Smart Casual teaching development modules now available

An innovative resource for specifically developed for sessional law teachers (but able to support permanent staff as well!) is now online.

The Modules

The first five modules of the Smart Casual suite of online modules to support sessional colleagues with law specific teaching strategies are now available at https://smartlawteacher.org/modules.  They are:

  • Reading Law
  • Critical Thinking
  • Legal Problem Solving
  • Student Engagement
  • Feedback

They are supported by an introductory module that highlights four themes that run through the modules and are key to legal education: diversity, internationalisation, digital literacy and gender.

A further four modules will be available in the coming months:

  • Wellness
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Law

Format

The modules are written in Articulate Storyline with links to video clips and are designed to allow viewers to either work through the slides sequentially or skip to areas of interest.    Modules take around an hour to work through, but can be skimmed for relevant content much more quickly.

The modules are designed to have a peer-to-peer approach, recognising the experience that sessional colleagues bring to their teaching.  They feature a range of short videos from sessional staff themselves discussing the issues in the modules.  The use of reflective questions throughout the modules means the modules can also be used a conversation starters for peer discussions.

Background

Smart Casual involves a collaboration of academics from five Australian law schools producing a suite of professional development modules for sessional teachers of law. Half of all teaching in Australian higher education is provided by sessional staff (and possibly more in law schools), so the quality of sessional teaching is critical to student learning, retention and progress. However, national research suggests that support and training for sessional teachers remains inadequate.

In law, this problem is compounded by the need for staff to teach discipline-specific skills and content to students destined for a socially-bounded profession. Yet sessional law teachers are often time-poor full-time practitioners weakly connected to the tertiary sector. The distinct nature of these sessional staff and the discipline-specific learning outcomes required in law demand discipline-specific sessional staff training.

The project was funded by grants from the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching.  The  project team is:

  • Mary Heath, Associate Professor, Flinders University (Project Leader);
  • Kate Galloway, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Bond University.
  • Anne Hewitt, Associate Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide;
  • Mark Israel, Adjunct Professor of Law and Criminology, Flinders University; Visiting Academic, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia;
  • Natalie Skead, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia;
  • Alex Steel, Professor, University of New South Wales

 

Figuring out what works in Legal Education – the gaps in research and why it’s not all gloom and doom

By Julian Laurens and Lucas Lixinski

An article published in today’s The Conversation suggests there is a sizeable problem in the higher education literature, in that it is not sufficiently comprehensive, too anecdotally-based, and because of that lacks replication / transplantation value, making it difficult for other educators to apply findings in their own contexts. That is a fair point, even if focusing only on legal education helps address some of the article’s concerns.

One of the things some of us are trying to do at UNSW Law attempts to rise to some of these challenges. By seeking to clearly situate our teaching practice within the literature of what we do know, we are developing a body of work that addresses some of those gaps, with the caveat that it is in the legal education context, and may not be easily applicable outside the Common Law (or even Australian!) context. Which leads us to question whether there is such a thing as generalizable formulae in education. To be sure, in assuming the jurisdiction-specific nature of education, we may be tying ourselves to the notion that legal education primarily teaches content, rather than transferrable skills. But even if we are talking about skills, they are still historically, politically and socially contingent, so transplantability of findings about “what works” can never really be complete. So, not only may be the objective of a generalized wisdom on higher education be a utopia, there is also reason to believe that we do have generally a pretty good idea of some things that do actually work, at least in law (though admittedly there are glaring gaps in the Legal Education literature).

Part of the issue is how one can measure things like ‘success’ – whether it is a narrow, easily quantifiable neo-liberal inspired marker (test scores come to mind), or something broader, encompassing notions of justice (such as student well-being). An example is the difference between the education system in Norway and how they approach student learning and the education system in say the United States with its completely discredited emphasis on continual standardised testing and so forth.

So, yes, we DO know that some things work better than others and we DO have an idea of how they are situated very clearly in the relevant psychological and educational literature. And there is no reason to assume that many things cannot be transferred into University teaching that were found in, say, a secondary school setting. We need to bear in mind the contingencies that define the legal field (and, for that matter, any field of knowledge), but we think there is more reason to hope than to despair. The problem may be that we have people with MBAs designing educational policy, instead of people with MEd’s.

Student engagement in university decision-making and governance- towards a more inclusive student voice

An OLT Strategic Priority Commissioned Project led by Sally Varnham UTS

by Sally Varnham and Bronwyn Olliffe

The “student voice” project was born out of experience with student engagement in university governance bodies and a recognition that in a changing tertiary education environment students expect a greater say in how they experience tertiary education.

As this study unfolded it became apparent that there is a wealth of experience with student engagement and partnership in other countries that we can draw on. At the same time, we have seen that some Australian tertiary education institutions are already implementing similar practices with their own student cohorts.

A challenge in embedding good student engagement practice here in Australia arises from the different types of institution providing tertiary education. A one size fits all approach will not suffice.  However, whatever the specific needs and constraints of particular institutions, we believe that there are lessons to be learnt from international experience and our collective Australian experiences in engaging students in decision-making.

To encourage engagement, a sincere culture of partnership must be developed through demonstration by universities and the sector of a commitment to and respect for student voice.   Communication is central: first, of the representative opportunities across the institution and secondly, how the views of student representatives are integral to decisions made. Essential components are:

  1. Effective, valued and supported student leadership in partnership with universities.
  2. A developmental approach to student representation from course/ subject level through to high level institutional bodies.
  3. Resources for training and support of student representatives.
  4. Formal and informal processes for the engagement of students at all levels for continual enhancement of courses, their university experience and their personal development.
  5. Capturing every student’s voice – engaging underrepresented student groups to ensure engagement of the whole student cohort.
  6. Appropriate financial and nonfinancial support and incentives for student representation.

The Project recommends a sector-wide collaboration for the sharing of knowledge and experience of the benefits and challenges of effective student engagement for the diverse Australian sector, ultimately working towards framing a set of principles. An Australian Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to the Project leader, Professor Sally Varnham (2016/2017) during which she will engage senior university leaders and government policy-makers, student representatives, professional and academic staff, university management, and government agencies in a sector wide discussion aiming at a shared understanding.

You can join us in continuing the Student Voice Conversation via our Facebook page: Student Voice in university decision-making and follow our activities via our web page: studentvoice.uts.edu.au.

 

Can teaching be measured? #2

Carolyn Penfold

Following on from Justine Rogers’ 30th May post: ‘Can Teaching Be Measured’ I’m adding links to some articles on the topic. I think these questions are becoming increasingly important as universities seek ‘metrics’ by which to measure their work forces. The articles linked to below suggest that bias is a concern in teaching evaluations, which for me raises the question of whether those using the metrics will need to ‘correct’ for likely (or even just potential) bias. Check these out and let me know what you think:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/01/11/new-analysis-offers-more-evidence-against-student-evaluations-teaching

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/02/04/student-evaluations-of-teaching-gender-bias/

https://tcf.org/content/commentary/student-evaluations-skewed-women-minority-professors/

http://www.utstat.toronto.edu/reid/sta2201s/gender-teaching.pdf