Looking for ways to build law students’ communication skills? Have you thought about children’s books?
Lawyers are being called on to talk about the law in increasingly diverse and complex settings. The learning outcomes for Australian law students expect graduates to ‘think creatively’ about solutions to problems. They also expect graduates to be able to communicate effectively and persuasively. And that includes thinking about the ‘cultural, linguistic and educational background’ of the audience.
Comparative law and children’s books
A colleague at the Australian National University, Dr Heather Roberts, uses a unique form of assessment for her unit. Heather co-convenes a course on Issues in Australia-United States Comparative Laws, alongside Dr Heather Elliott at the University of Alabama. Students study comparative perspectives on the United States Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia.
Students can elect to write a research essay on any aspect of the course. But, they can also elect to create a piece of work using any format they choose. Students have created websites, podcasts and even children’s books. And that can be challenging for students. Taking the learning outcomes seriously means that they have to think about their audience and who might use their work.
Making students think about who might use their work emphasises the importance of accuracy in what they say. But it also emphasises communication skills in a way that an academic research essay doesn’t. And it makes students’ realise that their work is visible to more than just a marker.
I’ll leave the last word on how this kind of assessment can build law students’ communication skills to Heather:
After law school, students are expected to be able to communicate complex legal principles clearly, and to non-lawyers, using a variety of new technologies. I saw this course as providing an opportunity for students to develop these skills.