The Smart Casual modules: Where to begin?

The Smart Casual professional development modules address a broad range of topics in legal education. If you’re wondering where to start, here are some suggestions, along with a quick summary of what’s covered in each module.

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Where to start

The Smart Casual suite comprises nine stand-alone modules. They can be used in any order, so you can go straight to the content you need when you need it. For those wishing to work through the entire program, we suggest that the following order provides a logical progression:

1. Indigenous Peoples and the Law
2. Engagement
3. Feedback
4. Problem Solving
5. Communication and Collaboration
6. Reading Law
7. Critical Legal Thinking
8. Wellbeing
9. Ethics and Professionalism.

Indigenous Peoples and the Law was developed to provide support to law teachers to better engage with Indigenous students and with legal issues that relate to Indigenous peoples. It introduces concepts that are taken up across the other modules. It is relevant to teaching staff of all levels of experience, and of particular importance to those who are new to Australia.

The following three modules, Engagement, Feedback and Problem Solving address difficulties that we found sessional staff most wanted help with. They are pitched at an introductory level.

Communication and Collaboration builds on Engagement and Feedback with further examination of interactions in the classroom and beyond.

Reading Law and Critical Legal Thinking provide more detailed examination of how students develop their analytical skills and so follow on from the ideas explored in Problem Solving. They are intended to provide guidance for teaching staff of all levels of experience.

Wellbeing and Ethics and Professionalism discuss critically important issues in legal education that may not have been part of traditional law school curricula. These modules relate to and develop content presented in the other modules. They are likely to be relevant for teaching staff of all levels of experience.

What’s covered in the modules

Indigenous Peoples and the Law
All students need to develop their knowledge in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise the many points of interaction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Anglo-Australian legal system. This module provides background information on these issues and some suggestions for creating a supportive teaching environment. This module covers: the identity and culture of Indigenous peoples in Australia, Indigenous/non-Indigenous legal interactions, and Indigenous peoples and teaching.

Engagement
Students learn most effectively when they engage as active players in the learning process. This module examines ways to increase your students’ engagement in learning. The module covers: ways to encourage ‘deep learning’, supporting positive emotions, capturing and developing students’ interest, making classes relevant, cultivating mutual respect, and fostering positive peer interaction.

Feedback
Providing effective feedback on students’ work is essential to student learning both within and outside assessment processes. This module covers: providing legitimate, timely and appropriate feedback on a range of assessments; ensuring that feedback aligns with the assessment task and associated learning outcomes; providing feedback that is coordinated, equitable, transparent, and supports improved student learning.

Problem Solving
Teaching and assessment in substantive law subjects often involves hypothetical problem solving, which encourages students to develop skills needed upon graduation. This module examines how to use structured approaches to problem solving to assist students to develop their skills. The module covers: teaching structured approaches; teaching MIRAT (and other structures), legally material facts, and argument and application.

Communication and Collaboration
Law students need to develop their ability to communicate effectively, appropriately and persuasively, selecting from different genres, modes and voices; engage with different legal and non-legal audiences; and collaborate skilfully. This module is about developing students’ skills in communication and collaboration and covers the following topics: clarifying expectations, persuading, active listening, explaining and advising, negotiating, working with diversity, digital technologies, using language specialists, written communication, interviewing clients, and collaboration and teamwork.

Reading Law
This module explores how to help students build legal reading skills – skills fundamental to legal practice and important in law-related careers. It explores what critically reading law means, how it differs between types of legal documents, and how to help develop students’ close reading skills. This module covers: decoding, comprehension, metacognition, and critical reading strategies for a range of documents – case law, statutes, transactional documents, legal scholarship, policy and government reports.

Critical Legal Thinking
This is module addresses a discipline-specific form of critical thinking. Law students need to develop the ability to engage in critical analysis in a range of different contexts, make a reasoned choice among alternatives and understand law in its broader context. This module examines how critical legal thinking links to other legal skills and how students can be helped to develop it. This module covers: modelling dispositions, teaching thinking skills, preparing a supportive environment, social and theoretical contexts, and using structured discussion and Socratic dialogue.

Wellbeing
This module is about the role law schools and law teachers can play in promoting the wellbeing of law students. This is supported by teachers cultivating our own wellbeing. We understand wellbeing as feeling healthy, safe and supported with the capacity to manage one’s personal, academic and professional challenges. This module covers: supporting student wellbeing, managing expectations, fostering respect, providing support, being sensitive, engaging students, creating inclusivity, encouraging collaborative learning, demonstrating delight, and looking after yourself.

Ethics and Professionalism
This module concerns ethics and professional responsibility as necessary parts of teaching law across all subjects. It offers insights into the ways in which we, as law teachers, might present learning law as an ethical and professional endeavour in itself, and how we might harness the context of substantive law throughout the curriculum to illustrate how ethics and professional responsibility work in practice. The module covers: discussing and modelling ethics and professionalism, learning from cases, using role-play, and responding to unprofessional behaviour.

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