SIMPLE @ Legal Workshop, Australian National University

by Paul Maharg on 12/03/2009

Michael Hughes and I were invited to the Legal Workshop, at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra.  Over the course of a week at the start of March we worked with academic staff, educationalists and IT staff to produce a series of pilot simulations on their Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice.  We gave numerous presentations over the course of five days, held a series of four pilot planning sessions with lead tutors in areas of Family, Real Estate, Government and Commercial and other informal sessions to produce the skeleton of four simulations in record time.   We travelled out on Thursday 26 Feb, arriving back in the UK on Sunday, spending a total of five days with staff.  It was exhilarating to work with staff in such detail, and it has changed our ideas about creating transformative moments – five days of intensive work produced what I hope is significant change, more than I’ve seen anywhere else; and it’s a model I’d like to replicate elsewhere.  Just why it worked is worth dwelling on.

I think that there was a mindshift that took place around the concept and use of transactional learning.  The Legal Workshop staff are already doing plenty sophisticated things in terms of online learning and simulation.  What transactional learning can do, though, is give clarity and transparency about aims and activities for both students and staff – ‘this is what we’re aiming for, staff can say to students, and this is the arena of values, concepts, applications and tools where you are responsible for learning'.  SIMPLE itself provided a useful tool to focus staff design activities and to provide students with the realia of a basic case management system. 

In a sense the week’s activities resolved around three levels of educational values, theories and tools (draft outline here).  Aspects of level one were touched on as required, for instance in the initial descriptions and demos of SIMPLE, and in the educational workshop on the last day; but legal educational staff as experienced as the Legal Workshop participants didn’t need much on this.  Instead most of the seminars and planning sessions flitted between levels two and three. 

The length of time we spent with staff was critical, as was the variety of that time.  In all previous training and introductory sessions I’ve given on the subject, the longest I’ve spent with people was the 1.5 days at the SIMPLE launch at Warwick last year.  Even there, as we discovered, there was barely time to introduce the sophistication of the environment to them, let alone begin to build sims.  Nevertheless, I began to sense at the end of that the possibility of a longer, better educational experience for educational designers.  This week proved my intuition was right.  For five days Michael and I worked with staff in detail, building a total of four sims from scratch in SIMPLE, showing staff how their already sophisticated content could be re-purposed and embedded around a narrative design.  Staff came and went to the sessions, combining teaching and the rest of the day job and setting aside considerable time to work with us at the timetabled sessions.  This was important, for it meant that staff could return to ideas, dwell on them, experiment with using them in their designs, and the like. 

The week’s social activities were important too.  Staff could meet with Michael and I over dinners, lunches, coffees, raise issues, doubts, suggest amendments.  They also asked in detail about the context of our DLP curriculum and compared it with their own curricular and subject arrangements.  It’s in such conversations that trust and confidence are built. 

Two further issues.  First was the issue of staff support.  As I say in Transforming Legal Education one can’t really consider fundamental change unless there is also change to conditions of staff employment.  Old categories of employment, fit for senior common culture c.1969, do not help us to engender change.  So it is with SIMPLE, which disrupts old categories of staffing.  Our model of development involved three staff working together – a legal expert, an educationalist, and a technologist.  The roles can be combined in one person or two, of course, but the three areas are necessary – and not just for SIMPLE, I would hold, but for most substantive change to teaching & learning in law schools.  This often involves new roles for technologists, which can be liberating for them if they wish to move into educational technology territory. 

Second was the issue of collaborative writing among all staff involved, in order to develop ideas, create a sense of identity around a nucleus of teaching & learning concepts, and broadcasting that to the wider legal educational community.  On the final day Gary took us all out to dinner.  There’s a tradition that at the BILETA conference the Zeugma Group (Karen Barton, Sefton Bloxham, Patricia McKellar and me) would compose the conference napkin – effectively a mutual promise of the minimum research and writing we will do with each other in the coming year.  I started the SIMPLE napkin, passing it round for staff to comment, make promises, or whatever.  My contribution was to plan a wiki, and write an initial contribution, which I’m writing at the moment. 

Thanks to everyone who worked with us: Margie Rowe, David Catanzariti, Tony Cibiras, Roberta McRae, Lynn Du Moulin, Vivien Holmes (for the caravan tea), her husband Gregg (great food); among the Flexible Learning Unit, Aliyah Steed and Alex Knight; Jonathan Powles for the conversations about sims (and of course the music…); among the CEDAM educationalists, Gerlese Akerlind (for phenomenographic conversations); in IT, Andrew Vella & Fiona Bush; Marlene Le Brun for acute comments on our Friday sessions and spirited conversations about legal ed generally (as always).  And of course to Gary Tamsitt, Director of the Legal Workshop, for the initial invitation and the organisation of the week’s activities – as well as early morning tennis matches under those intensely blue Australian skies…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael Hughes March 13, 2009 at 14:28

I would just like to second Paul’s comments and thanks to everyone at ANU.

I might tentative propose an addition to your 3 levels (on the left hand side)…here.


2 Paul Maharg March 13, 2009 at 20:18

Thanks for the redraft of the three levels diagram, Michael — much nicer than my original…


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