Neetu Chetty: Teaching law to a digital generation: considering alternative pedagogy (PH)

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Neetu’s presentation, as I think she and I are going to prove to be on the same wavelength when it comes to active pedagogies.

Neetu is the program manager of law at the Independent Institute of Education-Varsity College Westville. She is currently exploring the value of open networked learning on the ONL 171, which explores collaborative digital literacies.

Like most of us, Neetu has had to make changes in her teaching practice over the years, as technology drives changes, not least in student expectations.

Neetu signals problems in the traditional lecture and seminar format. For example, she might be engaging in some meaningful Socratic dialogue with one student, but effectively expecting that other students in the room will be learning in parallel from observing that dialogue. In reality, they may be disengaged because they are not actively participating in that dialogue.

She comments on her earlier views about what she should be doing in the classroom, namely that the students needed to engage, to work hard and to take responsibility. She did not see her role as necessarily making life easy for them. Over time, her view has shifted somewhat, recognising that the digital generation is accustomed to immediate access to information. They have digital identities already, and are the creators and contributors to digital information, even if only in a social context. It may even be argued that their learning styles have been forged through the use of technology, such that their development is now conjoined to the evolution of technology. Consequently, the integration of appropriate technology in legal education is no longer an option, or even an expectation, but an essential requirement.

Neetu talks us through how she designs her modules to integrate technology and welcome its use by students. They must read and research cases using online sources, then analyse, synthesise and integrate them into the arguments they then put forward in relation to the realistic client cases they advise upon. In other words, technology can be used to support students as they progress towards the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s taxonomy.

However, Neetu cautions that you need the proper training in order to use technology effectively in the classroom, and this applies to both staff and students. You need to know the mechanics of how something works, of course, but also its potential application. You also need to vary your approach, blending a range of strategies and technical and traditional resources, to accommodate different learning styles e.g. visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners.

There are also technological challenges – we’ve all been there, haven’t we, when the wifi goes down and a group of students just sits and stares at you? However, Neetu also highlights the challenges of engaging students who are resistant or socially isolated. Staff also need support in moving from tutor to facilitator.

Ultimately, Neetu asks us: if you can’t use the technology properly, creatively and flexibly, then why bother with it at all? Poorly employed, technology will add nothing to our classes and may be actually damaging. However, we should not be too quick to use our own ignorance about certain technologies as an excuse not to use them, as Neetu also encourages us to have a go and accept that we will make mistakes. I guess the onus is on us to think very carefully about why we want to introduce a particular technological innovation, before we launch it on our students. Neetu offers us some very practical guidance to help us here, recommending a robust link between clear and appropriate learning outcomes, the underlying pedagogical theory and our choice of technology.

Neetu shared some of the outcomes of a blended approach, supported by appropriate technology. My favourite quotation was: ‘I am learning from legal actions, not about legal actions’.

One thing that comes through very strongly in Neetu’s presentation is how much she cares about her students, as individuals and as learners. It clearly drives her passion for continuous enhancement of her own teaching practice.

Update: here is Neetu’s Prezi.

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