Checklists – ‘Life, Death…’

I’m watching a very interesting documentary featuring Dr Kevin Fong, ‘Life, Death and Mistakes’.*  In this production, Dr Fong investigates how medical practice is looking to other disciplines for methods aimed at reducing mistakes.

A key method involves using checklists. A one page checklist has proven successful in the airline industry. Inspired by this, medical researchers adopted checklists to improve patient safety with dramatic (and replicated) results. The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes patient safety checklists freely available here. See the Surgical Safety Checklist for an example of a how a well designed checklist can be simple and easy to use.

In the context of teaching and mentoring lawyers’ skills in practical legal training, I think of checklists as an essential aid in legal practice (client interviewing and file checklists for specific practice areas), but also as ‘advance organisers‘ for teaching and learning interactions too.

Sometimes simple things are the best. If we remember to use them.

I recommend watching the documentary. Lawyers and legal educators can learn much from other disciplines.

*’Life, Death and Mistakes’ (Horizon) Dr Kevin Fong (Presenter) David Stewart (Director) BBC Production, screened 23 September 2013 on SBS1- available SBS on demand after broadcast.

 

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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.

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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.

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‘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…’.

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Mapping the PLT Competency Standards

I have created some maps of the current Australian Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers adopted for Practical Legal Training Programs.

See more!

Competency Standards Overview Map

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