Bond University

Article Title

Throwing Students in the Deep End, or Teaching Them how to Swim? Developing 'Offices' as a Technique of Law Teaching


“Offices” (teacher-less, cooperative learning groups) were introduced to Griffith University in the Law School’s first year of teaching in 1992. They were further developed through two National Teaching Development Grants from the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching in 1993 and 1994. The 1993 grant was used to refine the first year program and to develop a second year program as that year was first taught. Similarly the 1994 grant was used to refine the second year program and develop an Office program when third year was first taught. The Offices project has two main aims: to develop in students a range of skills valued by employers, but not traditionally part of the core law curriculum; and to provide “situated” learning of substantive legal material. It was first discussed in an article in this journal in late 1993. As that article noted, the project is still very much in its formative stage, and undergoes continual evaluation and redesign. This article reports on the developments and lessons learned during the implementation and evaluation of the 1994 grant. Part 1 sets out the cognitive theory underlying Offices and the relationship between the program’s main aims. Part 2 describes the background to the implementation of the 1994 grant, and Part 3 describes the Office tasks formulated during that process. Part 4 summarises the practical lessons we learned about how Offices should be run. Using Collins, Brown and Newman’s framework of “cognitive apprenticeship”, Part 5 evaluates the learning environment that we have constructed in Offices, and proposes paths for future development. Finally by way of introduction, it should be stated that the observations and conclusions set out in this article draw extensively on the results of a range of evaluative measures. Particularly the 1994 project was evaluated through continual informal student feedback during the life of each program, student surveys conducted at the end of each of the four semester programs, regular sharing of perceptions and analyses between the staff involved in its implementation, through discussion of the Offices project at the Faculty’s governing committee, and by comparing the learning environment with the “cognitive apprenticeship” framework referred to above.