Student Opinions on Curriculum
Five students were asked to highlight one thing the University of Alberta’s curriculum does well, and provide one recommendation on how our Faculty could improve upon the existing learning environment.
Thus far, the in-class component of 1L is moving along quite nicely. The professors are knowledgeable, engaging and very helpful in guiding us through the first few months of our legal education. Some of them may cheer for the wrong hockey team, but given how poorly the Oilers’ season has gone so far, can you blame them?
I believe that a change in the structure of how the Introduction to Legal Writing and Research course is taught could be of great benefit to the students. Due to its practical nature, taking the course along with our other academic classes causes a disruption in academic consistency. I contend that it may be more beneficial to have LRW taught in a block schedule in September prior to the commencing of the other mandatory 1L courses. Rather than learning how to brief cases, write memos, and other useful skills alongside of our other courses, it would be more helpful to have these skills at our disposal prior to having to apply them, not during or after.
James Park (1L)
One thing the Faculty of Law does well:
The Faculty has an outstanding level of cooperation between first-year professors that leads to a very cohesive style of learning. “You should be covering this ______ in torts soon” or “has (professor) covered _____ yet this week?” are common phrases that show our professors are actively working together to build our lessons behind the scenes—and it shows! Nothing is coincidence; there is some method to this madness.
One thing the Faculty could improve:
While the Faculty does a great job in most of our core classes, it seems like there are a lot of groans when it comes to LRW. Ask any upper year what they think the most important first-year class is and you will probably end up with a significant number of “LRWs”. I do not have a solution in mind, but I do think the most important class should go down less like “Buckley’s” and more like the (in)famous orange popsicle cough syrup from yesteryear.
Ryan Bencic (1L)
The U of A’s law school does an exceptional job of fostering a culture of collegiality amongst students and faculty. This is partly a result of a conscious effort on the part of administrators, faculty, the LSA and other student groups, but one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is the building itself. U of A law has the best social space of any Canadian law school that I have visited. There’s the couches, the locker room, and of course Steve and the Gavel. In my previous educational experience, you really had to make a special effort to meet faculty and students that were not in your classes, whereas at U of A Law, the building means that it’s hard avoid these types of encounters. To improve, U of A Law could build on this collegiality by encouraging more collaboration between students and faculty on academic research. Our faculty is home to some top researchers, but there needs to be more ways for more students to get involved in their research.
Garrett Finegan (2L)
Having completed a year and a half at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, returning home to Edmonton and finishing my degree at the University of Alberta has in many ways felt like a time warp. OttawaU Law prides itself on a forward-minded and decidedly social justice approach to the teaching of law. Due to its much larger size (approx. 300), it offers a wider selection of courses that include novel topics like “Sexuality, Gender, and the Law”. The University of Alberta is more limited in its course selection and stricter in its requirements, with three more mandatory courses (Evidence, Conflicts, and Jurisprudence/Legal History).
However, these requirements (Evidence, in particular) arguably provide important practical knowledge for new lawyers. Further, the smaller class sizes at the U of A changes the learning atmosphere substantially – professors are more approachable, peers more willing to help, and the student executive is more in touch with students. If I could suggest improvement, it would be to balance tradition with fresh course topics and alternative teaching strategies.
Andrea Vig (3L)
So far my experience at the UofA has been great! The teaching methods here are quite different than what I was used to in Norway, where most of the lectures took place in big auditoriums with 300 students. I really appreciate the small classes offered and professors encouraging discussions in class between the students. I would also have to highlight the variety of courses being offered at the faculty. In addition to focusing on “hard law” courses, you also focus on providing the students with different skills, such as negotiation- and mediation skills, which I believe will be very important in working life. If I had to make one recommendation it would be to reduce the amount of courses the students have to take during a semester. At my home faculty in Norway we only focus on one course at a time (approximately for 2 months) and then have a written exam, before we start a new course. This has proven to be quite successful.
Tone Sorensen (International exchange student from Norway)