By Charles Ho Wang Mak, Ph.D. Candidate in Law at University of Glasgow
This blog post is based on my conference presentation in the ‘Directions in Legal Education 2022’ Online Conference on Teaching and Learning in Law, CUHK Law Faculty.
To improve the quality of teaching, research, and service at law schools, it is essential for academic staff to continue their professional development. Collaboration is crucial for professional development programs and the enhancement of teaching and learning. Also, it is essential for law schools to provide professional development for their academic staff. Academic staff must cooperate in order to collaborate.
There are several forms of collaboration, one of which is contrived collegiality. As one of the primary kinds of academic staff collaboration and contact, contrived collegiality has become one of the most prevalent types of collegialities in the higher education sector in recent years.
This sort of collegiality consists of administratively contrived interactions amongst academic staff, in which they collaborate to implement a teaching and curriculum development plan created by others. This characteristic is also a component of legal education’s teaching and research culture.
The primary objective of this post is to determine if contrived collegiality aids or hinders the professional development of academic staff at law schools.
The first section of this blog post presents an overview of contrived collegiality, laying the groundwork for the subsequent debate. The post then investigates whether contrived collegiality is typical in law school teaching and research cultures. Furthermore, the following section examines the positive and negative impacts of contrived collegiality on the professional development of academic staff.
At the conclusion of this post, prospective reforms to the present paradigm of contrived collegiality in legal education will be discussed. Using this research as a foundation, the blog post will address whether law school academic staff should interact under contrived collegiality conditions.
Overview of Contrived Collegiality
Contrived collegiality is top-down and implementation-focused, imposed and controlled by the administration. It differs from genuine collaboration which academic personnel maintain spontaneously. The primary difference is that university administrations do not require genuine collaboration that academic staff may engage in as and when required.
When law teachers are forced to act as a team, their interactions are not spontaneous, growth-focused, consistent, or predictable. When a university’s administration tries to foster collaborative planning at the university using a top-down model, it often ignores the needs of academic staff, the outcome is contrived collegiality.
Formal, specific bureaucratic procedures focusing on collaborative teacher planning and other forms of cooperation are hallmarks of contrived collegiality. In practice, it seems to be made up of a variety of subgroups that focus on specific tasks, such as peer coaching, mentoring programmes, academic staff’s shared learning time, teaching observation, and other data-driven team meetings.
As a kind of teacher culture, contrived collegiality sees academic staff working together primarily because of administrative needs. Contrived collegiality is one of the most common practices in the contemporary university. This is an integral part of the academic environment at many universities. In law schools, contrived collegiality is a common characteristic of the teaching and research culture.
The Positive and Negative Impacts of Contrived Collegiality on Academic Staffs’ Professional Development
To be a successful law teacher, one must have a high level of education and significant training. Continuous improvement is necessary to maintain a high standard of education. Collaboration and accountability are also essential to achieve this kind of achievement. The law teacher is crucial to the law school’s teaching and learning process. Thus, the quality of law teachers determines the quality of teaching.
Academic staff's professional development may be aided by contrived collegiality. Professional development for law teachers is a gradual process including various current, constructive, and collaborative activities influenced by school environments. Professional development programmes for law teachers should emphasise teaching, experience, and skillsets, given that law teachers’ duties include encouraging students’ personal development via various strategies and analysing current stage works.
Academic staff professional development may be done through contrived collegiality; however, how universities implement this feature differs. All universities expect academic staff to cooperate according to senior management’s directions (i.e., a top-down approach).
Since there is a growing tendency of universities to embrace contrived collegiality in order to promote professional development programmes for law teachers, this feature has attracted broad support. In addition, this feature has a substantial influence on the professional development of law teachers.
In terms of professional development for law teachers, contrived collegiality is a double-edged sword, and it is best if this feature is used with discretion. Depending on how it is used, this feature has positive and negative effects.
At its best, it serves as a platform for forming collaborative partnerships among law teachers that previously existed (or even strengthen the relationship between them if a good working relationship exists beforehand). Contrived collegiality is a way of bringing together law teachers.
Using these components of recognition, trust, and support, school heads may reduce the focus of conversations and activities to teaching and learning. To reduce misunderstanding, experts prefer to refer to this as arranged collegiality, which serves as a steppingstone to more sophisticated forms of collaboration.
Regarding the positive impacts of contrived collegiality on the professional development of law teachers, this feature provides law teachers with a framework within which to function and keeps law teachers linked. A variety of functional groupings must be established in order to apply contrived collegiality on the professional growth of law teachers.
Peer coaching at universities is a manifestation of contrived collegiality. The primary goal of coaching is to facilitate the transfer of information and skills from more experienced experts to those with less direct experience in the field.
Peer coaching may also aid law teachers in analysing their current practises, gaining new teaching strategies, and addressing classroom-related concerns via mutual goal setting, classroom observation, and feedback sessions. Peer coaching, a sort of contrived collegiality, enables experienced law teachers to share ideas with their peers, while beginner law teachers may learn from the more experienced.
Changes are neutral- they might be advantageous or harmful. Some law teachers are wary of adopting new techniques for fear of upsetting their students or disrupting the status quo in the classroom. However, new teaching methodologies are essential due to society’s ever-evolving nature. Traditional methods may be so outdated that they cannot be applied to today's students. Therefore, law teachers need to modify their strategies continuously.
There are advantages and limitations to universities using contrived collegiality for the professional development of law teachers. Due to the administrative division of law teachers into workgroups and the management team sometimes disregarding law teachers’ willingness, law teachers may have disagreements. It may reduce the motivation of law teachers to cooperate.
There are several kinds of conflicts. Generally, conflicts involve minor irritations and inconveniences. Conflicts may be beneficial or detrimental. It seems that conflicts have a negative impact on the productivity of law teachers. The procedure for resolving disputes among law teachers is time-consuming. It will cost law teachers time to manage classroom duties.
On the other hand, conflicts are not necessarily harmful. In reality, conflicts may help the law school by enabling faculty members to widen their perspectives and engage with others who have diverse views. Once issues are resolved, law teachers will have a common ground to establish their relationships. In this instance, the positive effects of conflict outweigh the negative ones.
For law teachers to work on the same task, contrived collegiality sometimes needs a tremendous amount of time. There seem to be numerous opportunities for law teachers to cooperate while not teaching or participating in after-school events. This time period allows law teachers to communicate.
Enhancing subject knowledge is a crucial aspect of law teacher development. Additionally, experience exchange and student interaction are essential. This period is initially designated for law teachers to cooperate on various tasks, including curriculum development, activity planning, and task assessment. However, since the given time may be insufficient, law teachers cannot finish their tasks within that time frame. Consequently, they could have less time for personal development.
Collaboration is not a model of operation to which law teachers are accustomed. Collaboration across universities is unquestionably one of the most effective and straightforward strategies to alter the working culture of law teachers. However, it will become contrived collegiality. Law teachers may have an unfavourable view of collegiality and contrived collegiality.
According to the above analysis, contrived collegiality has numerous positive effects on the professional growth of law teachers. For instance, a feature of this kind offers a platform for law teachers to interact and learn together. This might improve the quality of teaching and encourage law teachers to share their experiences. Though disagreements may develop during the implementation of contrived collegiality, it is a chance for law teachers to build a basis for future collaboration.
To foster a culture of cooperation and trust in the workplace, scholars recommend that law teachers modify their perspectives, appropriately choose and execute a plan, maintain continuing communication channels, give extensive administrative assistance and forge long-term partnerships.
To improve the professional development of law teachers, the authorities, universities, and senior management must adopt a more practical approach. Initially, contrived collegiality is unavoidable, but it may finally be transformed into genuine collegiality. In the long term, universities will be required to adopt contrived collegiality to replace individualism and make it one of the prevalent work cultures in the legal teaching profession.
Regarding ideas for future reform of the existing model of contrived collegiality in the legal education sector, universities must give explicit guidelines on the practice of contrived collegiality in order to make the practice easier to understand and implement.