Law: Posts

2016 Routledge/ALT Prize Winner - Thomas Dunk, University of Hertfordshire

Congratulations to Thomas Dunk, University of Hertfordshire, who was presented the Routledge/ALT Teaching Law with Technology Prize at the ALT Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for his innovative 'Virtual Town' project supporting the teaching of Land Law at his institution. The Prize recognises, rewards and champions innovation in teaching and learning, and is open to all law teachers in the UK. Read more about the winning project below.

Year 4 – Thomas Dunk (University of Hertfordshire) for Teaching Land Law with the Virtual Town

Thomas Dunk joined the University of Hertfordshire Law School in August 2015 as lecturer in Law, having previously worked as an associated lecture and successfully completing a PhD at the University of Exeter. Thomas is currently module leader for the Land Law module, and also teaches on the core undergraduate modules in Constitutional and Administrative law, and Contract law. Thomas has also been leading on the development of the new BA in Politics and International Relations.

Thomas’s doctrinal thesis takes an evidence-based approach to examining the individual during the creation of international law. The project sets out three new categories of non-state actors, a model that recognises the contribution of individuals and their work within the international system. His research interests include Public International law, Human Rights, Land Law and constitutional law. He is currently working on turning his PhD thesis into a monograph.

The project

The teaching of Land Law at the University of Hertfordshire this year has been assisted by the use of the Virtual Town. This is a 3D model of a small town whereby land law concepts can be demonstrated to students, for example an easement can be demonstrated on the town to give a better idea of what this legal concept actually is and how it works. The town is incorporated into all three elements of our teaching strategy within the law school; Lectures, Tutorials and Workshops. The Virtual Town has been integrated into the assessment strategy it was central to an oral boundary dispute assessment, whereby the dispute focused on four neighbours on one particular street of the Town.

Students have found the Town really helpful, especially visual learners who can often struggle to deal with many of the abstract concepts covered within the module. The further benefit is that it allows concepts to be grasped quickly and efficiently, freeing up time in workshop for critical analysis. The virtual town has also had an impact on staff teaching the course, Dr Yong stated:

“New to teaching Land Law, I found visualising questions in the virtual town easier for me to then impact onto my students. Feedback received was evident in interactions with them in class – they understood and I could see a stark difference”.

This comment and others from students have been very positive, and helped fulfil my primary objectives of the project to both help students understanding of land law concepts and increasing interest in the discipline.

The Virtual Town has been jointly developed in-house at the University of Hertfordshire by myself from the school of Law and Andrew Marunchak from the Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre. 3D authoring tools were used in conjunction with designs and plans conceived by Thomas Dunk. The cooperation of these two individuals has allowed for a convergence of two disciplines which in normal circumstances would be deemed mutually exclusive.

The prize

"I entered into the prize in the very un-British way of thinking that this was a really good idea and that the prize would be an ideal place to showcase what the university can do. I was extremely busy at the time, having been working on the validation of a new BA in Politics and International Relations. Finding an afternoon to reflect on the project, analysis the performance data of students, and read the comments about the Virtual Town made me think how innovative teaching land law in this way was. I would strongly recommend others to consider entering for the prize, you do not need to be an expert on the language of teaching pedagogy, just have a really strong teaching idea that has made a significant impact on students. Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects was working alongside Andrew on the project to really push the boundaries of technology and teaching."

Winning the prize and beyond…

"Winning the prize was fantastic, the standard of entries was really high and the competition tough. The best part was it was a real positive for the all the work done on developing the land law module this year. It also demonstrated the innovative teaching across the law school and wider University. In the near future the aim is to produce an article on the work, and the school is looking towards the expansion of the use of the town into other areas notably the Law of Evidence and Advocacy modules. Winning the prize has inspired others within the school to look again at technology in teaching and see what is possible with a little imagination. The final goal of the project is to get the Virtual Town working using Virtual Reality to take students into the heart of a land law problem question or concept. To do this we are currently exploring using a combination of the Town, Google Glasses and an app, so that each individual can use their own phones to engage with land law.

My advice for anyone considering entering is, just go for it."