discussion group, Practical Legal Training Educators Australia.

The chapter has helpful introductory parts about the ‘repositioning of professionalism and the role of legal education’ (p 237), and ‘mastering the craft of lawyering’ using the ‘head, hand and heart’ metaphor (p 238). The authors identify 4 categories of student ‘firms’ that emerge in the transactional legal education environment, in a learning/trust matrix, where each firm has a mix ‘high’ or ‘low’ levels of trust and learning (p 242). The objective, of course, is to develop high trust/high learning student firms (p 244). The authors describe some of the strategies taken as part of an early intervention approach to identify student firms that seem to be tending toward low trust and/or low learning types. These include training of practice management tutors, and techniques to encourage reflective practices amongst the students including reflection on own individual and group work styles and common values (pp 244-8).

Selfishly perhaps, I wanted to know a bit more detail about actual student-student interactions and tutor-student interactions given the importance of ‘forming a team’ (p 246) and that ‘shared values were an integral part’ of the activity (p 247). At p 247, the authors note that ‘…our students did not choose their fellow team members … it was important that they learned to feel secure with each other … this feeling of security was facilitated by their initial discussions.’ It would be good to see more information in the article about those initial discussions, the medium through which they were conducted, and the strategies and methods used to facilitate them, given the importance of those discussions to setting up the activity, as reflected in the student quotes, particularly one on p 251, ‘My concern for the success of the firm began from its inception…’.


Using Graphic Organisers in Practical Legal Training

Did you know that substantial research and scholarship shows that Graphic Organisers (such as mind maps, flow charts, and other visual representations) can produce improvements in learning outcomes with average effect sizes of 1.2 to 1.3? See more.