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Engaging Students and Enhancing Skills: Lessons from the Development of a Web-supported International Environmental Law Conference Simulation

Poustie, Mark (2001) Engaging Students and Enhancing Skills: Lessons from the Development of a Web-supported International Environmental Law Conference Simulation. International Review of Law, Computers and Technology, 15 (3). pp. 331-344. ISSN 1360-0869

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Abstract

This article discusses a move from a traditional lecture and tutorial based environmental law class to a class involving a large element of websupported simulation in the context of a simulated international environmental conference in session 1999-2000. Lectures and tutorials were retained for support purposes, but much class time was devoted to plenary sessions of the conference. The key reasons for the change were (1) the desire to move to an active learning environment where students were at the centre of the learning process and would be learning by doing; and (2) to integrate and enhance negotiating, team working and IT skills in the class. Students were given a unique insight into environmental law decision-making. The role-playing of students acting as state and NGO delegations on the basis of the real positions of these delegations was a strong motivating factor in the learning process. Although the class co-ordinator established the framework for negotiations the progress of those negotiations and the ultimate outcome was a matter for the students. While the outcome was an important motivating factor it was not significant in terms of the learning experience as students were assessed by means of a reflective report which was designed to assess what they had learned from the process in terms of legal understanding, negotiating issues and team-working. Although there were some student concerns regarding a perceived lack of environmental law content identified in the evaluation of the class the assessed student reports demonstrated this to be unfounded. The web-support aspects facilitated: (1) asynchronous learning - particularly negotiation and the development of negotiation skills; (2) the provision of ready access to a range of conference documentation and learning materials; and (3) just-in-time access to documentation such as updated versions of the draft treaty as negotiations progressed. Although the design and prepCorrespondence: aration of the simulation was fairly onerous, once established little new effort was required to run the simulation again. There were departmental resource issues in terms of web-support staff which somewhat delayed the availability of the web-support facilities, but these have now been addressed. The evaluation of the project has demonstrated that the web-supported simulated conference has considerable educational value in facilitating active learning and the integration and enhancement of key skills in the law curriculum. It has also demonstrated that other types of simulation may be possible within the law curriculum.