Reflections of a new law teacher

Keeping it real: Brief reflections on teaching with social justice in my first semester of lecturing.

Julian Laurens

My recent first semester of lecturing (Land Law) was an overwhelmingly positive experience (despite the surprising workload associated with lesson preparation, marking, and student consultation). While I wasn’t completely unaware of what to expect, nothing can quite prepare you for that first time, standing by yourself looking out at a full room, noisy with anticipatory silence, curious smiles and guarded gazing, waiting for you to begin the show. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect the first time and would make ‘mistakes’. But isn’t that what learning is all about? My semester demonstrated to me that the first challenge for the new lecturer is to accept this (don’t be too hard on yourself) and be willing to engage in self-reflection. Reflecting alone and with colleagues was critical to my successful semester.

Research suggested the best classrooms were ones where students and teachers were engaged together in a spirit of enquiry and learning. In a desirable deep learning environment the teacher has a critical role in facilitating and directing learning – not controlling it. My head filled with grand pictures of the engaged classroom, I was excited to explore this – what does it all mean for my teaching, particularly at UNSW Law with values deeply rooted in ‘justice’? Continue reading “Reflections of a new law teacher”

Postcard from Mexico

Anna Cody

mexico flag


Experiencing another law school, and particularly another legal clinic using clinical education methodology is always eye opening.   For the last 9 months I have been collaborating with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Human Rights program legal clinic. It has given me some fascinating insights into both the Mexican legal and political system, as well as what it’s like to be a law student in the biggest public university in Latin America.

The clinic here focuses on access to information in migration matters and disability rights cases. They have made over 100 access to information claims with some success but which demonstrate how un-transparent the immigration detention system is.  And as most clients are from Central America and are on their way to the USA, the clients don’t want to stay in Mexico to pursue their legal rights when they are mistreated, tortured or detained illegally. The disability rights cases challenge the automatic use of ‘guardianship’ for many people with disability. They have also supported various people seeking de-institutionalisation. Students are an integral part of these cases, researching them, interviewing and advising clients and representing clients in court. Cases in Mexico are mostly run on the papers without oral evidence, submissions or argument.

Three insights

1. Students, the world over, thrive when given responsibility for their legal work, and are supported in their learning by thorough and effective supervision. The students in Mexico are given a lot of responsibility and in order to succeed in this, they need intensive support from their supervisor who meets with them, drafts documents and discusses some of the pitfalls of the civil system. Writing in plain language is even more of a challenge in Mexico than in Australia where students receive little training in how to communicate effectively.

2.  Despite the various criticisms of Australian ethical frameworks and regulatory system, having some ethical rulings and requirements are definitely preferable to not having any at all. In Mexico there is no ethical code to guide and regulate lawyers. It is a real discussion between supervisor and students about how to influence a judge and whether or not paying bribes is appropriate. The fact that this can be discussed openly is a tribute to both teacher and students. And yet for an Australian lawyer this explicit form of “influencing” by bribe is shocking. It strikes me how hard it is to continue to act in good faith as a lawyer and to believe in a legal system which relies on bribery. This has meant some fascinating discussions with students about what our role is within a legal system as lawyers.

3. When we are working with clients with disability and teaching students about their and our own ableism, it’s essential to design a clinical course with people with disability at the centre. This means integrating speakers, readings, class content which has people with disability giving their perspectives. One of the most powerful classes which the Mexican clinic teaches its clinical students provides perspectives of people with disability, who are not clients. The clinic invites a member of the Colectivo Chuhcan, a collective formed by and for people with psycho-social disability to discuss their experiences of the health and legal system in order to give students an insight into these issues.

These are just 3 of the insights of my time in Mexico, on sabbatical from UNSW.



photo credit

By Carolyn Penfold

Self-plagiarism is a thorny issue. On the one hand I sympathise with students who say ‘but it’s not dishonest, it’s my own work, why can’t I hand it in again?’ This view seems borne out by the University’s website where in answer to the question ‘what is plagiarism?’ the following response is given:

Plagiarism … is using the words or ideas of others and passing them off as your own. Plagiarism is a type of intellectual theft.

It is not until we follow the link to ‘common forms of plagiarism’ that we come across the following (as the very last example):

‘Self-plagiarism’ occurs where an author republishes their own previously written work and presents it as new without referencing the earlier work, either in its entirety or partially.   Self-plagiarism is also referred to as ‘recycling’, ‘duplication’, or ‘multiple submissions of research findings’ without disclosure.   In the student context, self-plagiarism includes re-using parts of, or all of, a body of work that has already been submitted for assessment without proper citation.

At my university students attach a cover sheet to their submissions acknowledging ‘that this work has not been submitted for credit elsewhere.’  We may think that as law students they should be aware of the need to READ declarations before signing them! On the other hand, it is understandable that students might attach and sign the cover sheet without taking too much notice, treating it as a record of their name, student number, word count and date of submission.

Nonetheless, I would have thought it obvious that when we’re assessing students we want to know what they’ve learned and how they’ve developed their understanding during the particular course in which they’re being assessed. However, I have to wonder how obvious this really is in relation to self plagiarism. My brother, a teacher, says ‘it’s their own work, it’s not dishonest to re-submit it.’ My son, a university student, says ‘but that’s what academics do all the time…’

Perhaps we would do better not to call this self plagiarism at all. Let’s separate it from the copying / theft concept and simply call it what it is: recycling or resubmitting. Students know why ‘plagiarism’ is prohibited, now let’s teach them why ‘recycling / resubmitting’ are prohibited, and see if that gets the message across.

Any thoughts?

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