“It’s a Wonderful Workshop”: innovative tutor training for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice

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Teaching on the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice is primarily conducted in the practical, hands-on learning environment of a workshop (anything from 1 ¼ to 3 hours long), led by a tutor who is most likely to be a practising solicitor.  This presents some interesting challenges for me as Tutor Mentor in the Edinburgh Centre for Professional Legal Studies (ECPLS).  How do we support our students in their transition from an academic LLB teaching environment?  And what can we do to help our tutors achieve high teaching standards?

A number of factors  – including pace and intensity of the course; an external tutor pool of around 100 professionals; limited time for tutor training – compound the need to get the message as to how to lead and participate in a workshop over to both these audiences in an effective and memorable way.

Students are continually assessed on the course with a class performance mark awarded for every workshop from Week 1, which for most of them is a new assessment experience.  It can be hard for some students to adapt to this and establish how to participate in workshops in a meaningful way.  While I talk to students about how to get the best out of Diploma workshops as part of their introduction to the course, I felt the session would benefit from a more innovative approach.

The same applied to training our tutors – many have been teaching for years and some of the “please don’t dos” we have to tell them can appear a little patronising or obvious.  But they still need to be reiterated for returning and new tutors alike.

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The answer to these challenges – a slightly tongue-in-cheek training video we made last summer called “It’s a Wonderful Workshop”!  Starring Diploma staff, tutors and some former students and ably directed, filmed and edited by Neil Davidson and Dominic Suominem from Law School Information Services (IS), the video is a 15 minute “romp” through a Diploma workshop of the worst kind!  (We wrote a script and  then filmed it one day in the summer – many takes required for some scenes due to much unscripted laughter from the cast!).

The video is based on real life anecdotes from Diploma workshops over the years – the end result is an appalling workshop involving a tutor who is late, underprepared, rude and dismissive and a group of students who range from arrogant and dominant to totally silent, bored or on Facebook!  There is even a student solemnly making a sandwich in class for good measure!

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The film is ridiculous enough to be far from real life and is intended to be amusing but we think it conveys some important messages to our audiences.  Students saw the video in my introductory session on teaching and learning on the Diploma – their reaction was what we had hoped for with much laughter and many comments about the outrageous behaviour of the “students” in that workshop!

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Our tutors saw it in tutor training (we run several sessions over the academic year) with similar positive reactions.  And student feedback this year seems to show that tutors took on board the key “dos” and “don’ts” from the film.

Please contact me (Emma.Greville-Williams@ed.ac.uk) for more information.

Emma Greville-Williams

Emma Greville-Williams is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Edinburgh Centre for Professional Legal Studies. Emma teaches on several core courses within the School of Law and is involved with aspects of the general management and co-ordination of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice.

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