Improving the effectiveness of large-class teaching in law degrees
This report identifies effective methods for teaching large classes supported by limited hours of small group, face-to-face teaching. The report and adaptive good practice template will be of interest teachers of large classes.
Associate Professor Lynne Taylor, Professor Ursula Cheer, Professor Neil Boister, Professor Elizabeth Toomey, Sascha Mueller, Dr Debra Wilson – University of Canterbury.
Date completed: May 2012
About the project
In this project, a group of 6 University of Canterbury School of Law lecturers investigated current methods of teaching large compulsory law classes. They undertook an extensive study of the expectations and experiences of large-class teaching and learning at the Law School from the perspectives of both students and teachers. They focussed on identifying appropriate effective methods for teaching the skills of analysis, synthesis, critique and evaluation to large classes in existing teaching rooms, supported by limited hours of small group face-to-face teaching. Based on 3 themes that emerged from the project, the team developed an adaptive good practice template for use in law schools, and have implemented changes at 3 levels:
- School of Law
- national and international.
The 6 parts of the project were:
- a national and international literature review
- survey of advancing law students at the University
- survey of staff teaching at the law school
- focus groups involving a selection of advancing law students from the survey
- group analysis of the data
- development of good practice guidelines.
- Although there is a place for the didactic lecture in legal education, there is a considerable body of literature suggesting that students have more opportunities to develop skills when active and participatory learning techniques are used in large classes.
- While most law students are not dissatisfied with the didactic lecture method, they feel that the current methodology could be improved. Many staff are also interested in pursuing that goal.
- It is possible to develop an adaptive 'good practice' template to assist tertiary institutions teaching law to identify and apply the most appropriate model in the light of resources, goals student profile, pedagogical robustness, and general ‘fit’ for that institution. The template guidelines can be used by individual law teachers where an institutional approach is not pursued.
Implementation is taking place at 3 levels:
- Individual – the teaching staff involved in the study have made changes to their teaching of large classes.
School of Law
– presentation of the findings at a staff seminar.
– the report was tabled at a School of Law Teaching and Learning Committee meeting.
– planning for seminars on the active learning techniques for the teaching of the skills of analysis, synthesis, critiquing and evaluation.
National and International
– adaptive Good Practice template developed.
– report disseminated to New Zealand law schools and the New Zealand Council of Legal Education, together with an offer by the project team to conduct a seminar of the project findings.
– presentation at international conference
– publication in a New Zealand law journal.
Adaptive Good Practice Template for Law Schools
The set of 12 guidelines, summarised below, are prefaced with the recommendation that implementation be led by a large class teaching committee or group within a law school.
- Carry out a review of the current method teaching large classes.
- Seek a departmental response to such a review.
- Encourage and provide incentives for innovation in large-class teaching.
- Encourage increased use of interactive teaching methodology in large classes.
- Challenge teachers to consider altering the use of the didactic lecture and tutorial model.
- Provide support for, or identify resources, for teachers wishing to trial innovative teaching practices.
- Share alternative teaching methods within the law school.
- Share alternative teaching methodology with other law schools.
- Promote conference attendance relevant to alternative methods or large-class teaching.
- Interact with student representatives to continue to encourage student feedback.
- Challenge students to prepare for class and participate in discussions.
- Promote a non-intimidating environment.
Taylor, L. & Cheer U. (2013 July) Improving the Effectiveness of Large Class Teaching in Law Degrees. Presentation at the Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australasia (HERSDA) Conference, Auckland, New Zealand.
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