We are LEADers: Students as Partners, Producers and Pioneers

by Alice Lee, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, HKU; Enoch Chan, HKU BSS(GL)&LLB (2019); Matthew Cheung, HKU BBA(Law)&LLB (2019); Phoebe Woo, HKU BA&LLB (2019); and Steve Lee, HKU LLB (2019)


Introduction

Tertiary education is supposed to be reciprocal: the teacher delivers knowledge to his/her students, and students, based on what they have learnt, give feedback so that the teacher can make adjustments and respond to students’ educational needs (Bain 2012).


In the law classroom, however, the teacher rarely receives replies when he/she asks a question, and students almost never tell their teachers how well they learn in the course. What can students and teachers do to increase reciprocity? Our answer is … join together and form partnerships! We, a law teacher and a group of law students from four different undergraduate degree programmes at the University of Hong Kong,1 founded a student-teacher initiative called Legal Education Aligned with Diversity (LEAD) in 2017. Through sharing what we have gained from this initiative, we would like to show that student-teacher partnership can contribute to an interactive and effective learning environment.


Legal Education Aligned with Diversity (LEAD)

The purpose of LEAD is to promote collaboration between students and teachers in the teaching and learning of law. We believe that by joining students and teachers together, we can ‘open up new spaces for learning, dialogue and inquiry’ (The Higher Education Academy, 2015) and ‘offer[] the potential for a more authentic engagement with the nature of learning itself and the possibility for genuinely transformative learning experiences for all involved.’ (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014)

One of our (LEAD’s) greatest achievements is the production of a series of educational videos (available here) that explain land law principles such as the doctrine of

proprietary estoppel and constructive trust. The videos have been and are still included in the teaching materials for land law, a full-year core subject for all law undergraduates in their second or third year of studies.


What LEADers have learnt in the video-making project

Phoebe Woo:

‘LEAD’s video-making project enabled me to study law in an enjoyable way. As a member of the script-writing team, I was motivated to read judgments and engage in academic decisions. I also learnt how to explain complex legal principles through creative means.


Having decided that our videos were to be grounded in authentic legal cases, my teammates and I worked out the plot for each video by studying the relevant judgments in detail. All of us were very willing to share our own interpretation of the court decisions and ask one another questions. My understanding of the cases we discussed was remarkably deepened, and I can recall those cases even till today.


Writing scripts for videos that were meant to educate students about legal principles was not easy. This was because the videos had to be both informative and engaging. My teammates and I tried to keep each character’s lines short and simple so that students would be able to get the key messages conveyed readily. Moreover, in order to capture students’ attention, we made allusions to elements of popular culture, such as the Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen song and the Confused Nick Young Meme, in the videos. Realising that legal principles can be illustrated in such a lively and innovative manner, not only did I become more interested in the study of law, my ability to communicate the law to others also greatly improved.’


Enoch Chan:

‘Playing the role of a property buyer in the videos, I learnt to understand legal principles from a unique perspective.


As an actor, I tried to put myself into the shoes of the character. Although I had not purchased any apartment before, I started to understand the concerns of a property owner. In this process, I appreciated the role and importance of the law in safeguarding property rights and doing practical justice. It was very different from studying the law with the aid of textbooks. I believe that my acting experience has improved my empathy and my ability to apply the law in real-life context.


In addition, LEAD’s video-making project has prompted me to utilise technology for both learning and teaching. When my teammates and I were brainstorming the plot of the video series, we made use of a wide range of online resources. In the video-shooting, I actively communicated with my teammates to find out the optimal way of performing in front of the camera. After the videos were completed, together we selected a suitable online platform to publicise our videos. Overall, I have acquired the technical know-how and learnt how to think innovatively.’


Matthew Cheung:

‘LEAD’s videos are based on real land law cases. They enable students to understand the law in an interactive way. I participated in the filming process by acting as a judge who had to explain legal principles and answer queries raised by the main characters.


The video-making project offered me the opportunity to express my ideas creatively. For instance, as a judge, I could dress up in robes and walked around the corridors in the faculty building.


My legal communication skills have also been enhanced. Before the filming began, I would cross-check my speech with the judgment to determine how I could present the law in an accurate and precise manner. When explaining the law, I would stress on key terms so that students can easily understand and remember the legal principles.


All in all, LEAD provides a great platform for all of us to demonstrate our understanding of the law and apply various soft skills.’


Steve Lee:

‘My involvement in LEAD’s video-making project was a challenging but rewarding experience.


Before this, I had little experience in media production. This meant two things. First, I learnt a lot in the process – technical skills, presentation skills, and more. Secondly and excusably, our videos came with amateur video effects.


Nevertheless, I am proud that I brought the stories (which my “learned” friends had written and performed) to life with creativity. Our common goal was that, through these videos, we would explain selected land law topics – often seen as difficult and abstract – to other law students in an entertaining and comprehensible manner.


Thankfully, our videos were well-received. Many of our fellow law students have found our videos helpful and entertaining. Some have even used them for exam revision! But our effort is only meant to be the beginning. We look forward to seeing better productions from future generations of law students, who share our vision to bring more colours (and more video effects!) to the sometimes-dull study of law.’


Alice Lee:

‘LEAD was an exciting initiative as student-teacher partnership was completely new to us. The LEADers and I were exploring together, and to our pleasant surprise, student-produced videos turned out to be more engaging and relatable than teacher-generated content.


It was a fruitful and mutually beneficial experience for me and my students. While they consolidated their legal knowledge and honed their legal communication skills (some even learnt new skills such as script-writing, acting, editing and technical know-how), I was able to have a better understanding of my students, their interests and how to engage them more effectively. In light of the benefits we gained from the experience,2 we decided to launch a learning and assessment activity called “Optional Exploration” for the land law course in 2017-18.


We call it “Optional Exploration” as students can decide whether to take part in it, and if they do, they will form their own teams, choose their own topics and the timing and format of presentation. It is an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding, engage their peers and show their creativity through the production of educational videos, animations, songs, and games etc. Over 90% of the students have opted for this learning activity every year, and their creative productions are not only evidence of their own learning but also helpful instruction and revision materials for their peers. From the student surveys and focus groups conducted by LEADers, we are pleased to see that over 97% of the students find this a fruitful learning experience.3 Some have even recommended this innovative learning mode for the study of other subjects. It is encouraging to see that student-teacher partnership has set a new direction for teaching and learning in the law faculty.’


Concluding remarks

‘Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners,’ said John Holt, the American educator. The catalyst to help students utilise their learning capacities does not lie in lectures and reading lists, it instead lies within students themselves.


We LEADers believe that students are capable of taking the driver’s seat in their educational journey. Where students are given space and freedom to explore their way of learning, and even the opportunity to make pedagogical decisions, they will become motivated to participate in the teaching and learning process.4


To enable students to fully develop their potentials, the legal education system has to move away from the conventional style of teaching and embrace the idea of student-teacher partnership. Students and teachers are not supposed to face opposite to each other, they are supposed to stand side by side and work towards the same goal together. It is only when students and teachers become companions that legal education can be truly reciprocal.


Acknowledgement

We would like to thank other LEADers, namely Abeeto Ip, HKU BA&LLB (2019); Darren Tang, HKU BSS(GL)&LLB (2019); Janet Chan, HKU BSS(GL)&LLB (2019); Tony Chan, HKU LLB (2019); Vanessa Ho, HKU BSS(GL)&LLB (2019); and Wilson Lui, HKU BA&LLB (2019), for their dedication.


We are also grateful for the continuous support given by other students and staff to LEAD.


Note

1. They are the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) programme, the Bachelor of Business Administrative (Law) and Bachelor of Laws (BBA(Law)&LLB) programme, the Bachelor of Social Sciences (Government and Laws) and Bachelor of Laws (BSS(GL)&LLB) programme, and the Bachelor of Arts (Literary Studies) and Bachelor of Laws (BA&LLB) programme.


2. For an in-depth discussion of the benefits we gained from student-teacher partnership, see Lee, A., & Woo, P. (2020). Let students take the LEAD as partners in learning and teaching. Teaching and Learning Connections, 12. Retrieved from https://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/let-students-take-the-lead/.


3. We showcased students’ creative works and statistical evidence at the CUHK Law Directions in Legal Education 2020 Online Conference. Our presentation is available here.


4. More information about our vision and examples of innovative teaching and learning are available on our website, CoLLab.


References

Bain, K. What the Best College Students Do. (2012). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. UK: The Higher Education Academy.


The Higher Education Academy. (2015). Framework for student engagement through partnership. UK: The Higher Education Academy.

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