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Sharing What I Learned from My Colleagues in the USA and Australia: The Australian Legal Education and Professional Responsibility Teaching for Learning Workshops

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Sharing What I Learned from My Colleagues in the USA and Australia: The Australian Legal Education and Professional Responsibility Teaching for Learning Workshops

From August through September 1999 I organised and facilitated workshops of 1½ – 2 days each. The workshops were designed specifically to improve student learning of LE/PR by improving the teaching of LE/PR. The workshops incorporated what I learned during the Fellowship. Workshops were hosted: in New South Wales by the Centre for Legal Education, Sydney; in Queensland by the Faculty of Law, Griffith University, Gold Coast; in South Australia by the Faculty of Law, The University of Adelaide; in Victoria by the Faculty of Law, Monash University; and in Western Australia by the School of Law, the University of Notre Dame. The location and timing of the workshops were decided by reference to participant interest, and host institution availability and willingness to assist with the project.

A number of strategies were employed so that appropriate members of academic staff could be invited to attend the workshops. Letters were sent to all deans and heads of school of Law and to all Philosophy departments in Australia. A questionnaire was sent to all individuals who responded and to those whose details were available on the web.

Despite initiating these steps, no workshop was held in Tasmania because only one academic was interested in attending. No workshop was held in the Northern Territory because the only academic interested in participating attended the Perth workshop. The workshop that was to be held in Canberra in November was cancelled due to an unexpected and last minute secondment of an enthusiastic staff member, who had offered the facilities at Charles Sturt University as host institution.

Participants at the workshops included current and future teachers of LE/PR, teachers of Applied Ethics and Philosophy, and law students. Interest in the workshops was higher amongst academic staff employed at the newer law schools than at the more established law schools. Attendance at the workshops was capped at 20 participants5 in order to increase active participation of delegates and in order to develop a strong network of teachers who are directly interested in teaching and learning of LE/PR, Applied Ethics, and Philosophy. The number of senior academic staff who participated in the workshops was surprisingly high; this is significant for the carriage of the work of the Fellowship into the future as these individuals are well placed to effectuate change.6 Although only a few law students could attend the workshops due to other commitments, their input was particularly informative because the law students who attended the workshops provided fresh insight into all areas of teaching and learning in LE/PR.

The Content of the Workshops

A preliminary programme for the workshops was drafted and circulated to participants before the workshop for their comments. I negotiated the actual content and order of topics for each workshop at the commencement of the workshop in order to ensure that the workshop met the needs and interests of the participants. Areas explored and attention to particular topics varied considerably, in particular in response to the input from the philosophers and applied ethicists who joined the law teacher participants. The following topics were explored in most of the workshops: learning outcomes; assessment; teaching approaches; materials; and the possible role of law schools in helping to regulate admission to practice. The amount of time dedicated to each topic varied considerably, depending on the interests of the participants and the composition of the group. For example, a considerable amount of time was devoted to presentations by philosophers and applied ethicists in the workshops held at Griffith University, Monash University, and the University of Notre Dame.

Some of the variety and flavour of the individual workshops is summarised below.

LE/PR Workshop Held in New South Wales at the
Centre for Legal Education, Sydney

The workshop held in Sydney focused considerable attention on what individuals were actually doing in their LE/PR courses because a number of participants, particularly from The University of New South Wales, have taught the subject for a considerable length of time. There was a high level of sharing of strategies, anecdotes, resources, and ideas amongst most of the participants.

LE/PR Workshop Held in Queensland at
Griffith University, Gold Coast

Particular interest was expressed by participants in the work of Dr Peter Isaacs and Dr Trevor Jordan of Queensland University of Technology who explored their holistic approach to teaching ethics. The level of discussion was considerably enhanced with the contribution of several Griffith University law students, who commented on the differences in approach to the teaching and learning of ethics in Law and in Philosophy.

LE/PR Workshop Held in South Australia at The University of Adelaide, Adelaide

Considerable time was devoted in this workshop to three topics:

1 discussing learning outcomes and talking about some of the plans that The University of Adelaide has for embedding legal ethics in its new curriculum, in particular Legal Skills I, II, and III;

2 discussing appropriate assessment tools to evaluate set learning outcomes; and

3 exploring what law schools can/might do to notify admitting authorities of student misconduct.

LE/PR Workshop Held in Victoria at
Monash University, Melbourne

The success of this workshop was due, in great part, to the attendance by philosophers and applied ethicists from The University of Melbourne (Dr Lynn Gillam), Monash University (Dr Justin Oakley), and La Trobe University (Professor Robert Young and a few of his colleagues). Unlike the other workshops, considerable time was spent discussing strategies for embedding LE/PR into the undergraduate law curriculum since Monash Law Faculty had begun to embark on this activity at the time that the workshop was held. Considerable attention was also given to identifying learning outcomes and developing appropriate assessment strategies.

LE/PR Workshop Held in Western Australia at the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle

Participants of this workshop were interested in exploring a decision-making model that has been developed by Dr Ian Thompson of the University of Notre Dame. Thompson introduced participants to his DECIDE model7 and then participants engaged in a role-play which employed the model. Considerable attention was also devoted to issues of student misconduct and the various ways in which law teachers and law schools can address the problems that were identified.

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