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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975

Times Change in Law Fac

Times Change in Law Fac.

Photo of John Thomas, Dean of Law Faculty

Things have certainly changed in the Law Faculty since John Thomas was appointed Dean in late 1973. John Thomas was one of the major protagonists of the 'Socratic method' of teaching which is spreading throughout the Law Faculty. And at the beginning of this year in-term assessment was abolished in the Faculty.

Students have had little say in either of these major changes. For instance, the decision on in-term assessment was made in February when students were on holiday and were unable to be consulted. Calls for student consultation at the meeting were ignored and the recommendation to abolish in-term assessment was passed. Since then it has become more like a fixed policy than a 'recommendation'.

The abolition of in-term assessment is hardly a solution to problems of assessment in the Law Faculty. The return of the notoriously unreliable final exams as the sole means of assessment is reprehensible. The decision says little for the lawyers' ability to keep abreast of educational changes; exams have been condemned by educationalists as an unreliable method of testing students' ability since the last century. That the decision was made out of concern for student workloads is also hard to swallow.

The 'Socratic method' is a new innovation which comes from East Coast American universities. When it is used successfully, it can rouse apathetic law students to critical thinking. When used badly, it can terrorise and intimidate students.

The fact that some law lecturers feel that forced learning could be an integral part of the 'Socratic method' is a sad commentary on their feelings towards students and their concerns as teachers. 'Apathetic' students are generally apathetic because they feel repressed, so to respond to student apathy by more sophisticated methods of forced teaching is no solution to the problem.

On pages 2 & 3 are two articles on the Law Faculty's methods of assessment. The information they contain should be of interest to all students who are concerned with assessment and who want to gear assessment to learning purposes, rather than an often arbitrary process of stratification.