Directions conference, day two, parallel sessions

by Paul Maharg on 04/06/2016

I attended the Engaged Learning: Simulation and the Community of Inquiry, chaired by Queenie Lai.  First up, Wilson Chow and Michael Ng of HKU Faculty of Law, on sims in legal education — from adoption to adaption.  He focused on two projects, SIMPLE and standardised or simulated clients (SC)  Wilson presented data on student feedback on SIMPLE in a UK law school.  The platform helped students to learn better, and learn the subject matter more effectively (Wilson has detailed this elsewhere).  The same survey was conducted.  To their surprise, the feedback was poorer.  Wilson and Michael then adapted the software and transformed from SIMPLE to SMILE — SIMPLE + MOODLE.  When they ran the same survey, their results were remarkably improved.  For them, this illustrated the key point of involving students in research design.

Michael Ng then described HKU’s programme of SC use.  Each year over 400 interviews are run (incredible!) and the data collected from a range of courses.  Students’ evaluation was extremely positive.  Improvements?  Spoken language adaptation.  Eg use of Cantonese to fit the practice environment of HK, in some of the elective programmes, instead of English, particularly those subjects where clients would normally speak Cantonese.

They ran a correlation between the two language SC interviews.  The results indicated that students very much appreciated use of Cantonese in survey items such as client rapport and confidence.  Very interesting, and a tribute to the great work that Wilson and Michael are doing at HKU.  Fascinating discussion, but I suppose I would say that…

Next up Queenie Lai, from Chinese U of HK, on ‘Active and simulation-based learning for future corporate lawyers — client pitch and role play’, drawing upon her experience as a professional consultant and corporate lawyer.  She described a simulation that she had run for six years.  The pitch involved client pitches, attempting to secure the deal, eg IPO, Initial Public Offerings, on the PCLL.  This involved understanding the whole commercial background, listing requirements (quite complex, for it includes the rules governing listing).  Queenie is the CEO of the client (interesting idea — could a SC be a CEO?).  Client pitch guidance includes why list?  pros and cons.  Where to list (eg why not London or Shanghai)?   Main Board and GEM?  Listing requirements, listing method and process, and pre-IPO restructuring.  She created authentic learning materials, based on real IPO transactions, actual documents with details changed.  Due diligence tutorials are based on these resources, including financials, data, and much else.  Queenie also gave them tips on making their pitch word perfect, and entirely client-focused, and describing their team.

Benefits — active and deep learning, egaged and motivated students, substantive law and skills-based training, authentic learning materials, contextual learning, development of professional identity and commercial awareness.  Fine presentation.

Finally, Michael Lower on ‘Blended learning: using Blackboard to create a community of inquiry’ (CoI). He started by defining CoI.  It derived for him from Michael Lipman (2003), Thinking in Education, CUP.  It meant teaching for critical thinking — identifying areas of doubt and uncertainty, non-adversarial reasoned debate, deep reading and judgement.  This was picked up by Garrison Anderson and Archer, Crhical inquiry in a text based environment (2000).  Cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence were key elements.  Michael used this approach in an undergraduate land law course.  Context was a 3rd year u/grad course, within the Bb LMS.  Challenges included that the course was relatively short, a lot of materials to be covered, physical lecture environment not the best.  Posting to discussion forums and a research essay of 1250 words was the assessment.  Digital space included podcasts and scripts time to appear when underlying ideas had been covered in the f2f course, threads in the discussion forum and a bibliography.  He was trying to achieve ‘consequential transition — the ‘conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills and identity’ etc.  Data included teaching diary, discussion fora contributions and much else.  Survey findings: students felt well supported in identiying problems and engaging in productive dialogue; less certain about the usefulness of the discussion forum; students had not been able to come to conclusions well.  Bb was given lukewarm support.  Strong agreement that f/back had helped their research and writing skills; and that they had been more like practitioners; but less agreement that they were researchers in the field.  Re discussion forum — only posted because they had to.

Issues?  Bb is formal ‘work’, they only did what they had to do to get the participation mark; Bb is alienating; they didn’t want to give away ideas, the entire course group was too large/low trust; nature of the subject mattered; it was not possible to comment until late in the course, and the forums were not anonymous.  Redesign?  Allow anonymity; students to work in small clusters of friends eg pre-existing study groups; remove the linkage with the coursework; build the discussion habit early on; post student questions on the forum and respond; choice as to the type of output they can post — eg different types of submission.  Materials provoked debate and student reflection; the discussion forum didn’t create a space for collaborative critical thought; feedback was useful re professionality, but not for research.

General ideas — teaching should focus on creating CoI; technology can play a supporting role in reducing the amount of effort needed for pure knowledge; but designing the environment is much more difficult..  Interesting that he wanted to bring in new types of professionals, the importance of managing communities — courses as communities, linkage with other communities (eg professional, communities of practice, other disciplines), and finally a need to rethink established practices eg around timetabling, estate management.

This was a great session — three outstanding projects in simulations in legal education.  I strongly urge readers to follow up the name links and the projects themselves.

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