Chair's report: Sefton Bloxham
Parallel Session 3 (Chancellor’s 3)
Chair: Sefton Bloxham (UK Centre for Legal Education)
Bonnie McAlister‘s presentation provided a very interesting illustration of how the law programme at Elon University, USA, develops students’ leadership, communication and problem solving skills in the context of what can broadly be described as “community action” projects. Coming from a background in Communications Studies, Bonnie was keen to emphasise that the learning (and teaching) of law should not be confined simply to the citation of cases and regurgitation of information but instead should reflect the reality of legal practice by recognising the importance of those skills. To achieve this, students were diagnostically assessed at an early stage of their studies and offered additional professional support as required. Students were then asked to work in teams on a “real life” community issue, interacting with community and professional agencies in the process.
The overall conclusion was that not only were important skills developed during such projects – communication, problem solving, leadership, legal research – but also that student engagement with the learning process was considerably enhanced.
Meaningful student engagement? Student perceptions of voluntary external activities within their legal education
Pursuing a similar theme, Max Lowenstein’s presentation focussed on a qualitative research study of student perceptions about the criminal justice system in the context of external activities related to their studies. In this case, the activities consisted of a court visit, a prison visit and a workshop on domestic violence. A small cohort of students was asked a range of questions, both before and after engaging in the activities, about their perceptions of various aspects of the criminal justice process, e.g. role of magistrates, courtroom behaviour, prison atmosphere, treatment of prisoners, prevalence and seriousness of domestic violence. The results clearly demonstrated that student perceptions had undergone a significant readjustment as a result of engagement with the activities. This feature was then used as the basis for prompting critical reflection and discussion at subsequent feedback sessions.
Three positive conclusions were drawn from the research – students’ understanding of the criminal justice system was improved as a result of having their perceptions challenged; students’ confidence and knowledge was enhanced through reflection at the feedback sessions; students’ networking skills and awareness of alternative career options was enhanced through interaction with professionals (non lawyers) within the legal system. Max concluded a fascinating paper by suggesting that further research involving a wider sample could usefully enhance our understanding of the value of such activities.
Last Modified: 14 February 2011