Law and Policy A particularconcernofcriticalthinkingistoappealtoand developstudents’extrinsicandintrinsicmotivationsforlearning.94
A techniqueIuseinallmycoursestomotivatestudentstolearnis teachinglegalprinciplesthroughanengagementwithcontemporary issues which students discover for themselves in the context of a course. I do this very differently in a first year course and a final year elective.
In 2013 in Foundations of Law, the teaching team began each seminar with 15 minutes of ‘Legal Gossip’. Students were required tofindlocal,nationalorinternationallegalissuesinprint,broadcast oronlinemedia.Thetaskwastoidentifythelegalissueunderpinning thenewsitem andtoaskquestionsabouttheitem that reflected our learningofthelawinthecourseatthattime. Aswelearnedabout the institutions of government and the separation of powers, court hierarchies,andtheconceptofjurisdiction,studentswererequired toapplytheir understanding oftheseconcepts totheitem that was currently the subject of legal gossip.
2003) 61−3 We discussed the limitations of the media as a source of legal information, noting in particular that the journalists producing the stories were unlikely to have a legal background, and may not have had a deep understanding of the operation oflegal institutions and theirproductionoflaw. Wealsoaskedwhatassumptionsunderpin the journalists’reporting of the law.
When a Legal Gossipitem wasreported to the class, the student presenting it was asked to present a brief summary of the story, and thentoidentifythelegalcontextinwhichitarisesandtheparticular legalissuesatstake. Throughoutthesemester,studentsaccessedan increasinglybroadrangeoflegalissues.Whereasintheearlyweeks they tended to report back on court cases, predominantly cases involving criminal offences, as the semester progressed they were able to identify a broader range of legal issues that were not evident on the face of the article, and through this, were often able to assess and critique the balance of reporting in the article.
LegalGossipbeginstheprocessofinquirythatwehopetomodel throughoutthelawdegreeatAdelaide.Firstly,itdemonstratesto studentsthattheyinfacthaveaconsiderableknowledgeofthe lawwithoutanyformaltraining,andthattheyareabletoextend this knowledge through their own inquiries. Secondly, it makes evident to students that law is a social and political construct which underpinsandshapestheresolutionofallissuesinsociety. Thirdly, it offers an opportunity to unpack assumptions that are made in the reportingoflegalissues,andthestudents’ assumptionsinreading them, thus offering a direct engagement with the process of critical thinkingaswehavedefineditabove.95 Bythetimestudentsstudy RefugeeLaw and Policyin thefinalyears of theirdegree,theyhave astrongfoundation ofdoctrinal knowledge. Instead ofcontributing to this store of knowledge directly, Refugee Law and Policy poses fundamental questions that underpin this area of law, such as the nature of state responsibility, the concept of state membership, the legal and political scope of the concept of a ‘refugee’, and the operationoftheRefugeeConventioninthe AsiaPacificregion, giventhenatureofrefugeeflowsandpolitical relationshipsinthe region.
The course explicitly aims to raise difficult policy issues in their global,nationalandlocalcontexts.Theassessmentrequiresstudents to engage in their own inquiries in response to the set questions discussedinclass. Theclassdiscussionisdesignedtoprovidea foundationfordeeperindividual inquiry.Studentsarerequiredto engageintwoassessmenttasks.Thefirstisashortresearchpaperon one of a set of topics arising from the classes.The second is a group presentationattheendofthesemesteronasettopictowhichagroup
95 Brookfield, above n 10, 159. ofstudents has been allocated. Each assessment isstructured sothat there is an interim assessment task on which students will receive feedback leading to the final research essay or presentation.
The difficult policy questions that underpin a nation’s response totheglobalrefugeeissueobviouslylendthemselvestothissort ofwide-ranginginquiry.Asaresultoftheinvestigationwehave beenconducting intocritical thinking, Iamconsidering otherways tochallengestudents’assumptionsabouttheregulationofpeople seekingasyluminAustralia.Oneideaistorequirestudentstohave a more personal engagement with the issues by:
1. Requiringstudentstoengageincommunityservicewithpublic orprivateorganisationsofferingassistancetorefugeearrivals in the local community, and writing a reflective journal on this experience.Possibleactivitiesincludevolunteeringtoassisthigh school students with homework, or acting as a mentor for first yearuniversitystudentswitharefugeebackground.Therearea numberof establishedprogramsrun by refugeeorganisationsin which students can participate.
2. Organising students to visit refugees in the Inverbrackie AlternativePlaceofDetention.Ihaveorganisedatourofthis facilityinapreviouscourse.TheDepartmentofImmigrationand Citizenshipopenlyfacilitatedthistourandspoketothestudents atlengthaboutthefacility.Adifferentandmorechallenging experienceforthestudentswouldbetovisitthefacilityina volunteer capacity, offering a service to residents in the Centre. These examples of experiential learning could be linked
to assessment tasks which require students to reflect on their experiences, and to consider those experiences in light of the legal regime governing refugee resettlement inAustralia.
The Legal Gossip segments are a way to shift the focus from doctrinal analysis to a critical appraisal of law in society. It is a segmentthatworkswellinlargeorsmallclasses.Forme,thissimple segmentisausefulstrategytomeet Thornton’sconcernaboutthe lossofacriticalappraisaloflawasaresultofclasssizesandpassive teaching methods.96 VCONCLUDINGREMARKS Thisarticlebeganbydescribinghowthe AdelaideLawSchool criticalthinkinggroupwasformedinresponsetoMargaretThornton’s economicanalysisofcontemporarylegaleducation.Whilewedo not claim to have transcended this critique, we have done important worktowardstrengtheningthecriticalthinkingskillsofourstudents inbothelectiveandcompulsorycourses.Ourexperiencehasbeen
96 See above, text accompanying footnote 5 to 7. that, in many instances, the doctrinally focused pedagogy at the heartofThornton’scritiquedoesnotnecessarilyexistbecauseit is the inevitable result of neoliberal pressures on universities, but becauseithasbecomeacceptedandreplicatedasthestatusquo.But for educators interested in moving beyond doctrinal transmission, encouragement lies in a number of recent reforms that have again emphasised the importance of teaching critical thinking in the LLB.
Through this project we have built relationships with other educators committed to critical pedagogy, shared knowledge and experiences and involved ourselves in a project that enriches our working lives. It is our hope that by sharing our journey we inspire other academics to work collaboratively on a project that matches theirownuniqueinterestsandinstitutionalconcerns.AttheAdelaide Law School, our critical thinking group will continue to encourage newmembershipandwillrunadaylongworkshoptoelicitfeedback fromstudentswhohaveparticipatedinthecoursesdescribedabove. We also plan to run seminars for our colleagues where we can share our experience and learn further about how to strengthen critical thinking in our curriculum.