The Socio-Legal Studies Research Group
Socio-Legal studies is the study of legal ideas, practices and institutions in their social and historical contexts. Its methodology is primarily empirical, rather than doctrinal, and is often interdisciplinary. It seeks to understand law in the context of its relationship to an ever-changing society.
The Socio-Legal Studies Research Group is a group of academics interested in collaborative research into Socio-Legal issues.
Longitudinal Study: Developing a law student profile (2013- current)
The aim of the project is to inform the development of a student profile which ensures that teaching and learning occurring during law degrees produces graduates who have the skills and knowledge for the careers they wish to pursue. The reciprocal aim is to produce law graduates who are work-ready for employers, whether in legal practice, or in government, the private sector or NGO positions. The project is funded by AKO Aotearoa Southern Regional Hub Project funding.
In 2014 first year law students at UC (and also at the University of Auckland and University of Waikato) were surveyed at the beginning and end of year. These surveys provided demographic data as well as information on student wellbeing, reasons for studying law. It also asked students which skills students felt were important for their future careers, and which skills students felt they would be taught throughout their law degree.
In 2015 the third capture of data occurred, with the same cohort of students being surveyed again, to see how their answers changed as they progress through the law degree. Additionally, a pilot survey of employers was conducted in order to understand which skills they feel are important for employability of law students.
The third capture of data from students occurred in 2016. As well as exploring whether identified trends in students’ responses from the first two phases continued, detailed information was collected on students’ views on assessment and factors having an impact on their feelings of wellbeing.
The fourth phase of the project is now underway. The student cohort participating in the study will be surveyed in the second half of 2017. A key aim of this phases is to collect information on students’ intended future careers now that they are in the fourth year of their legal studies. Also, in early 2017 an online survey of New Zealand employers of law graduates was conducted.
The surveys conducted so far have provided some very interesting insights. The full reports of the first phase, Second phase and Third phase are now available, but here are some interesting results from the 2015 survey:
- Many students did not feel prepared by their high school experience for studying law at university.
- Many students choose to study law for altruistic and idealistic reasons and this, to a large degree, is reflected in their intended career destinations and paths.
- Many students report high class attendance rates, but also report quite different learning and teaching experiences in large and small classes.
- Many students report spending less time of self-study than the universities at which they are enrolled would expect.
- Particular groups of students within the wider cohort have experiences that are more positive or negative than the overall majority experience.
- Many students report low levels of likely psychological wellbeing.
Project findings have formed or informed the basis for a number of initiatives at the School of Law, including:
- A focus on improving students’ transition to law school and from first to second year.
- The review of degree and course learning outocmes to reflect a wider range of academic and self-management skills.
- Academic staff development in the areas of student engagement, wellbeing and assessment.
- Adoption and implementation of a student wellbeing plan.
- To provide information which will result in developers of student profiles having available to them a set of data that reflects the wishes and desires of law students, law graduates and law graduate employers (whether law firms, government departments, businesses or community organisations).
- To subsequently use this information to inform curriculum design and teaching experience
Improving the effectiveness of large class teaching in law degrees (2011-2012)
In mid 2010, a group of University of Canterbury School of Law teachers resolved to investigate current methods of teaching large compulsory law classes. As teachers, group members had debated over the years whether the current predominant model of teaching large law classes, the lecture and tutorial model, is best suited to achieve key learning outcomes for students. While lectures are a common and accepted method of conveying large amounts of information, they appear to give little opportunity to students to learn and practise the skills of analysis, synthesis, critique and evaluation that are so important for law students and, ultimately, lawyers. In 2011 the group undertook a study of appropriate methods for teaching these skills to large classes.
The results of the study have led to notable changes at three levels:
The teaching staff involved in this study have made changes to their teaching of large classes.
- Being increasingly aware of the amount of time that students spend in class listening and practising skills.
- Increasing the amount of time that students spend in class on skills.
- Including a range of active learning activities in all classes, such as: small group discussions, role plays, and individual problem solving exercises.
- Using technology to provide students with more opportunities to engage with the skills in a directed way outside of class time.
School of Law
The results of the study have been shared with the Law School through teaching seminars and reports to the Faculty and the School of Law Teaching and Learning Committee. Other members of staff not involved in the initial project report thinking more about teaching methods, and implementing some of the project’s best practice guidelines.
National and international
The results have been shared with other academics, both at a national and international level. It is hoped that other universities can learn from this research.
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