Parallel session 2, UNSW legal education research conference

by Paul Maharg on 04/12/2017

The session I attended out of three was ‘The landscape of legal education scholarship’.  First up, Kate Galloway, Melissa Castan and Alex Steel, on ‘Towards a taxonomy of legal education research’.  I’d mentioned the subject in the keynote, and lo, there’s a paper on it, already minted.  Their SoLE Project is an examination of legal education literature in terms of a taxonomy to reveal trends, gaps, and opportunities for new research & create a language of legal education research.  Their methodology, iterative triangulation, testing against survey samples, etc.  Dealt with subject matter of research, educational research methods (ethnographic, documentary, empirical, case study, meta-analysis and action).  The themes became a series of hierarchies, and discourse became ‘perspectives’.  The work in progress is fascinating, consisting of perspective and standpoint, and Bloomian stacks of qualities and activities.  The challenge is going to work with colleagues to engage with the model, to improve the quality of legal ed research, and to help validate legal education research.  Interesting paper.  At questions Kate pointed out that taxonomy helps to spot the gaps in the dataset, and gives a sound sense of historical development.  Such an important project.

Kristoffer Greaves, College of Law, next, on ‘A meta-survey of teaching and learning in practice-based education’.  I’ve been an admirer of Kris’s work for a while, and invited him to contribute an article to The Law Teacher Special Edition on Learning/Technology, last year.  Biblio & altmetrics show his article far and away the most popular, and for good reason, too.  In his research reported in this session he reviewed 788 legal ed articles (peer-reviewed).  38 expressly mention scholarship of teaching and/or learning.  He is interested in ‘practice-based’ legal education – that’s pre-admission legal education, and his focus is pedagogical ie how stuff work in practice, how you know what works.  It involves multiple pedagogies and modalities, social justice dimensions and practice research.  He observed the tension between reproduction and critique, and that critique was essential to the concept of best practice.  Does SoTL matter?  Yes – it  helps us to understand how learning is made possible, and to support status and quality of teaching – professionalism of lawyer and educators.  And there’s a need to have a seat at the table when policy and regulation is made – ie what I would call shared space.  He focused on Lynch et al (2005) on how one might engage with SoTL, the blockers and drivers.  Trigwell et al (2000), the reflective-dialectical approach (Kemmis 2010).  He had guided questions, he used databases to guide choice of journals, did full text and biblio data downladedexported full text to NVivo and did biblio analysis.  Results and reflections – there a need to upskill empirical research skills.  SoTL is practice, and both professional practice and educational practice needs to be valued.  Very interesting paper.

Finally, Amy Barrow and Angela Melville with a changed title – Innovation in legal education: examining the biographies of legal academics.  Actually they’re interested in ‘academic mobility’, which they define for their research as previous employment, and established academics.  Not a lot of readily available data on staff, so you have to gather it yourself.  We do know there is a high degree of mobility, particularly among Australian academics.  Neoliberal globalisation has created desire for international knowledge transfer, competition for skills.  Strong history of recruiting from overseas in AU, not least because the academic population is becoming elderly.  Others from other cultures bring in fresh ideas, new research skills, and the like.  Their research is based on academic profiles on university website and other sites, eg LinkedIn.  Populationg: 293 academics.  34% worked overseas, 56% haven’t.  Of the first most worked as an academic & practitioner, eg policy-role or journalist.  28.2% went to UK.  No significant relationship between level of appointment and international experience.  Law schools do seem to value some types of international experience more than others eg international corporate experience.

Gender differences?  Could be stages in life – above age 35, women have less career mobility.  Parenthood is the most significant barrier for women.  But married men can still be career mobile.  132 female, 131 male in their research.  Women were less likely to have international work experience – 56% without international work experience.  Conclusions: limited countries migrated to inbreeding more common than previously considered; query – do law schools really value international experience?  There appear to be limited opportunities for female academics.  Interesting piece of research that raises valuable questions about international experience.  I have to add my own, since I’m one of those at the extreme end of international experience…  On a survey sample of one, I’ve found I was welcomed for bringing ideas from other schools and jurisdictions – maybe less so because my home disciplines were originally in the Arts.  At ANU I didn’t teach AU law (obviously, being Scots Law trained), but did teach Law & Humanities.  But far and away the largest bulk of my work was project work on AU education, which required fairly extensive knowledge of the AU HE and legal HE system.  Same is true of England, and Canada and Hong Kong.

Fine session, very interesting and varied points raised about the nature of scholarship, and the legal education profession.

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