Connecting Legal Education: The ECR Session

Kat Langley – Guest Host (K.Langley@leedsbeckett.ac.uk)

 Never has there been more uncertainty within the Higher Education sector; following the UCU strike action, and the ongoing ramifications of a global pandemic, there is a lot to feel anxious about, especially for early career colleagues, and those on temporary contracts. From personal and colleague experiences, currently, these feelings of helplessness and insecurity are amplified for those in the early stages of an academic or research career. Staff development budgets, opportunities, and early career support at the academy seem to be slipping further down the hierarchy of university priorities, and as an ECR representative, I speak with lots of colleagues who feel lost, and left out. With conferences cancelled, many ECR colleagues lost a valuable chance to present their work, and receive feedback and comments on their research, in addition to lots of lost networking prospects. The Connect Legal Ed Hangout has been the perfect antidote to these strange times. This week saw the first of the (hopefully many) ECR Hangouts, and a chance for Rachael and Linda to present their really interesting work. The Hangout was certainly well attended, and in fact, probably in this electronic format, these amazing pieces of research reached a wider audience than they would in one session of a conference stream. The ‘audience’ asked valuable questions, gave ideas and suggestions; but most importantly listened, in a period when ‘work time’ is at a premium. Despite the pressures of working from home, and managing other commitments, to have more experienced colleagues support us, hear us, guide us and enable us means everything. The feedback and questions we received also showed us that we have a lot to give to the community too, whether it’s through introducing new projects and ideas, or new ways of thinking about familiar problems. Below Linda and Rachael summarise their experience of presenting research in a virtual way.

Linda Chadderton – Legally Bound – a legally themed escape room (LCHADDERTON@uclan.ac.uk)

 Disappointed when the inevitable happened and the ALT conference was cancelled, I was delighted to discover that a platform had been set up to allow legal educators to connect. I was even more delighted to be invited to present my Legally themed escape room (Legally Bound).  I ensured children and pets were occupied and joined those assembled. We have been running the escape room for two years at the University of Central Lancashire. Its development stemmed from my desire to engage and immerse the students. The use of handcuffs, virtual reality, chatbots, a virtual court (designed solely for the escape room) and jigsaws have certainly done that, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from students and staff in terms of encouraging teamwork, communication, initiative and interactivity. In terms of accessibility I worked with one of our severely visually impaired students and BSL interpreters to make further improvements to the escape room. The workshop sees the whole first year cohort of students in teams of 10 tackle chronological clues against the clock (45 minutes). Tasked with finding evidence to exonerate a client charged with breach of the GDPR, to date only two teams have successfully cracked the clues and escaped the room. We have used the same ethos with our applicant days. I am firmly of the view that the concept is easily adaptable to any given module on the curriculum. I am currently developing a OneNote version: aptly entitled ‘Legally Rebound’ it will see the same gamification pedagogy utilised for our post lockdown cohort. So, irrespective of whether we are back on campus or not the students will be able to immerse themselves in the learning experience – if anyone would like to be a guinea pig for my trial of this, please contact me!

I feel grateful for being given the opportunity to create such interactive teaching materials and you can read a little more about it in a previous blog post. I am conscious that in today’s climate we must be more imaginative to engage our digital natives in the classroom. ‘Legally Bound’ sought to ensure that even if the students escaped the room, they did not escape the learning process!

Rachael O’Connor – Reverse Mentoring: Breaking Down Barriers (R.E.OConnor@leeds.ac.uk)

 As an ECR, the opportunity to present and share research with peers from around the world is crucial and over the last year, my reverse mentoring project has developed significantly as a result of the feedback and ideas gained from such opportunities. Following the cancellation/postponement of almost all conferences this “season”, it has been a lifesaver to have an outlet for my thoughts and findings via the #ConnectLegalEd hangout and this ALT blog. The reverse mentoring pilot study finished only a few weeks ago so I was really pleased to present some of the initial findings as I immerse myself in the data over the coming months with a view to writing up the study.

The study applies a reverse mentoring model in a University law school setting, focusing on issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion. As the name suggests, reverse mentoring involves the reversal of typical roles in a mentoring relationship, with the less experienced or younger/more junior person taking the role of mentor and the more experienced and usually more senior person acting as the mentee. It aims to recognise the “expert” knowledge the mentor has in a particular area, thereby empowering them in a position of influence and provide a learning opportunity for the mentee. This pilot study involved international undergraduate law students mentoring law school academic and support staff. During the ConnectLegalEd session, I gave an overview of the project and talked about some of the initial findings, focusing particularly on themes of community (linking in with Lydia’s session Connecting legal education: building communities), hierarchy, labels, student development and staff wellbeing (reflecting on Caroline’s session Connecting legal education: staff wellbeing).

This was the first time I had presented any of the primary data from the project. It was great to see such positive feedback and engagement with it from attendees. Comments got me thinking about how I can explore the data from different angles, including gender and ethnicity. There was a lot of enthusiasm for thinking about how the reverse mentoring model could be applied to other groups including students from disadvantaged backgrounds, BAME students and ECRs. This was wonderful to hear as I really hope the pilot study will act as a springboard for wider research by myself and others and wider application of this mentoring model in a range of relationships where power dynamics are at play, including in other countries. Attendees empathised with and recognised the struggle of staff having the time to properly engage in these sorts of projects which is something I intend to reflect on when writing up findings. If you would like to hear more about the project, please get in touch and I will be happy to discuss it further with you.

For those who wish to hear more about these excellent research offerings you can find Linda’s blog ‘Legally Bound: The escape room concept’ on the ALT website. Rachael is currently writing a blog about her own research which will be available shortly also for the ALT.

For any ECR colleagues who aren’t sure where to look in this bizarre time, join the hangout. We meet most Tuesdays on MS Teams (drop Michael Doherty (m.doherty@lancaster.ac.uk), Lydia Bleasdale (l.k.bleasdale@leeds.ac.uk), or Emma Flint (E.E.Flint@bham.ac.uk) a line if you would like to be added to the list) and are really friendly.  If you would like to present some research, or if you would like to listen to how others are ‘coping’ with online teaching. If for no other reason than to escape your own kids for an hour, to have an adult conversation, like me, you would be more than welcome. Community is everything.

 

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