Centre for Legal Education

Does SCALE UP need adjusting if you want to use it with law students?

Pamela Henderson led the spring Legal Education Group meeting by reporting on the challenges of adapting the SCALE UP model to the legal context.

SCALE UP was designed by Bob Beichner in the USA as a response to the comparative passivity of the standard lecture and seminar module as then used in Physics.  As well as engaging students, its aim is to increase their understanding and their ability to apply key concepts to solving problems.  The structure of a typical SCALE UP session is in two phases:

  • The lecture is replaced by directed reading or by short audio or video components that students can listen to or view in their own time
  • Students, working in small teams at round tables, and with a variety of technology available to them, are then given a task to complete.

In the second phase, the teacher acts as facilitator rather than deliverer of knowledge, circulating between teams, prompting and answering questions.  It employs a combination of established pedagogies: flipped learning; problem based learning and elements of experiential learning in a realistic simulated context.  The task is handed to the students once they arrive in the classroom, and they are invited  to work collaboratively to investigate and to produce a solution.  Whilst some aspects of this approach can be seen in British vocational courses such as the Legal Practice Course and Bar Professional Training Course, where simulated cases experiential learning in simulation are frequent, use of the approach to deliver academic legal education is much less common.

There are some challenges in using the approach in law.  Students using technology to find answers may be using appropriate sources, or may be using unreliable sources or, without realising it, those from another jurisdiction.  The teacher, as facilitator, can, however, engage with students while they are working on the reliability of the resources they have found.  Where the university’s infrastructure is predicated on the basis of large lectures, and smaller seminars which take place for an hour, each week, at the same time, then it may be a challenge to convince authorities of the benefits between abolishing the lecture in favour of smaller classes, for longer periods in technology-enhanced rooms.  There are obvious upfront costs in developing the audio and video resources and the simulation materials.

However, a more pressing issue about using SCALE UP in academic law teaching is whether it requires adjustment to fit it to the discipline.  The model was developed in Physics, for the kind of experimental problem where, if the students produce the right answer, they must have followed an appropriate route to finding it.  In law, particularly in a common law jurisdiction, there may not be a right answer to the problem (although there may be a more persuasive one).  If there is a binary answer to the problem (eg the defendant is/isn’t guilty of the charge), a student has a 50:50 chance of simply guessing a suitable answer.  Pamela and Jo Boylan-Kemp have been working within an NTU sponsored pilot on a project transferring the SCALE UP model into law using the fictional town of Lexport, whose citizens present problems, by way of legal files, client interviews or police transcripts.  Students are able to identify what the problem is (supported by the pre-session resources) before they then project manage their approach to solving it.  There is an additional benefit in a law classroom that issues of ethics or moral ambiguity arise naturally and not always in plain sight, as in real life.  Preliminary findings are that students were more engaged with the SCALE UP sessions.  Work is ongoing to investigate why that was the case and what effect this approach had on their learning process.

Further resources on SCALE UP at NTU can be found here.

Bob Beichner’s page on SCALE UP can be found here.

For further discussion about SCALE UP in law contact Pamela or Jo.