Professor Steel researches and teaches in criminal law and legal education.
Alex's legal education publications range across the pedagogy and regulation of legal education, curriculum design, assessment practices and student wellbeing. He is member of the nationally funded Smart Casual project (smartlawteacher.org) developing online professional development for sessional law teachers and blogs on legal education issues at lawschoolvibe.wordpress.com.
Alex is currently a member of the UNSW Academic Board, Consultant to the Australian Law School Standards Committee, Executive Member of the Australasian Law Teachers Association and member of the Editorial Committee of the Legal Education Review. He was previously Associate Dean in the Law Faculty and co-convenor of the national Legal Education Associate Deans (LEAD) Network. Alex has received a Commonwealth Government Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2015); the LexisNexis ALTA Major Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Teaching of Law: Highly Commended (2013); Faculty of Law Award for Outstanding Research in Learning and Teaching (2013); Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence (2008); a UNSW Learning and Teaching Award (2005/6) and an Innovative Teaching and Educational Technology Fellowship (2003).
Alex is currently the Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor (Education) and was the Deputy Director (Educational Policy) of the Scientia Education Academy from 2016 - January 2019.
Revisiting Student Attitudes to Legal Education
Professor Alex Steel and Professor Prue Vines, UNSW Law
Introduction: In 2009 Tani and Vines (Tani & Vines, 2009) reported on a 2005 survey which examined students’ attitudes to education and compared those across the University by Faculty. In 2014 Steel and Huggins (Steel & Huggins, 2016) reported on a 2012 survey examining law student’s engagement and lifestyle pressures. In 2018 Steel and Vines have re-administered the 2005 survey (and added selected questions from the 2012 survey) and are considering how students’ attitudes to education may have changed and whether it changes throughout a law degree. In a first for legal education, students have been surveyed in the first weeks of their degree allowing an insight into students’ initial beliefs and attitudes to university. A second survey of later year students will provide a counterpoint to the views of beginning students.
Theoretical Background: The knowledge that lawyers are disproportionately affected by depression and anxiety compared with the rest of the community continues to confound legal educators who have difficulty determining what to do about it. This study seeks to determine the extent to which students’ attitudes may affect depression and anxiety by considering their attitudes in terms of whether they demonstrate autonomy and internal motivation or external motivation and lack of social connection. These factors are derived from the extensive psychological literature on factors contributing to depression.
Aims: The aim is to develop an understanding of law students’ attitudes to their legal education as a way of assisting our understanding of how students are likely to respond to particular methods of teaching and whether particular methods of teaching might aggravate or alleviate any tendency to depression or anxiety, and whether student behaviour outside of the classroom may be a factor. The survey will also provide insights into the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators of student behaviour, and the external life factors that affect that motivation.
Progress / Outcomes / Next steps: We have presented the initial results of our survey of first year students at a symposium on wellbeing of lawyers in a changing world. We are still collecting data from later year students and will analyse this data and then present it at a range of education forums and back to the students. The results will then be worked up into a number of peer-reviewed publications. Outcomes will be presented to the Law Faculty and UNSW to assist with enhancing student learning.
Steel, A., & Huggins, A. (2016). Law Student Lifestyle Pressures. In J. Duffy, R. Field, & C. James (Eds.), Promoting Law Student and Lawyer Well-Being in Australia and Beyond. Ashgate.
Tani, M., & Vines, P. (2009). Law Students’ Attitudes to Education: Pointers to Depression in the Legal Academy and the Profession. Legal Education Review, 19, 3–40.
Faculty level contributions
- Law, Criminal Law and Criminology Research Cluster
- Law, Legal Education Research Cluster
- Law, Legal Education Conference, Organising committee
- Law, UNSW VCATE Committee
- Law, LAT (Law Aptitude Test) Working Party
- Law, Faculty Board
UNSW level contributions
- UNSW Scientia Education Academy
- AAUT Citation Selection Committee
- Academic Board
- Academic Quality Committee
- Digital Assessment Working Party
- Program Design & Delivery, Delivery Subject Matter Group
- 2016 Law Associate Dean Education Network, Co-convenor
- 2006 Consultant, Criminal Law Review Division, NSW Attorney General's Department
- Advisory Board, Centre for Professional Legal Education, Bond University
- Australasian Law Teachers Association, Executive Member
- Australian Law Schools Standards Committee, Consultant
- Crime and Justice Research Network, Member
- Legal Education Review, Editorial Committee
- NSW Bar Association, Criminal Law Committee, Honorary Academic Member
Why learning (and teaching) needs to be hard
But not all effort leads to learning outcomes, and a lot of learning and teaching effort may well be wasted. Innovations in pedagogy and technology can reduce the amount of wasted effort. On the other hand, ‘trendy’ innovations in teaching and learning that appear to reduce effort may in fact make learning more difficult by falsely making it appear easy.
In this talk Professor Steel considered some of the dangers of the short-cuts we may be offering students and teachers, and the dangers of not recognising the degree of effort both need to be great learners and great educators. The talk balanced that with the life-long benefits that flow from hard work in education, and explored ways we can encourage positive engagement with harder learning and teaching.
Click here to view the lecture recording.