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The Relationship between Class Participation and Law Students' Learning, Engagement and Stress: Do Demographics Matter?

Field, Rachael M., Duffy, James, & James, Colin (Eds.) Promoting Law Student and Lawyer Well-being in Australia and Beyond. Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, 2016

UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2016-46

12 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2016 Last revised: 21 Apr 2017

Anna Huggins

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Alex Steel

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 8, 2016

Abstract

Student participation in the classroom has long been regarded as an important means of increasing student engagement and enhancing learning outcomes by promoting active learning. However, the approach to class participation common in U.S. law schools, commonly referred to as the Socratic method, has been criticised for its negative impacts on student wellbeing. A multiplicity of American studies have identified that participating in law class discussions can be alienating, intimidating and stressful for some law students, and may be especially so for women, and students from minority backgrounds. Using data from the Law School Student Assessment Survey (LSSAS), conducted at UNSW Law School in 2012, this Chapter provides preliminary insights into whether assessable class participation (ACP) at an Australian law school is similarly alienating and stressful for students, including the groups identified in the American literature. In addition, we compare the responses of undergraduate Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and graduate Juris Doctor (JD) students.

The LSSAS findings indicate that most respondents recognise the potential learning and social benefits associated with class participation in legal education, but remain divided over their willingness to participate. Further, in alignment with general trends identified in American studies, LLB students, women, international students, and non-native English speakers perceive they contribute less frequently to class discussions than JD students, males, domestic students, and native English speakers, respectively. Importantly, the LSSAS indicates students are more likely to be anxious about contributing to class discussions if they are LLB students (compared to their JD counterparts), and if English is not their first language (compared to native English speakers). There were no significant differences in students’ self-reported anxiety levels based on gender, which diverges from the findings of American research.

Keywords: Legal education, Law students, well-being, Class participation, UNSW

JEL Classification: I21, K10

Suggested Citation

Huggins, Anna and Steel, Alex, The Relationship between Class Participation and Law Students' Learning, Engagement and Stress: Do Demographics Matter? (June 8, 2016). Field, Rachael M., Duffy, James, & James, Colin (Eds.) Promoting Law Student and Lawyer Well-being in Australia and Beyond. Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, 2016; UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2016-46. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2791926

Anna Huggins

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law ( email )

Level 4 C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, QLD 4000
Australia

Alex Steel (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
Australia

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