Connection is important. Even in less turbulent times, the friendship and comradeship that we can get from being in the same place as other academic colleagues discussing our ideas and common concerns can be both a comfort and an intellectual stimulus. This is why we look forward to the subject association conferences so much, with the draft programme for the ALT 2020 Stirling conference looking particularly appetising.
A chance exchange on Twitter led the three of us to discuss whether we could have some sort of space where, as law teachers, we could connect during this period of social distancing and isolation. And ‘Law’ is broadly defined to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted to hear about some of the creative and ingenious projects that colleagues at other institutions were going to present on. We also thought it would be valuable to learn from each other as we respond to huge changes in our lives and the lives of our students during the Covid-19 crisis.
So we came up with ‘Connecting Legal Education’. It is a (more or less) weekly hour-long online hangout and you are all welcome to hang out with us. The tone is informal – we already have enough on our plates without creating new pressures and we consciously reject the crass ‘making the most of your time in lockdown’ narrative that has emerged (and mercifully largely receded). We don’t record it, as it is essentially a bunch of colleagues having a chat, but we hope to capture some of the key points in these blog posts. Our structure is to have one short presentation or Q&A, followed by a more general discussion. in the first meeting we heard from Emma Flint …
This module (or ‘Legal Comms’ in its abbreviated form) is a 2nd year core LLB module at Birmingham Law School. Originally conceived as a ‘skills based’ module, it moves away from reproducing traditional forms of assessment used in law (the deadly duo of essay writing and answering problem questions). Instead, students research an area of law (domestic or global) of their own choice and then produce a ‘Piece of Work’ (POW) to communicate the message of that research in a format best suited for their chosen audience. In this way, the module provides both a foundation for more advanced legal skills in the academic sense, whilst allowing students to engage with new (and more challenging) ways of communicating legal information and understanding.
Student choice and agency is at the heart of the module design. Students have used the opportunity to produce a range of different POW formats, from blogs to animated videos, from games to twitter threads, from spoken word performances/poetry to art/sculpture. And the legal areas researched are varied and diverse, reflecting both the changing nature of our student cohorts and what law interests & ‘talks to’ them (and their chosen audiences). All of the POW design choices (along with evidence of research undertaken and feedback sought & used) are reflected upon in the accompanying reflective account that students submit alongside their POW. Think of it as a ‘diary of the POW’ across the module.
Want to know more? Do contact Emma, who is happy to share both the marking criteria (the secret ingredient to making this module work) and more insight into the curriculum design itself. There is a paper forthcoming on this** and a website will be launched shortly that shares examples of student work. In the meantime, check out this POW example from current UoB Rochelle Jack (consent to share is given) and her BRILLIANT spoken word performance piece exploring institutional racism. Just hover your smart phone over the QR codes for access to both the POW itself and a recording from Rochelle reflecting on her motivation & design choices for her POW:
** current guestimate that it may well be in 2022 *winks*
In the current Covid-19 crisis, the methods of assessment we use are going to come under increasing scrutiny. But that doesn’t mean we should be scared of this challenge. Using more authentic assessment methods such as these addresses concerns around fairness and inclusivity, as students choose what works best for them. And this type of assessment designs out plagiarism opportunities (which seems to be an increasing concern at institutional levels with the move to online assessments).
The pivot to online teaching and assessments
Our general discussion was on the theme of simplicity in the very quick pivot to online provision that we had just gone through. This need for simplicity manifested itself in various ways, including on the range and type of activities that we could reasonably do with students at this stage in the year. There were particular challenges in clinical legal education and some ingenious solutions with the use of simulated cases. We acknowledged the impact on our students of restricted access to learning materials and shared ideas on addressing this from contacting publishers to working with our librarians on JISC schemes. One theme that emerged was that our responses were only partly technological and that perhaps more important were the more ordinary (and consistently marvellous) teacherly virtues: knowing your students, keeping lines of communication open, showing them that you continue to care about their progress and their wellbeing.
Want to get involved?
Huge thanks to the 25-30 participants (from ECRs all the way down to Heads of School *cheeky face*) from law schools all over the country who joined us for this first hangout that was, in the words of one participant, ‘a lovely break from the madness’! The Legal Comms slides from the hangout can be downloaded and include much more about the module and additional examples of student work.
Special shout out to ECRs. If you want a forum to present and discuss your work, we would like to provide it (hopefully during our hangout w/c 20 April). Please contact Lydia (details in the graphic below).
Our next meeting is Tuesday 7 April, 11.00 GMT featuring a Q&A with Lydia on building community and an open discussion on personal tutoring in a time of crisis. Please email Michael or Emma (details below) if you want to be informed of future events.
Join URL: https://zoom.us/j/394587524
This post was put together by Emma Flint, Lydia Bleasdale & Michael Doherty.