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10 August 2009
For most people 4-6 pm on a Friday is the time to start looking toward the weekend, but for Deakin University lecturer Claire Macken it is time to get 200 first-year law students interested in the finer points of Law, Society and Civil Rights, an introductory law subject.
Similarly in Geelong, law lecturer Julie Clarke was grappling with the challenge of trying to capture and hold the interest of off campus first-year students studying Contract Law and senior law students studying the University’s wholly online unit Competition Law and Policy.
Dealing with student restlessness and distraction would challenge any educator, but their success at meeting the unique teaching challenges of each subject won them the votes not just of their students, but also a citation from the Australian Teaching and Learning Council for their Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.
Deakin University staff were awarded six citations for outstanding contributions to student learning. The other awardees were: Dr Kristin Demetrious, Faculty of Arts and Education; Associate Professor Bernie Marshall, Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences; Dr Greg Tooley, Susie Macfarlane, Associate Professor Alex Mussap, Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences; Dr Ian Warren, Faculty of Arts and Education. The citations were officially presented at the National Gallery of Victoria on Monday 10 August.
”It is very pleasing to receive recognition for the work we put in to teaching and the money will enable me to attend teaching law conferences in my field to further develop my teaching and research skills,” Ms Clarke said.
”Receiving a national award for a creative, energetic and imaginative approach in Law, Society and Civil Rights is really an honour, and validates both my own efforts as an academic educator and the previous work of the ALTC in lifting the profile of the all-important first year experience,” Ms Macken said.
As part of this philosophy, Ms Macken introduced ‘Fun Fridays’ between 4 and 6pm. The sessions featured problem-based learning exercises, interactive team work, ‘speed dating in legal history’, SMS and mobile phone voting, legal analysis and problem-solving skills along with the release of just-in-time information over the critical first six weeks of first semester. Ms Macken also used engaging teaching practices such as finding the interest point in legal cases and harnessing interactive multimedia forms of delivery (eg, movies, photographs, sounds and music) and created a De-stressed just-in-time skills development program. These teaching approaches were complemented by her book the Law Students’ Survival Guide and the website Law Essentials.
“The just-in-time approach for the first year law program at Deakin is intended to assist a new law student to the challenges and transitions faced on a week-to-week basis,” Ms Macken said.
“To some extent teaching strategies embedded as part of a designed, integrated and co-ordinated first year program can facilitate a stimulating and rewarding first year experience for law students,” she said. “My approach in teaching is intended to promote both high quality learning and an excellent first year experience, based on interactive, engaging and collaborative approaches to introduce the interesting world of law.”
Ms Clarke also stresses the importance of getting to know students and making her lectures, whether virtual or physical, fun, interactive and engaging.
Her success in using technology to deliver units to students studying on campus and to help distance education students study law led to her being selected to develop a wholly online law unit for the Law School.
“Studying law is challenging for students, but studying law at a distance, without the daily physical interaction with staff and other students, presents a unique set of challenges for students,” Ms Clarke said.
“It is, therefore, important to ensure that online and distance education students are provided with a rich set of resources and access to staff who are willing to respond promptly to their requests for assistance. Advances in technology have facilitated this and have made it possible to convey a level of passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter that was once only possible through the physical delivery of lectures. In particular, technology has allowed me to deliver ‘virtual’ lectures and tutorials in a variety of formats, including iPod audio and video format, to provide students both with flexibility in learning and up-to-the minute news, commentary and developments in the field of study. As a result, although the learning environment in which they develop their skills is different, it is in no way inferior to more traditional learning methods.”
Ms Clarke has also taken advantage of new social networking forums, such as Facebook and Twitter, to provide legal news updates to students, and has developed blogs and subject-specific web sites to assist students in their studies.
Ms Clarke also takes advantage of mainstream media, radio and newspapers providing commentary on competition issues and uses these as the basis for ‘real’ and hypothetical scenarios for discussion in tutorials and through online quizzes.
Ms Clarke’s passion for her subjects was recognised by her students with graduates recommending her units to other students and giving her top marks in their evaluations.