A passion for legal education: ANU Law lecturer Anne Macduff

Anne Macduff
Anne Macduff - candidate for the 2016 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Education for teaching excellence

I often visited her feeling mired in confusion and overwhelmed, and after over an hour or so talking with Anne would leave feeling excited about my thesis, with a clear direction of my next steps and I always felt as though I got to those conclusions on my own.

Driven by a passion for quality legal education that enhances student wellbeing, ANU College of Law lecturer, Ms Anne Macduff, has made a significant difference to the law school experience of her students. 

Ms Macduff was nominated as a candidate for the 2016 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Education for teaching excellence.

A teacher at the College for over 10 years, Ms Macduff has actively responded to research showing that legal education has a negative impact on the wellbeing of students leaving them feeling ‘lost and overwhelmed’, and experiencing feelings of ‘disconnection and intolerance’.

She has engaged students through supportive questions, responded to student suggestions about how their learning experience at law school can be improved, and devised authentic activities that allow students to feel their learning is interesting and relevant.

Ms Macduff’s innovations have enhanced student wellbeing by supporting law students to see the relationship between their studies and the real world, and feel confident in their ability to learn and engage.

Anne explains her approach to teaching and supporting student learning in the following way:

“As a teacher, I have an obligation to encourage all students to grow intellectually and find ways to make their legal education personally satisfying,” Ms Macduff said.

“I target two key areas of student concern, assessment and confidence. In my course, Family Law, I have designed assessment experiences that allow students to engage with and explore the law in practical and creative ways.

“Students are more likely to become active in their learning when all the course activities, including the assessment, are set in a ‘real world’ or authentic context.

“I design learning activities that not only harness students’ intrinsic curiosity in the world around them, but also challenges students to actively engage in difficult concepts.

“Designing the activities requires careful consideration of what students know already, as well as what they need to confront or change in order to grow intellectually.

“Understanding the relevance of an assessment task, and being empowered to be critical and creative in those tasks, has supported law student wellbeing. In my theory seminars, family law tutorials and during research supervision, I use supported questioning.

“I draw students into a learning conversation in a way that allows them space to articulate their ideas and gain confidence in themselves and their contributions.

“Whatever solution or conclusion students arrive at, they need to feel that it was their decision. Supported questioning not only helps students make sense of the law, but also their sense of self.

“It values student differences, and gives them support to find ways to express their unique abilities and personalities, and eventually to embrace those differences in their fellow students.

“Ultimately, this approach enables students to take responsibility for their own learning, and builds student confidence,” Ms Macduff said.

This article was first published by the ANU Centre for Higher Education Learning and Teaching in their book Recognising Excellence 2016 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Education.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team