Basil Alexander | Faculty News | Spring & Summer 2021 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Celebrating teaching excellence during the pandemic

Professor Basil Alexander is the 2020-21 recipient of the Faculty of Law Teaching Excellence Award. Prof. Alexander was recognized for his commitment to student learning and innovative teaching practices.

“My style is very much practice informed,” said Alexander. “I focus on helping students develop the tools to think, read, research, write, analyze and communicate in a way that reflects ‘what you ought to know’ for practice. This is demonstrated in the courses I teach, Foundations, Legal Research and Advocacy, and Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility—they’re all at the core of how you practice.”

Prof. Alexander implemented flexible and diverse approaches in response to the virtual landscape brought about by the pandemic. He incorporated both real-time online lectures and pre-recorded “guidance” lectures outlining how to apply legal principles and skills to real-world scenarios. He consistently sought feedback on his teaching methods while providing a steady range of learning opportunities to students.

“It's been difficult for both the students and teachers. When you're in person, you enjoy instantaneous feedback, which is much more difficult to get from a Zoom screen or on Teams. So, I checked in regularly with my students to see what was and wasn’t working, and modified on the fly.” 

In his 3L Ethics class, students completed live in-class video exercises. They watched a short video portraying sample ethical issues and worked through issue-spotting and initial solutions both in small groups and together as a class. After class, Prof. Alexander provided further videos detailing the potential issues and legal considerations to help understand the implications for both practice and grading scenarios. If students wished, these could also be completed after they tried a detailed analysis on their own. 

In addition to focusing on case law and the relevant rules in the Model Code, Prof. Alexander also included scholarly articles in the course to highlight key considerations and approaches for future ethical and practice issues. This provided students the opportunity to critically analyze the professional responsibilities they will assume upon graduation. It also turned their minds to the complexities of practicing law in Canada and of the role of the lawyer in Canadian society. Prof. Alexander made an effort to include sources from a diverse selection of authors and topics, which contributed to a better overall understanding of relevant perspectives on the issues.

“Throughout the pandemic, it was important to be flexible and to not overwhelm the students,” said Alexander. “Much of the literature and recommendations regarding online teaching previously said move to smaller assignments—and a lot of them. But it turns out that when every course does this, students can become quickly overwhelmed. That was the clear feedback we got from the students.”

Prof. Alexander modified his evaluation scheme to accommodate for this by considering the overall student workload and providing adjustable alternatives. He assigned certain required materials but allowed students the option of completing other assignments and activities to alleviate up to 25% of the weight from the required assessments, which also assisted with ongoing learning.

“This was valuable as he provided options that focused on written materials or participation, as a means to evaluate our knowledge,” said 3L, Kathryn Power. “Students could write reflections on a certain area of the professional code of conduct or could choose to participate in a live in-class exercise. This allowed a greater number of students access to alternative evaluation methods as it did not solely provide an opportunity for written assignments, which are more time-consuming.”

For Prof. Alexander, communication was an important tool in diminishing student stress and alleviating as much anxiety and uncertainty as possible.

“Prof. Alexander checked in with us on weeks when we completed asynchronous learning,” said Power, “to ensure we knew the plan for that week, when we would meet next, and what our objectives for the week should be. This displayed a constant commitment to student learning and ensured that the teaching methods he utilized were effective in conveying the material being taught.”

For Prof. Alexander, an important moment comes at the end of his Legal Research and Advocacy course—watching the 1L’s compete in their very first moot.

“The 1L moots are always a highlight,” said Prof. Alexander, “it's one of the first times the students start applying a lot of the skills and material they learned over the first 6 months in a major experiential way. They're always nervous before they start, and then they get through it, and it becomes part of a shared experience for the class. It's a special moment; there is a certain amount of relief and pride that comes each time someone gets through it.”

Seventy-five percent of Prof. Alexander’s teaching load is first-year students, with the other 25% being 3L. He enjoys the unique opportunity of being one of the first faces the students see when they enter law school and one of the last as they graduate.

“After their welcome, and starting them down the road, I get to see their first and last milestones: during the 1L moot, when things are starting to click and they actually act like lawyers for the first time; then when I get half of the 3L’s in their final term, ready to start their careers, and I get that moment at the end to say ‘with that, you're done law school – congratulations!’”

The 2021-22 academic year will mark Prof. Alexander’s third year with the faculty. He looks forward to watching his first 1L class walk across the stage at graduation.

“It will be their third year and my third year; I am looking forward to seeing how far we both have come. It will be a memorable bookend to my first full cycle at the law school.”

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