Activity: Participating in or organising an event types › Participation in conference
Multidisciplinary pairing: a win-win teaching experience
Summary : Claire Howell conceived of her experiment in multi-disciplinary pairing between engineering students and law students when discussing the issue of how to bridge the law/non-law divide with a distinguished IP and company lawyer. The course, which formed part of the LLB final year project in IP, attracting 30% of the mark, was piloted this year. It draws on an innovative approach to teaching originally developed by Ruth Soetendorp.
Each law student was paired with an engineering student and required to identify any potential IP rights they may generate in their MSc projects. Their initial written task was to write an 800 word letter of advice that would be easy for a non-lawyer to understand. To achieve the task the law students would have to interview the engineer and ask the right questions to discover the facts, forcing them to develop the kind of communication skills necessary to enable them to communicate with engineers. Their second written task involved a 1,700 word academic analysis of the IP issues they had identified. The engineers were given a different set of goals and tasks.
Some of the obvious benefits of the approach are the fact that there are no additional financial costs, there is no need to spend time inventing a fictional case study and very little academic involvement is needed, except at the marking stage. After the students had been paired up and exchanged email addresses Claire had no more control over them, although she was available via email and BlackBoard, and in weekly tutorial slots.
However, the outcomes are very impressive. The law students had a deep learning experience in which they developed autonomy as well as communication skills. The engineering students learned the importance of identifying potential IP at an early stage and they began to understand the idea of competitive advantage as well as the possibility of income generation. Some of the engineering students changed their project as a result of the encounter, recognising, in the light of IP information, that taking a different approach might result in something new. All the students were highly motivated and involved.
The project structure involved the law students studying basic IP in the first term and in the second term they were introduced to the functions of the TTO by their officers and the university patent agent. This was a useful precaution because it alerted the students to the fact that they might find a really useful innovation and gave them guidance so they would know what to do should they be confronted with a commercially viable invention. At this stage the students were advised that the first practical task they would have to undertake
with their engineering student partner would be to draw up a confidentiality agreement. This was a useful exercise for both engineering and law students because it concentrated their minds by drawing attention to the potential seriousness of the activity.
Claire accepted that in order for such a project to succeed it was necessary to partner with the right academic in the engineering faculty. It was essential to find someone enthusiastic who understood the importance of IP issues.