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Hardy, S --- "Role Playing in Consumer Protection Law: The Market Day Project" [2005] LegEdDig 63; (2005) 14(2) Legal Education Digest 22

Role Playing in Consumer Protection Law: The Market Day Project

S Hardy

[2005] LegEdDig 63; (2005) 14(2) Legal Education Digest 22

14 Legal Educ Rev 2, 2004, pp 203-218

The Market Day Project is a series of activities aimed at giving students a number of different perspectives on legal disputes involving consumers and at engaging them in the complexities of a life-like situation. The project involves a broad range of activities and focuses on developing a number of different skills. The students work in groups, which requires communication and planning skills. Although developing the project took substantial work and time, the actual running of the activities is surprisingly easy. Consumer Protection Law is a one-semester elective subject, usually studied by students in their 3rd to 5th year of law.

The learning outcomes of the unit explain that students, on completing the unit, should be able to: (1) describe and explain commercial and consumer transactions as they occur in the real world of business and in an increasingly global marketplace; (2) understand the objectives, requirements and processes of the State and federal legislative schemes for the protection of consumers in Australia; (3) apply the relevant legal principles to factual scenarios and provide relevant and practical legal advice to consumers, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and the consumer regulator; (4) recognise the limitations of consumer protection laws with respect to the realities of commercial and consumer transactions; (5) assess and evaluate existing consumer protection law and policy and argue whether or not it responds to practical commercial and consumer needs; and (6) demonstrate skills in statutory interpretation, legal research, and written and oral communication.

The broad aim of the Market Day Project was to create a contextualised simulation, requiring the students to look at the events typically involved in consumer disputes from different perspectives. The students were involved in a simulated marketplace, in which they engaged in consumer and retailer activity and had to identify and deal with legal problems that arose in the course of that process. The exercise departed from the traditional assignment model in that it required the students to consider a consumer protection problem from the beginning of the transaction giving rise to the legal issues, rather than dealing with the issues in hindsight, well after the transaction had taken place. In doing so, they needed to consider what the consumer might want in a product and what they would be likely to find appealing in advertisements for the product. In later activities the students were required to role-play the consumers’ and retailers’ lawyers. In these roles they were required to isolate from the previous activities the legally relevant facts, research the areas of law involved and provide advice to the consumer or retailer involved.

The Market Day Project includes a large amount of group work. Students were required to form groups of three and to remain in the same group for the duration of the project. The use of groups was both a logistical and an educational decision.

Students were assessed in two ways. Each group received an overall mark for its project work. This mark was awarded based on specified criteria for each part of the project. The assessment criteria for each Market Day Project activity focused on the students’ achievements against the learning objectives and outcomes, with particular emphasis on the development and application of graduate attributes.

Most of the activities were conducted during the seminars. However, students were also required to do some work outside of seminar classes. The project activities included both oral and written work, and the work differed according to whether they were in a Retailer or a Consumer group.

In the first seminar, the students formed their groups and were allocated retailer or consumer status. The students were given readings in relation to working in groups, and each group had to fill in a questionnaire aimed at identifying potential problems in the group and developing strategies for dealing with them.

Each group with consumer status was given a profile of their consumer and shopping instructions. Retailer groups had one week to prepare their advertisement and were instructed to be creative and add as much detail as they wished, so long as they complied with their marketing department’s instructions. A week before market day, retailer groups were given instructions informing them that the basis on which they had conducted their advertising campaign was, in fact, incorrect. These instructions encouraged the students to think beyond the legal issues to other factors that might be affecting the dispute, for example, that the salesperson was at risk of being sacked, a possible cover-up from management, and the issue that their client’s concerns may not really be legal or compensable.

Market Day occurred during the normal seminar time. Retailer groups set up their ‘shop’ in the seminar room and identified themselves by displaying their advertisement. Retailers were given their coffee machine to sell. Each group nominated one or two spokespeople to conduct the transaction. Other group members were required to closely watch the process and make notes about any important representations made during the negotiations. Consumer groups were then required to prepare a letter of complaint addressed to the retailer from whom they purchased their machine. The retailer groups were given their consumer’s letter of complaint and required to draft a reply.

In seminar 3, each group had a copy of both the consumer’s and retailer’s letter and was required to sit down and try to work out a statement of relevant facts from which they could later identify the legal issues. Once the students had some idea about their own version of the facts, they were invited to meet with their opposing group to see whether they could agree on any facts in order to save time and effort in proving them. Each group was required to present its statement of facts at the next seminar, along with an indication of which facts had been agreed with the opposing party.

In seminar 4, the groups identified the legal issues revealed in their statement of facts and planned their legal research. While looking at the requirements of the relevant legislation, many groups realised that they needed more facts on which to base their claim or defence. This experience brought home to many students the need to address commercial problems in a logical order, and to clarify any assumptions they make before attempting to advise their client. In the fifth seminar, students were given a short talk about how to prepare a letter of advice to a client. The groups were required to start putting their research into a letter of advice to their retailer or consumer client.

In the reflective analysis seminar students were asked to give a presentation in which they discussed the following things: (1) how the members of their group dealt with working in a group, what worked well, what went wrong; (2) what the group was concerned about when they were preparing or reviewing the advertisements; (3) what happened to the group during its participation in Market Day; (4) how the group dealt with the activities that followed; and (5) how the group fared in the negotiation.

Lectures and the Market Day Project activities are complementary, both providing information and the opportunity to achieve learning outcomes in a variety of ways. In general, lectures provide a structured, systematic and methodical approach to the content of the course. They build up the detail of the legal principles in a step-by-step, topic-based approach. However, legal problems in practice rarely fall wholly within a single legal topic and the Market Day Project activities are aimed at providing students with a less structured overview of Consumer Protection Law in practice, involving problems in which many different areas of content may overlap. Formal student evaluations of teaching and learning are administered towards the end of the semester. They are voluntary and anonymous. Generally speaking, student satisfaction with the project was high.

One of the most important aspects of the project was its contextual nature. The Market Day Project also specifically includes a number of aspects aimed at developing social and ethical awareness. The two main pieces of summative assessment in the course are the Market Day Project activities and the open book exam. These are quite different in form and emphasise different skills and abilities. However, in combination they give students the opportunity to demonstrate their achievement of the unit’s learning outcomes and the university’s graduate attributes.

It is quite difficult validly to assess whether or not students’ overall learning outcomes have actually improved significantly as a result of the introduction of the Market Day Project. Although the author’s sense is that students’ examination answers now demonstrate greater application and less regurgitation of content, this has not necessarily translated into a higher average mark compared with students studying the course before the Market Day Project was introduced. However, in terms of student engagement and alignment of assessment with learning outcomes, the Market Day Project has been a success.

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