Graeme is the Chair in Private Law, in the School of Law. Graeme was the teacher and course coordinator for LAWS353 Intellectual Property in 2017.
Graeme has spent much of his career as a university academic – here, in the United States, and in Australia. But he has also spent time in the professional practice of law. He still consults on litigation and is engaged with stakeholder groups in his key areas of research and teaching. In his teaching he tries to draw on his experience in both worlds.
LAWS353 Intellectual Property has a focus on the law and indigenous treaty protection of trademarks, copyrights, patents and other types of intellectual property. There were two main motivations for the innovations that Graeme introduced to the course. First, he wanted to bring Intellectual Property Law to life by providing learning opportunities based on real-world contexts that had real-world problems to be solved. He wanted the students to apply the theory and doctrine they were learning to real-life problems that did not have pre-determined or correct answers, and to work collaboratively on their problem-solving and presentation skills. The second motivation was in response to finding that lecture theatres, and lectures themselves, were not conducive to the conversations and group work that he was trying to foster.
In response to the issues raised above, Graeme introduced two inter-related approaches to teaching LAWS353. The first is an optional five-hour workshop held on a Saturday. This time is additional to Graeme’s set work-plan time and lecture time. The aim of the workshop is to stimulate the kind of thinking that people involved in the creative industries come to lawyers about. During the workshop students watch a video that is alleged to have infringed the copyright of a play. They debate and collaboratively reproduce aspects of the play, to determine whether or not they cumulatively amount to copyright infringement. The Saturday workshop is not formally assessed because that (to quote Graeme) “might have sucked the joy out of the day”. To potentially increase the joy Graeme provided pizza for everyone.
A further innovation is an open-book examination which Graeme, allowing students to use their laptops, the Internet and do anything except ‘phone a friend’ to simulate real world situations where lawyers do not have all the knowledge in their heads, instead calling upon past cases to help them. This authentic assessment reflects the reality of law practice and a desire to “cut to the chase” and assess students’ analysis, not just their recall of facts.
The effectiveness of the innovation of the workshop was measured through attendance (close to 100% of the students attended), the level of energy and engagement students showed with each other, Graeme, and the learning tasks, work samples and presentations, assessment and exam performance. The quality of the students’ legal analysis that Graeme heard on the day was also a key metric. Graeme also noted that he gauges the effectiveness of his teaching and students’ learning by talking with and listening to prospective employers – “I’ve had judges say to me: ‘wow your students are great!’”
Students noted that Graeme’s approach to teaching and learning ensured their inputs and points of view were valued – “one of the few classes where I don’t check my phone”. The open book exam is innovative for this course in Law, and Graeme acknowledges some teething issues. Some students are uneasy about the assessment, saying it is “a brave new world” for them, but Graeme assures them that this is what they would do in a professional environment.
Pedagogical theories and practices that drive Graeme’s beliefs and practices are underpinned by social constructivism. Social constructivism emphasises the shared construction of knowledge through real-world experiences or scenarios and problem solving. The interactions between the students are structured and mediated by the lecturer but the learning outcomes are co-constructed. The weekend workshop takes learning out of the constraints of lecture times and spaces, enabling collaboration and discussion about a case over an extended period of time. Something that usual approaches to tertiary teaching don’t allow for.
Graeme also develops strong relationships with his students. He believes that “when students feel that they’ve been treated decently by people who care, they are open to a whole lot of new stuff.” Graeme positions himself as a person who cares by being authentic, aspirational, self-conscious about his teaching, and consistently seeking to refine and improve his practice. He strives to ensure learning is contextualised and relevant. Students commented that Graeme is “respectful, he incentivises us to learn, and has created a very caring environment.”
Graeme seeks to bring the real world of law practice into the course and make it relevant and contemporary. He is a risk-taker, unafraid of doing different things, such as Saturday workshops, and open-book assessments. He is active in seeking feedback and acting on it. Underpinning his approach is a respect for his students, seeing them as people who he might work with in the future in a professional capacity (not just as students). Within the positive relationships he promotes, Graeme works hard to maintain a professional distance between himself and his students. Graeme thinks that it is this insistence on professionalism that enables him to encourage his students to innovate and take risks, “It’s generally true that when students feel secure, and know where they are, they feel comfortable about pushing themselves and experimenting a bit. Good fences make good classrooms.” At the same time, Graeme tries to signal to his students that he cares about them. This relational aspect is mentioned by students who are surprised by Graeme’s interest in them and say it motivates them to learn.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.