CLEO Conference: Games, Stories and Simulations

Am here in London South Bank University Law at the invitation of Emily Allbon, Dawn Watkins and Andy Unger, who are convening this one-day event.  CLEO is the Clinical Legal Education Organisation, but as the title suggests, the speakers are moving well beyond the usual framework of clinic. There will be Belbin role games and design sessions as well as the usual plenary talks, so live-blogging will be be in sharp bursts – looking forward to the experience…

First up is Alison James, co-editor with Chrissi Nerantzi of The Power of Play in Higher Education: Creativity in Tertiary Learningtalking on The Power of Play: Lessons for, and from, Law Education.  She quoted Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play whose work I like a lot.  She makes the point that there is so little literature on creativity and play in legal education that there’s lots of opportunities for researchers and drawing upon other disciplines.  She makes the case for serious play – play that’s not just framed as leisure-based.  She quoted some theoretical perspectives – Deep Play by Diane Ackerman (which reminds me of Clifford Geertz on the Balinese cock-fight, and the links there to Bentham…  Bateson & Martin on play, Stuart Brown on play and developmental stages, she quoted a couple of classics, Winnicott, Huizinga, and Pat Kane.  For Alison play can be defined in many ways – as interior & mental, collective or solitary, performative or interactive, contests, festivals, dangerous or deep play, or just playful; spontaneous, repetitive, exaggerated, creates other spaces.  In HE, playful purposes, playful experimentation, playful failures, playful freedom are ways that we can engage students in play.  Useful overview of play as method and context.

Belbin role game next, so laptop to one side…

Next up, Rob McPeake, on Story Telling and Legal Education. He quoted Sarah Langford’s work on narratives from Criminal and Family Law, and raises the question: how much storytelling is going on in legal education?  It’s difficult to tell.  He knows of colleagues who are interested in storytelling but whose work is unregarded in their institutions – either hiding or is hidden in plain sight. The criminal trial structure he argues, is organised around ways of managing stories to be told.  I’d say constraining and shaping stories, too.  Rob also raised the issues of whose stories get told, and from what perspective.

Storytelling circle next.  Dawn let us know about her work on playfulness; Jane Mair and Felicity Belton on their Family Law Game, ‘Legally Wed’ – a game that’s a guide to being legally wed under Scots Law.  A board game: winner is the first to be wed.  Neat work!  Then Emily Allbon on TLDR Legal – getting students (and colleagues) to engage with games and stories.  Some magical creative projects from Emily, just published, including the use of an online town, Coltsfoot Vale.  Please check out TLDR – delightful, a fresh and creative approach to legal learning, and another winning app from Allbon Factory (honestly, where does she find the time & energy?).  Rachel Wood next, on ‘Catch the Wave’, a commercial law dispute resolution simulation, on the power of sims to stimulate learning beyond the sim – very creative.  Andy described an online client interviewing game & teaching LawTech news, as well as a new body that’s being formed: the International Society for the Study of the Future of Law.  Guy Stern outlined Baobab, an online case management system, which is available free for not-for-profits – definitely worth a look, and I have to confess that earlier in the day I pinched a snapshot of one of their web pages because it embodied exactly what I wanted to say – more of that in the next post.  Emily Flint described Legal Communications and Writing, a module where students research a piece of law, they decide the message they want to communicate, the best format for that message: dance, song, art, video, animation, whatever.  Stunning.  How is that assessed?  Partly by reflective account that explores the process.  The quality of student work was amazing, Emma said – I could believe it.

After lunch we divided into groups and designed games & sims.  Belbin played a part, but the focus was on the game.  Ours (Emma Jones, Elizabeth Fisher-Frank, Kim Silver and me) was called ‘How can I help you?  Interviewing, client has a very brief intro line, uses improv, and crucially has a fact that is very important to the conversation, and doesn’t volunteer it.  Lawyer has to question to find it out.  Three mins – who will win?  We played out the game in front of the group with two volunteers, Emma Flint as client.  Client won, just.   It’ll be in the shops for Christmas.

Another game was Finding Justice, devised as a card game but could be an internet game, on the difficulties involved in getting access to justice.  Great game, with ‘Fact Fun’, including cases and legislation.  Chris Hull and Nigel Duncan came up with a crossword puzzle game on legal terminology for first year students, paper or app.  Next, the ‘Yes or No Lottery’, to teach teenagers about consenting to sexual activity.  Justify!  was the title of the final game, focusing on assessment of human rights, which involved groups with cards initially, challenging each other at seminar presentation, with the opportunity to rebut the challenge.  Fascinating.  I have to say that conference games and instant game rarely live up to their billing, but in this case the bonsai five-mins pecha-kucha sessions were brilliant and show just what can be done when staff get together for about 90 mins or so of brainstorming (according to Emily Allbon’s recipe), and come up with engaging games & sims.  We are all creative: all too often it’s our institutions, our hierarchies that stifle our creativity, numb our imaginations.

My session next: ‘Fragmented literacies, convergent fictions: the use of multimodal sims in legal education’.  Slides at the usual place on Slideshare, and at the Slides tab above.

Afterwards there was a very useful circle plenary session where we discussed the day and the future.  Some great ideas.  A number commented on the lack of an online space tailored to our disciplinary needs, and which could be used to share resources and approaches.  The old UKCLE site was mentioned with regret (I especially miss its research typology).  The professional bodies really should have stepped into the gap, but nothing has been achieved in the last eight years.

But as I said in my presentation, nostalgia doesn’t get us very far.  I showed Simshare.  It was a site that we assembled around 2010 as a place to share sims online.  With HEA and JISC funding we developed the web site, which was also a social media app, and a storage centre for sims in legal educations; worked on implementing a Creative Commons IP structure where authors had freedom to choose their own IP model.  SIMPLE had a viewer developed specially for the app by Gavin Maxwell, which gave an overview at a glance of a transaction.  It was a super project.  It disappeared along with the UKCLE site, and with the help of one of the original developers I was able to trace the source files, transfer ownership of the site to me and put it back up on the web.  You can download and look around it, but you can’t upload, so it’s an archive site of sorts.  But it could easily become live, and if an institution or professional body had plans to develop it I would happily sign over ownership of the site, which shouldn’t really be in any private individual’s hands.

Simshare is indicative of the problems of experiential learning generally. There are infrastructures for conventional legal education hierarchies (aka professional bodies), there are occasions for conventional teaching research (conferences with neat wee 20 min slots), there are publication platforms (articles and chapters that support one-off pet projects, rarely large-scale systemic change that experiential learning & teaching so desperately needs).  But we need projects like Simshare that profile the new and radical ecosystem of open learning and sharing (described so inspiringly by Yochai Benkler and others), which challenges the silo system of law schools and the petty rivalries we academics are beset by.  We are better than that.  Our students, some of whom were present at the event, deserve much much better.  We can work to bring that about if we work to change the system.

And that, dear reader, was what the day was about.  I loved it.  Many thanks to Andy, Dawn and Emily for organising such a wonderful day, and to CLEA, and to Barbri for funding the event.  You can follow it on Twitter #CLEAGames, and my next post, next week, will give a little more detail of the theory and practice I was talking about in my slides – a position paper of sorts.


Tags:  CLEO games, legal education, simulated client, simulation

Copyright © Paul Maharg [CLEO Conference: Games, Stories and Simulations], All Right Reserved. 2019.

CLEO Conference: Games, Stories and Simulations