APLEC, Saturday am, presentations 2 & 3

by Paul Maharg on 12/11/2011

Next up was Deborah Ankor (again — with all this innovation she’s creating @ Flinders does she ever sleep?), on ‘Using Standardized Clients for assessing interviewing skills’. This was the report on an initial trial using SCs. The context: an LLB/LP incorporating skills throughout the degree (so unusual degree structure) — fairly conventional teaching, in year 1 & 2 of the degree, and assessed to NGP (not graded, note) by observation at year 2.

She started by identifying Transactional Legal Practice as the subject, with approx 120 students doing it. She used a small group of SCs (three) for tight control — a wise move, for nothing works better to reduce variability. Training dealt with differences between law & medicine (because the SCs were actually medical Standardized Patients), expected standards, reflective assessment, feedback to students, scenarios to be used. SCs were trained in two scenarios.

A key point, Deborah pointed out, was timing. In medicine, the consultation lasted 5-10 mins — in Law, 30 mins. As I pointed out in questions, part of the difficulty of using SPs in Law is that their job is so much more complex because they have a narrative to cope with, not a list of symptoms + protocols associated with those symptoms.  Even when client narratives are stripped right back to their simplest forms, the possible combinations of issues and questions arising can be mazingly complex to handle; and part of the SC’s training is to deal with that.

Student reaction, she reported was very positive compared with earlier experiences. Interestingly enough, the Flinders SPs were used in med to give feedback to tutors on students, not directly to students; and they were interested in the schedule that Deborah used (the SLCC schedule at the SCI site.  What did she learn? Using clients is cost-effective, the use of clients cd be expanded to other areas of skills. She needed to improve training on scenarios, review & adapt reflective instutments, review assessment in relation to communication skills in the programme (eg use of SCs on letter-writing), and do some research to put this project on an informed basis for the future. Fine session.

Final session was Paul Rogers, Head of PLT at U of Western AU, on virtual worlds and practical legal skills. He showed us graphics of environments in Second Life. Not quite sure what students actually did, and there was no feedback from them, or examination of how it affected their learning; or for that matter issues on the digital divide (games & environments such as SL need high hardware specs).  I’ve never got entirely involved in SL for educational purposes, in part because I think that lawyers don’t inhabit a multiverse such as SL — they immerse in a docuverse.  Still, I’m keeping an open mind because Paul’s project is at an early stage so let’s see what the next iteration brings.  I may be completely wrong; and having been influenced by fine research such as L.T. Taylor’s on Everquest (seeThe Sopranos Meet Everquest, and her fine book Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture), and Tom Boelstorff’s first-rate study on socialisation in SL (Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human), there’s no denying the powerful affective and social context of online games & environments, and the possibility of co-opting that in legal education.

Paul’s intervention with SL is partly in answer to the problems of distance, flexibility and access that AU legal education has in spades.  They came up again and again at APLEC.  There are still no killer apps, not even a dominant paradigm because historically, we’re still in that fascinating middle ground between analogue & digital legal educational cultures.  I think back to Lisa Jardine’s analysis of material culture in Renaisance Italy, and her description of the deep uncertainty surrounding fifteenth century incunabula, the products of the new technologies of moveable type.  What was it to be used for?  Publishers went bankrupt trying to create markets that didn’t exist, or misconstruing the technology’s reach and effect. One thing, though, is becoming a lot clearer.  I’m more convinced than ever that regulation of DL over the internet, such as ABA’s Standard 306 is in need of serious reform.


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