By Rhian Ellis
Professor Richard Owen, from the Hilary Rodham Clinton School of Law, recently presented a great ‘7 Characteristics of a Good University Teacher’ seminar at SALT.
In this very enjoyable and well-attended session, Richard explained how and why he has taken an ‘experiential learning’ approach in his teaching and what its benefits have been. His initiatives speak strongly to Chickering and Gamson’s ‘Seven Principles of Good Undergraduate Education’ which Richard illustrated through several examples of his own teaching practice.
What is Experiential Learning?
Richard drew on Felicia’s (2011) definition,
experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as learning through reflection on doing
Higher education teachers may also be familiar with Kolb’s ‘experiential learning cycle’, which is typically represented by a four-stage learning cycle, in which the learner ‘touches all the bases’ from concrete experience, on to reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.
Richard also quoted that the words of the ‘grandfather of experiential learning’, John Dewey, which remind us of the value of direct experience.
Or in Richard’s words,
Learning comes to life when you have some way of relating it to your own experience
What are the main drivers of experiential learning?
Richard discussed six influences, among many current drivers.
Richard also spoke of how experiential learning allows teachers to move into the affective domain, which is important as one in three lawyers report the experience of mental health issues linked to their work.
Experiential learning opportunities help prepare students for the challenging nature of the legal profession, raising self-awareness of the emotional challenges. The soft and interpersonal skills that are vital in professional practice can be learned in practical, creative, engaging and effective ways, with reflection and staged progress.
What aspects of Richard’s teaching are experiential?
Richard is the Director of The Swansea Law Clinic. His approach to learning and teaching includes:-
- simulated activities
- real client experience
- community engagement
Inspired by practice-led teaching in Australia and the USA, Richard feels it is important to focus on preparing students for professional practice at an early stage of their legal education. Upon his appointment as Swansea Law Clinic Director, he introduced projects such as ‘Miscarriage of Justice’, which was the first Clinic project to start in 2017. It works with clients who have exhausted all avenues of the criminal justice system, but doubts remain over their conviction.
Louise Shortner from ‘Inside Justice’ said that the project brings a
real hands on approach to students’ learning and supports students by working in collaboration with legal and forensics that really empowers them
- The Swansea Law Clinic’s Annual Report 2017/18 features more on this and other projects in its first year of operation.
- Richard himself was a finalist in the UK’s Law Teacher of the Year, a prestigious national award, sponsored by Oxford University Press.
How do these experiential learning opportunities demonstrate the ‘7Cs’?
Richard structured the middle section of his talk around the way in which the Swansea Law Clinic’s teaching and learning projects demonstrate all seven of Chickering and Gamson’s characteristics or principles.
You can find out more by watching the full recording of the session on this link to SALT TV
Richard closed his session by considering forms of experiential learning in disciplines other than law, which prompted some really interesting questions and discussion after the filming had finished.
This event was a great opportunity for the ‘cross-fertilisation’ of ideas across different colleges and schools at Swansea University. If you’re a Swansea University teacher who, after watching the recording, has questions of your own, please do get in touch via me at SALT!
Perhaps your own practice could even be featured in the ‘7Cs’ programme!
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