Peer Assisted Courtroom Sessions - a PASS success story

In mid-2019, Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) Leader Jesse Beckinsale approached Peer Learning Programs Coordinator Chelsea Avard with an idea to support University of Adelaide Law students in developing advocacy skills and developing networks with students in their cohort. 

Peer Assisted Courtroom Sessions (PACS) then began as a small pilot project supporting a single law course.  It has since grown in scope and reach – opening in Semester Two 2020 to all undergraduate law students.

Across 2020 Jesse worked with fellow students Annalise Delic, Tijana Maric, Gulima Wahidi and Ben D’Andrea to create this popular and successful peer learning program. The team identified student interest in the strengthening of practical skills in advocacy and deepening knowledge of aspects of professional practice such as courtroom etiquette.  They then drew on their own experience as students and peer leaders to develop and run a program that connects students with one another, University staff, alumni and practicing law professionals.

PACS in action

Photo credit: Tam Tran, PASS Social Media Officer.

Working within a framework informed by PASS principles of facilitation and students supporting students to develop self-efficacy skills, Jesse has seen the PACS project through its proposal, pilot, and adjustment stages.  It is now a successful program which brings students, faculty, and practicing law professionals together in classrooms, working courtrooms, and online to develop students' advocacy skills and strengthen understanding of the courtroom setting through practical activities with peers and professionals.

In Jesse’s words (from his PACS 2020 proposal):

The driving idea of the Peer Assisted Courtroom is to run a PASS Class which encourages students (of all abilities) to engage with cases, colleagues and communication beyond the requirements of seminars and lectures.

The format of these sessions is to have students present the actual submissions made in previous High Court Cases.

Students will have to work collaboratively, and reflect for themselves on their performance as advocates (and they) will also critically evaluate the real-world outcomes of High Court cases.

This program gives students the opportunity to develop their practical advocacy skills, and differs from mooting exercises because the focus is not competitive, but collaborative development. The program gives students the ability to sit as judges, learn from mistakes, and workshop their skills in a self-contained two hour timeslot.

From left to right - Tijana Maric, Annalise Delic and Jesse Beckinsale.

Three core goals were central for the team in the development and assessment of the program across the past year and a half:

  • To create a supportive, confidence building peer-assisted learning environment in order to foster a collaborative environment. To give students the opportunity to build connections with their colleagues, to experiment and practice what they learn in lectures and support one another in the goal of self-development.
  • To design a sustainable program to specifically help students develop advocacy and communication skills – skills that are essentials to legal practice – as a means of contributing to their career-readiness.
  • To encourage critical and practical engagement with the legal system by bringing a ‘real world’ element to bear on cases studied in Law classrooms, to prepare students for experiences awaiting them in their future practice.

In Semester One of 2020, when PASS moved to online delivery in response to the impact of COVID-19, PACS moved online too, with the team adjusting their session plans and activities to utilise Zoom.

In Semester Two, when they were able to hold sessions on campus, they were supported by guest speakers including faculty staff, previous Moot Court winners, and the Hon Geoffrey Muecke. 

The team showcased their model for practical peer-led learning sessions that tap into the discipline-level needs of students at the National Students as Partners Roundtable, hosted by Deakin University (video of their case study presentation is available on the PASS website) and are preparing to bring the year to a celebratory close with a finale session to be held at the Adelaide Magistrates Court.

Dr Chelsea Avard | Coordinator | Peer Learning Programs

Tagged in #pass, #student leaders, #Students as partners