S|M| i |L|E is here


S|M| i |L|E (Social Media in Legal Education) is a new collaborative project involving Australian legal academics. The project emerged out of discussions between four academics attending the Australasian Law Teachers Association annual conference at Bond University (Gold Coast, Queensland) during July 2014. We are adding resources to the Libraries, a plan to add new posts and materials soon.

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Meme-alicious Law Teaching

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 2.03.12 pmWhile many frequent visitors to social media sites will be aware of (elaborate air quotes) memes, I suspect that their value as a teaching tool has not been recognised. This changed for me late in 2014, thanks to a student of mine whose use of memes in a journal assessment task illustrated very clearly the process of her learning. Let me elaborate.

Meet Paige Webb (metaphorically speaking) now a third year law student. I taught Paige last year in Land Law (1 and 2). I was teaching in block mode – each subject consisted of a six-week block – and to keep students on track, I set a 20% preparation and participation assessment. Students would be graded based on weekly contribution in class, but also on a weekly learning journal. In the journal students would identify how they went about their learning in that week, issues they had and how they resolved them. Students were asked to upload an ‘artefact’ of their learning to demonstrate how they had gone about their learning. I would respond to each journal entry within 24 hours. (This is possible for me with a small cohort.) In the past I have had students upload poems, images of handwritten notes, images of whiteboard scribblings and so on. But Paige was the first to upload memes. Here they are:


Socially awkward penguin


Matrix Morpheus


Futurama Fry/Not sure if

What struck me about the memes was that they encapsulated the uncertainty students experience in encountering these concepts for the first time. The ambiguity or opacity of legal concepts can be invisible to those familiar with the law. But in these memes I was reminded of the challenge of navigating these concepts for the first time. They assisted Paige in explaining to me the process of her own learning, and they helped me to identify where my students may have been grappling with these key concepts.

Since then I have started to use memes in my teaching. It’s not really an indicator of my burning desire to be in with the cool kids… The meme itself tells a story in a single glance. By superimposing text relevant to what is being taught, the underlying visuals enhance the conceptual message.

How to make a meme

There are meme generators, for free, available online. It is so easy, anyone can do it. Just select your meme, insert text and presto! If you are interested in the origins of memes, you can find information here. What’s more, I’m discovering ready-made memes via Google image search, that are relevant to my teaching. Or, well, maybe not…but fun nonetheless! Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 2.09.10 pm

Thanks to Paige Webb for permission to use her memes, and to discuss her experience here.

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Polling during Presentations: a walk-through

In a previous post I describe the use of Twitter and text polling for interactive presentations. I recently had a go at this in my presentation on presentations for a group of academics at Warrnambool, and it worked really well.

My audience posted anonymous questions and comments during the presentation, and I allowed 15 minutes near the end to review and discuss these. The polling provided a way to have discussions, without the audience needing to “out” themselves by asking a question in public. Later, I followed up with some written responses to include links to further information.

A few people asked me about how to set up and use the polling service. I’ve made a short walk-through SlideShare:


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A little bit meta – meta events, peripheral participation and data

StorifyThere’s an event going on – you really wanted to attend, but you couldn’t make it. This time you’re in luck – some thoughtful  people are live blogging and live tweeting the event. You can follow their reports – and if you want to know more, you look up the presenters, key terms and concepts. Maybe the event itself is a research moment – planned or serendipitous? In this situation the tweets and the blogs might be useful data – how might you capture and analyse these?

To use a recent example, the good people at the Wellness Network for Law held a forum at the Australian National University in Canberra during 5-6 February 2015. Regrettably I could not attend – I’m working on the end phase of my PhD candidature – but I was able to follow the forum on Twitter, by following the #wellnessforlaw hashtag, and reading Paul Maharg’s live blog posts.

Because savvy people at the forum took care to include the hashtag in their tweets, I was able to compile a comprehensive Storify of tweets from the Forum. This gathered all the hashtagged tweets in one place, and made it possible to view them as a slide show (along with attached images). It is a bit like attending a meta version of the event! It is also an easy way to archive this version of the event for future reference.

So the forum provided a great opportunity for individuals and organisations to network and share information and ideas around the theme of wellbeing in law. It seems to me, however, that the event as an event, was significant and could be studied. The focus on lawyers and law students’ wellbeing is a relatively recent phenomenon in Australian legal history. Might it be fruitful to study the event itself – consider the concepts and themes emerging from it, and ways in which they align, complement or conflict. What underlying beliefs or discursive operations might be rendered visible. Could we use the hashtagged tweets as one data source in this context?

I was able to capture the tweets for analysis by using NVivo10 computer-aided qualitative software and the NCapture add-on. In precis, I searched for tweets with the hashtag #wellnessforlaw, then used the NCapture tool (it works as an add-on in your internet browser) to capture the tweets as a dataset. Then I imported the dataset into NVivo10 – it saved the tweets together with the meta-data, such as tweet identifier, twitter user name, location, date and time, and whether  the tweet was a retweet. The dataset can be exported out of NVivo as a spreadsheet, and used in other software. Here’s an example of the dataset:

Dataset TableIt is possible to “code” rows, columns, and cells to a “node” as a case, concept, or theme. A node works like a bucket to hold all the items coded to that concept or theme. For example, I selected the dataset column “Tweet” and coded all the items contained in the column to the node, “Tweeted Text”.

Code Tweeted TextI could then open the “Tweeted Text” node to read through the tweets and then “code on” for concepts and themes discerned within the tweets.

From the “Tweeted Text” node, I could generate a quick visualisation of the most frequent words used in the tweets:

Word Freq Word CloudI could pick out words of interest from the visualisation, run a word search on the dataset, then code on from those search results.

Going back to the dataset – I can generate some interesting visualisations that might highlight avenues of inquiry. Here is a dendogram produced by cluster analysis for word similarity between usernames’ tweets:

Cluster Analysis copy

Here, the image is deliberately blurred to obscure twitter names save for mine (PleagleTrainer) and those associated with the forum. The cluster analysis compared all the tweets by username using the Pearson’s R correlation coefficient to generate a table of pairs. A complete linkage algorithm is used to create the dendogram above. The items that are paired are the most highly correlated in a cluster. Other items in a cluster are also correlated, to a lesser degree of similarity. The same applies to items in other clusters.

Such analysis proves nothing by itself – but it might prompt me to return to the tweets associated with paired and clustered usernames, to read them and discern whether they share concepts or themes, and how these might compare with items in other clusters. This might lead to further reflection and analysis before writing up conclusions.

I wasn’t able to attend the event, but I was able to participate in the meta-event, and if I chose, I could use that meta-event as data to learn more about the forum’s subject matter, but also the forum as an incident of social action in legal education.

I think we can plan to be a bit meta, plan for reflexivity, when organising and participating in social action in legal education.




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‘Flipping’ a law classroom

How I learned to stop worrying and love the video:

Law, Flipped, blended learning, media,

Flipped law class project – Monash University

In 2014 my colleague Ross Hyams and I developed a series of 12 short videos for use in the Monash Law 1st year law program. We were fortunate enough to secure a small pilot project grant, which helped us pay for a technical and production assistant, Sam Blashki. The three of us worked together to put the series together, with the aim of attempting a partial ‘flip’ of the 1st year introductory unit, Foundations of Law.

The university then asked us to give a staff seminar, which was captured on video. At the time we delivered the staff seminar, we had not quite anticipated that the video would ultimately be up for public viewing, but now it is available all to see! I only mention this, because it is a very ‘rough’ presentation, we were unscripted and we talk over each other a bit. It is over 50 minutes, I think the interesting part is from 4.10 to about 17 minutes, that’s enough to get the idea!

So yes, I had to overcome my fears and appear on video, and guess what? It wasn’t too bad.

If the video is a bit long for you, here are the key points:

Ross and I are not all that technically competent, but we are happy to try new things, and can use a video camera, we learnt to do basic editing on imovie, and Camtasia (which we did not end up using). Sam actually did the filming and editing, sourced the images, got permissions, edited the images into the videos etc and even uploaded to youtube on a private channel for us. We embeded the youtube links into to the unit Moodle page, and placed them along side the information about the week’s readings.

We worked with existing lecture notes, we selected basic parts of the lectures which needed to be taught, but were basic and not always interestingly conveyed in class (what are the parts of parliament, how are statutes made, the reception of British law etc).  We use the time released from lecturing, to engage in more discussion, activities, case studies, and group work. We also designed little quizzes that can be used on the unit page, or in class, for students to check their comprehension of the content.

We filmed with a normal video camera, on a little tripod, in the same place, with the same background, and same intro and conclusion (‘Hi, today we will be talking about …’ and ‘so today we talked about x, y and z. see you next time’). Each video is around 10 minutes.

There is no explicit link between each episode, so they do not have to be watched in order. If the reading guide/class timetable changes, the order of the videos can be swapped around. We refrained from mentioning page numbers or specific books, in case new editions come out, or lecturers change texts. Those details are on the reading guide and added onto the unit page.

Here is the 13th video, the short introduction to the project.

Monash wrote up  a little piece on the project; Flipping the Classroom Law Style.

If you are interested in exploring the ‘flipped’ or ‘blended learning’ approach to law classes, check out the great materials at LegalEd Web or look at Can “Flip Teaching” Happen in Law School?. I found just googling flipped law class gives plenty of ideas.

I also audited UNSW’s Mooc Learning To Teach Online. I recommend it to anyone thinking about using videos to support blended learning (but you don’t have to wait for it, I’m not sure when they are running it again).

If you want to do a sample video, to see how it works, just take a short video on your phone, or tablet, and edit it. Or don’t even edit it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, after all we are all imperfect in the lecture theatre.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with podcasts and videos that support classroom teaching, please leave your comments below.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Twitter and Text Polling for Interactive Presentations

American voting machine. Original Photo: John C. Abell, via flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

American voting machine. Original Photo: John C. Abell, via flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Recently, I attended Shirley Reushle’s keynote presentation at the recent annual conference of the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC) in Auckland (you can read my post about this here). Shirley is with the Australian Digital Futures Institute at the University of Southern Queensland and spoke to the theme, spoke to the theme of ‘Learning Community: If I Build It, Will They Come?’.

Near the end of the presentation, Shirley used the Poll Everywhere app, asking the audience to tweet or text their comments and ideas about the pros and cons of online learning communities. The audience comments were anonymously displayed on a web page using the presentation screen.

Poll Everywhere provides a description of how the app works, here. Essentially, you use the app’s “poll creator” to set up the question. Different categories of questions are available, including free response, fixed choice, and multiple choice questions. The app provides a numerical code that you distribute to the participants, who can vote using SMS text, Twitter, or a web page. Votes via Twitter require a Twitter account. The results are displayed in real time via a web page (can be embedded in your own web page) or via your presentation software. You can try it for free for up to 40 responses – there are pricing plans for non-profits and business.

There will be similar apps out there, so it is worth looking around to find one that suits your needs. For example, the Edudemic site provides a list of  ’45 powerful tools to create polls and quizzes’.

I thought Shirley’s use of the polling app worked really well in the presentation – several audience comments were displayed and prompted discussion – it  energised the presentation and drew out fresh insights. I am thinking about using this in the future.


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Open Access: To share or not to share, that is the question

Writing for Research called this week for ‘all academic books to go digital’. While I admit to some book fetishism (as described in the post) nonetheless I agree with this sentiment. At the heart of this issue, as I see it, is accessibility – a crucial part of education. In addition to the importance of open access to books as a means of disseminating research, this post considers the meaning of open access and the potential it offers for journal articles too.

Continue reading

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Social Media in a Multi-Dimensional SoTL of #legaled

My research interest is scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) in legal education and practical legal training. Here, I write about incorporating social media in a multi-dimensional model of SoTL,* for legal education.

SoTL is a problematic and non-exhaustively defined concept, you can read my discussion about this here. I’ve also identified at least 10 reasons why SoTL matters in #legaled. I’ve found that certain products of #legaled SoTL fly below the bibliometric radar, which denies them visibility and influence.

I think social media provides an alternative way to share #legaled scholarship, to develop visibility and influence, and to raise the status of SoTL. Trigwell et al’s multi-dimensional model of SoTL provides a way of conceptualising this:**

TrigwelletalMDMThe multi-dimensional model is comprised of four dimensions: informed; communication; reflection; and conceptualisation of teaching. The dimensions frame qualitatively distinguishable activities, eg, the communication dimension ranges from “none”, through intra-institutional and extra-institutional communications (e.g. peer-to-peer presentations; conferences), to “authors work… for peer-reviewed journals”.

You probably already see how social media activities can engage with each of these dimensions. Social media can be a place for information exchange, a place for communication and collaboration, unhindered by temporal or spatial constraints. Social media is also a dynamic place in which to engage in reflective, and I would add reflexive, practice. The way you conceptualise teaching and learning (teacher focused? learner focused? variations?) can inform your approach to social media, or be problematised by social media.

In the context of getting workplace credit for SoTL work in #legaled, or attracting support or resources to proposed SoTL work, social media provides a way to improve your visibility and influence. Given many legal education journals are not ranked in the proprietary journal ranking databases, and many legal education articles tend to have low citation counts, it can be difficult to use conventional bibliometrics to persuade decision-makers to credit you, or provide you with supports. Some savvy use of social media and altmetrics might redress the balance (I’ve discussed one tactic here), and you can use the multi-dimensional model to help frame your pitch to the decision-makers.

That said, I think there are inherent benefits of using social  media to engage with information, communication, reflection, and conceptualisation dimensions of SoTL in #legaled.

* The multi-dimensional model used here is adapted from Keith Trigwell et al, ‘Scholarship of teaching: a model’ (2000) 19(2) Higher Education Research and Development 155.

** Trigwell et al present the model in tabular or matrix format, which is useful for coding or analysing individuals’ engagement with SoTL. I’ve used a concept map to free up ways of approaching the model.

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10 Tips about Working with Online Discussions in #legaled

online discussionsOnline (computer-mediated) discussions seem to be increasingly adopted for learning interactions in legal education. The form and structure of these discussions vary widely, depending on the technology and the context adopted. The discussions can be synchronous or asynchronous, appear in relatively simple bulletin board style formats, or be embedded as part of more complex simulations. Synchronous discussions can provide “real time” flow, whereas asynchronous discussions provide flexibility for participants working in different time zones, or to different timeframes.

Social media offers learners a way of taking online discussions out of institutionally-based proprietary systems, and some legal educators use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, for online discussions.

Most online discussions have in common the capacity to overcome distance between participants. Aside from flexibility, and assuming access to the necessary technology, this quality can  improve equity and parity of access to participants who might not otherwise be able to participate in a learning event, e.g. rural or regional learners, or hearing-impaired learners.

It seems to me that some institutions perceive online discussions as a way of saving costs. I believe that this is not necessarily so, when taking into account learner satisfaction, and achievement of learning outcomes. It is true that some online discussions seem to fire up of their own accord, and this is great when it happens. On the other hand, where online discussions are used regularly and consistently as a medium for teaching and learning, and given the variability of social interactions, appropriate preparation before using online discussions is advisable.

Here, I provide 10 tips drawn from my work in online discussions, and my masters research completed in 2011.* I have not included references, but citations are included in the article linked below.

1: It does not matter what platform or software you use for online discussions, provided that it is robust, safe, and easy for your learners to access and use. My research suggests that “bells and whistles” are not particularly valued by learners, and are distracting. In my experience, proprietary systems custom-built for institutions tend not to do as well as freely available platforms, familiar to most learners these days.

2: Learner motivation and engagement can depend on many things. The fundamentals are: learners can see the activity as important and relevant to their learning; and learners can see they have resources they need to undertake the activity. Plain language guidance about these, before beginning the activity, is essential.

3: Be explicit about what you are looking for in the discussions. The “community of inquiry” framework is one way of discussing this:

  • “Cognitive Presence”: learners’ participation made visible through engagement with questions and peers, reflective statements, discussions, and peer-to-peer feedback.
  • “Social Presence”: learners’ projection of their personal, social, and affective characteristics, in ways appropriate to the context.
  • “Teaching Presence”: made visible through the design and organisation of the activity, facilitation of the discussion, direct instruction (also timely stepping in to clear up errors or ambiguities), and linking insights to learning outcomes.

4: In my research, I found that learners value peer-to-peer discussions very highly, and are dissatisfied if they do not receive individual feedback from their peers, in addition to the teacher’s feedback.

5: Whilst learners highly value peer-to-peer interactions, they also value the teacher’s timely interjections when the group is struggling with something.

6: Learners expect to receive from the teacher, individual, relevant, and timely feedback. Learn about those who are in the group. Knowing about learners’ past experiences with discussions can be informative.

7: That said, learners are dissatisfied if the teacher dominates the discussion. So teachers need to get a sense of when to hold back, and give the learners a chance to develop their sense of community.

8: Like a good dinner party, learn when to clear the table, and bring out the next course (instructions, interjections, discussion topics, activities).

9: Assessment – this can motivate engagement, but is also a recipe for superficial participation, and group dissatisfaction. If you intend to grade participation in discussions, be very clear about how this is done, and if possible supply a rubric as a point of reference.

10: A light touch – sparingly feed in relevant and current materials, like blog posts and streaming videos – be clear about whether extrinsic material speaks to the learning objectives, and furthers understanding.


* Greaves, K & Lynch, J, 2012, ‘Is The Lecturer In The Room? A Study Of Student Satisfaction With Online Discussion Within Practical Legal Training’, Legal Education Review, vol. 22, no. 1&2, pp. 147-75. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2308691


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10 Reasons Why I Use LinkedIn

Many legal educators used LinkedIn, but several have told me they don’t see the point.
Managed appropriately, LinkedIn can be a useful social media tool within a community of practice. Click on the image to see my presentation on why I LinkedIn is a useful tool for legal educators. (Presentation made with the emaze tool)

emazelinkedinFind me on LinkedIn.

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