Teaching Approach

 

I hold and practice a dynamic approach to legal education that is defined by six fundamental concepts: student-centered pedagogy, professional legal pluralism; the growth mindset; psychological safety; universal design for learning; and apprenticeship.

Student-Centered Pedagogy

Due to my varied experiences as a student in multiple universities and in line with the Faculty of Law’s unique and strong pedagogical culture, I strongly believe that legal education should be centered on students, addressing their diverse needs and objectives, relating to their interests and experiences, and furthering their development as aspiring jurists and more broadly as citizens. As such, I employ many of the pedagogical practices that are commonly employed in the Faculty of Law, such as setting and communicating learning objectives for my courses, promoting active learning through different discussion formats, fostering peer-to-peer learning, maintaining regular office hours to meet with students, diversifying the types and forms of course assignments beyond the standard written examination, using rubrics (shared in advance) to evaluate and grade course assignments, and providing constructive and detailed feedback on the work of students.

Professional Legal Pluralism

My teaching is anchored in a concept that I call professional legal pluralism, which is meant to capture the diverse skills, training, and career aspirations of jurists. My teaching aims to put law students in a position to strengthen their abilities to learn, think, and work autonomously in a new area of law and their capacities for reflecting on relevant ethical and theoretical issues. Moreover, I stress to students that law is something that can be practiced across multiple sites and forms of normativity and in multiple ways. I thus present them with readings, class exercises, and assignments that highlight or require different manifestations of legal skills in fields such as social activism, business, public policy, and academia. Finally, I believe that law students should be provided with the skills and knowledge that they will require to engage with the doctrinal aspects of law, as well as to relate legal practices to their social, political, and economic context. As such, my courses aim to develop the ability of students to understand and resolve legal problems through a variety of perspectives and tools drawn from law, political science, anthropology, sociology, psychology, management, and economics.

The Growth Mindset

My teaching stresses the importance of a growth mindset, which emerges out of the research carried out by psychologist Carol Dweck on the role that different forms of motivation play in promoting learning.[1] Dweck’s work shows that when individuals adopt a fixed mindset to education, they tend to see their skills and abilities as innate and fixed, dread failure, focus on gaining favourable evaluations and avoiding negative evaluations, and avoid risks and challenges in their trajectories as learners. Conversely, when individuals adopt a growth mindset, they see their success as emerging from determination and practice, are committed to improving their competence, are more comfortable with risk-taking, and seek to learn from their mistakes. It is not surprising therefore that multiple studies have shown that learners with a growth mind-set are much likely to improve their performance despite setbacks and to acquire mastery of new skills and bodies of knowledge. Accordingly, my approach to teaching generally encourages students to take risks, stray from their comfort zones, and learn from their errors. Concretely speaking, this means that most of my courses foster experiential learning through class-based exercises and simulations as well as project-based assignments. In addition, I use detailed grading rubrics for evaluating assessments that are shared with students in advance and offer students iterative feedback at different stages in the completion of their assignments. I finally provide students with opportunities for self-reflection through in-class discussions as well as short essays, so that students can assess their growth as learners and identify opportunities for refining their skills and knowledge.

Psychological Safety

My approach to pedagogy builds on the notion of psychological safety, which emerges from scholarly research examining the determinants of learning and collaboration in educational and work settings. Psychological safety refers to contexts in which individuals feel comfortable sharing their ideas without fear of personal harm or rejection and feel that their contributions are valued and appreciated by their peers and superiors.[2] Research on psychological safety has shown that it plays an important role in fostering the ability of individuals to learn from one another and to collaborate in groups and organizations.[3] My courses offer students with significant opportunities for dialogue, exchange, and collaboration in a manner that seeks to cultivate interpersonal trust and positive group-level interactions. To this end, I strive to be accessible, approachable, and non-hierarchical in my interactions with students, to exhibit vulnerability and authenticity, and to promote learning environments that are supportive, open, and respectful.[4] As well, I highlight best practices that students can adopt to enhance their capacity to discuss and collaborate with others inside and outside the classroom.[5]

Universal Design for Learning

I have recently started implementing practices based on the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). As defined by McGill’s Office for Students with Disabilities, UDL is “a teaching approach which considers how curriculum, instruction and assessment can meet the learning needs of the greatest number and diversity of students while maintaining academic rigour.” My commitment to UDL has led me to develop a variety of didactic methods (lectures, discussion groups, and problem-based learning activities), materials (types of readings and on-line content), and individual and group forms of assignments that reflect and engage with the wide range of abilities, interests, and pace of learning of the diverse body of law students in the Faculty. I have also taken a number of technical and practical steps to enhance the participation of students with disabilities, including providing readings in an accessible format, sharing lecture notes and class exercises in advance, having text descriptions for images shown in slides, employing easy-to-read fonts in class materials, and accommodating students with mobility impairments in how discussions groups are formed in class.

Mentorship & Apprenticeship

I have also adopted the practices that are characteristic of the best social science departments in North America, particularly their commitment to providing mentorship for graduate students and structuring graduate education as an apprenticeship. Indeed, I have created the Law & Sustainable Change Lab to provide a vehicle and community for interacting and collaborating with undergraduate and graduate students. My Lab seeks to foster the involvement of law students in my research projects and related activities. I have an extensive track-record of co-authoring publications with students, providing them with opportunities to acquire training in and experience with qualitative research design and methods, and supporting their participation in conferences, events, and other knowledge translation initiatives.

References

[1] Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Random House, 2006).

[2] William A. Kahn, “Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work” (1990) 33(4) Academy of Management Journal 692.

[3] Jeroen Schepers et al. "Psychological safety and social support in groupware adoption: A multi-level assessment in education” (2008) 51(2) Computers & Education 757.

[4] Amy C. Edmondson, “Speaking up in the operating room: How team leaders promote learning in interdisciplinary action teams” (2003) 40(6) Journal of Management Studies 1419.

[5] Amy C. Edmondson, “Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams” (1999) 44(2) Administrative Science Quarterly 350.