Supporting Law Teachers to Navigate a Challenging Transition

Professor Nick James

Right now, teachers across Australia and around the world are working hard to navigate the transition from traditional modes of delivery to new modes of delivery including online, distance, and multi-modal. Law teachers are certainly not exempt from having to make this transition, and for many of us, our loyalty to traditional teaching methods is making the transition particularly challenging. Moving to new methods of delivery requires more than learning how to use the tools, although that itself can be a significant challenge. It requires a willingness and an ability to reconsider some of our most deeply held assumptions about what it means to teach law effectively. Many of us have tended to take for granted our ability to stand in front of a class and talk to them for a few hours a week about the subject content, and then spend time with our students in smaller groups, in tutorials, discussing the content, using it to solve problems, clarifying our students’ misperceptions, and evaluating our students’ learning. We can of course continue to do these things in a virtual environment, but the challenge associated with replicating the ‘real’ world environments is forcing us to ask ourselves: how can I best facilitate my students learning what I need them to learn, and how can I best assess whether or not my students have achieved the learning objectives I have set for them?

Fortunately, some of our colleagues have been using technology enabled teaching methods for years. And these pioneers have recently been demonstrating extraordinary generosity in sharing their expertise with the rest of us. The CPLE has formed a community of practice and gathered together some examples of this generosity on the front page of its site here. These examples include the following:

  • Kate Galloway (Griffith University) explains that we need to ‘fix our own masks before assisting others’. She reassures us that it’s okay for us not to know what we are doing, and that it’s often best to keep it simple: we don’t need to immediately master the technologies, we just need to do the minimum necessary to communicate with our students remotely and deliver the content effectively.
  • Zachary Herrmann (University of Pennsylvania) has drawn upon his experience with online instruction to prepare a list of practical tips, including emphasising the importance of paying attention to our students’ emotional health: we should be mindful of the fact that many of our students will be concerned about their health and that of their loved ones, dealing with financial or housing problems, or simply struggling to cope with the unfolding crisis. Take the time to connect with each student individually, if possible, and check to see how they are doing.
  • Kylie Fletcher (CPLE, Bond University) has shared a simple but effective FAQ that she has provided to her student in response to many of the questions they are seeking answers to.
  • Wiley has generously shared a suite of online resources exploring such topics as locating good quality open access learning resources, developing authentic assessment for the online classroom, and facilitating critical thinking by students in online environments.

These resources are periodically supplemented by other resources as they come to hand. It is likely that you also have resources and support provided by the learning and teaching teams at your own universities.
Finally, while we are all taking the time to develop our teaching skills and learning new teaching techniques, it is worthwhile upgrading our knowledge of the fundamentals of legal education, its history, contexts and contemporary challenges. The CPLE has made available a suite of six online modules on The Foundations of Legal Education that can be accessed, free of charge, here.
Good luck on your learning journey, and stay healthy.

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