Title: Put Down Your Pen: Assesing Oral Communication Skills to Enhance Student Approaches to Learning
Authors: Cantley-Smith, Rowena # ×
Issue Date: 2006
Publisher: James Cook University of North Queensland, Faculty of Law
Series Title: James Cook University Law Review vol:13 pages:30-63
Abstract: Communication skills are undoubtedly one of the most important tools of a competent, professional lawyer. Contrary to popular perceptions, well developed oral communication skills are not restricted solely to the adversarial environment of litigation lawyers. Such skills transcend almost all aspects of legal professional practice. Whether communication is through writing, or by the spoken word, proficiency in this regard can be seen as a reflection of legal expertise: a demonstrable, objective, manifestation of a deeper level of knowledge and understanding of the law. Curiously, despite the patently obvious importance to professional legal practice, oral communication skills are seldom taught to undergraduate law students. Oral communication skills of undergraduate law students are rarely formally assessed in many Australian law schools. Moreover, recent trends in tertiary education, such as the promotion and uptake of new technologies to create flexible student learning environments, appear to be creating a new type of student: the “virtual learner” who is often engaging in tertiary law studies in an increasingly remote and isolated environment. In the absence of assessable communication tasks, the acquisition of life long skills such as oral communication, are almost non-existent in the tertiary education experience of the virtual learner.
At present, many undergraduate law students can go through their entire tertiary education without ever having to orally discuss the law in general terms, nor verbally demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and understanding of the law through formal oral assessment tasks. This outcome is surprising, particularly when the nature of the ensuing professional legal practice is considered. In this regard effective communication skills are evidently central to achieving success. Why is it then, that oral communication skills and oral assessments tasks appear to be notably absent from the assessment regimes in many Australian undergraduate law courses? Put another way, why is it that written modes of assessment, particularly final examinations worth 100 per cent or examinations worth less than 100 per cent combined with written assignments, tend to be heavily favoured in undergraduate law courses? Moreover, what is the impact of such standardised assessment on student approaches to learning, and ultimately on the valuable life long learning outcomes for students?
In seeking to address these issues, this paper commences with a brief examination of the importance of oral communication skills and the impact of oral assessment tasks in tertiary undergraduate legal education. While the importance of oral communication skills for post-university life as a practising lawyer is canvassed at the outset, this paper’s foremost focus is on the role, and beneficial impact, oral assessment tasks have upon students’ approaches to legal education and student learning outcomes. The discussion in the second part of the paper demonstrates that, regardless of the circular debate concerning the appropriate time and place for the acquisition of legal skills’, oral assessment tasks present as a sound pedagogical choice for any law teacher. As such, serious consideration ought to be given to encouraging greater utilisation of this form of assessment in undergraduate law courses. This is particularly so in the current climate of tertiary institutions’ who claim to be actively educating and training independent, life long learners. Within this context, the views of law students on this issue also warrant further consideration. Accordingly, the results of student evaluations, which were directed towards eliciting student feedback on oral communication skills and oral assessment, are outlined in the third section of this paper. Various recommendations are then set out, followed by concluding remarks.
ISSN: 1321-1072
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: DI
Appears in Collections:Non-KU Leuven Association publications
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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