Practising pleading skills: in a toga in the virtual courtroom

As a law student at the UU, you get minimal opportunities to practice your pleading skills in a real courtroom during your studies. And this while such an authentic learning context could make an important contribution to learning how to plead, listen, react, etc. Made possible by a grant from the Stimuleringsregeling Open and Online Education and a project financed by the Utrechts Stimuleringsfonds Onderwijs, the universities of Utrecht and Groningen are working together to make it possible for students to step into a virtual courtroom in their robes during their studies in order to practice their pleading skills. Not only is the realistic experience gained valuable for their pleading skills, but the peer feedback the student receives from the audience, consisting of fellow students (from their own and other universities), and the video that can be watched, contributes to an optimal learning experience.

After donning the gown and putting on the Oculus Rift S-glasses, the student finds himself in a courtroom where on one side you see the judges and on the other side the audience. Now it is the student's turn to plead their case. The virtual courtroom is based on a video of a courtroom in Groningen. One of the virtual judges is replaced by a teacher, who sits in front of a green screen in another room. One room further on, the audience is seated who can see the student on a large screen and can use an app to provide the student with feedback on the pleading skills. This feedback is based on an assessment rubric on pleading skills and is sent anonymously to the pleading student after the session.

Teacher Emanuel van Dongen sees that students find it fun, exciting and useful. But what is interesting is whether they feel more competent and confident in their advocacy skills. Fortunately, data is being collected that will provide insight into this in due course. Although the technique works well and the students are positive at first sight, there is still plenty of work to be done, according to Emanuel. Especially in the area of developing an optimal learning environment, of which this virtual courtroom is a part. Think of improving the quality of the (peer) feedback and the assignment you give when watching the video back. Although the authentic experience in itself is very important and useful, the learning potential only really comes into its own when the student actually does something with the experience he/she has gained.

Want a sneak preview? Then watch this short video.

Emanuel van Dongen is a senior lecturer at the Molengraaff Institute for Private Law. He conducts research in the field of civil liability law and administration of justice from a historical and comparative perspective. He is affiliated as a researcher to the Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law and to the Montaigne Centre for the Rule of Law and Justice. Furthermore, he conducts research on how practicing pleading and presentation skills in a virtual environment affects the learning process of students.