Adventures in PLE, part 1

We've written here before about the use of games in public legal education and information (PLE) work. Guest author Barbara Hurd, a long-time community legal worker, joins us today to talk about some of her experiences using games in her PLE work.

A while back, a group of community legal workers and community legal clinic lawyers in Toronto got together to create a community development work/ study group. One of the things we focused on was the need for tools to make PLE presentations more interesting and effective. We wanted to get away from the “talking heads” method of delivery, and move toward something more interactive.

We learned that there were a number of tools in the form of games that already existed in the possession of a number of clinics, so we revived these and started using them. However, it was often inconvenient to arrange to get one of them for a session, as some of them were bulky and awkward.

"Twister" by Karen is licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Twister” by Karen is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

One example: a large plastic tarp laid out on the floor with squares on them like a board game. A player could land on a square that may cause a penalty of “You are cut off welfare. Go back three squares”, or “You have been deported. Forfeit game.” This had been used at Parkdale Community Legal Services, a community legal clinic in downtown Toronto, as a teaching tool for students caseworkers to help them understand how precarious our clients’ lives are. I thought this was a great game – and PLE tool – but there was only one of them in existence, and it was hard to transport due to its size. Also, detailed instructions were needed to know how to run the game.

The other tool was the “Wheel of Justice”, sometimes referred to as the “Wheel of Injustice”. It was modelled on the “Wheel of Fortune” television game show – contestants were tested with questions about tenants’ and workers’ rights, refugee and immigration law, and so on. Things would get quite lively when we divided a class of George Brown community worker students into teams to compete for legal supremacy. We also copied a Jeopardy format in a similar way, with teams competing for fictional dollars using questions about law and legal rights.

The Wheel of Justice weighed a ton, and we only had one of them. I had to pick it up for a session I was doing once, and nearly broke my back wrestling it and a very heavy dolly into my car in a very tight parking space.

We did try to create more of these types of games to share around between community legal clinics, at least in Toronto. We had hopes of setting something up on a provincial level, but were not able to achieve this due to lack of time and money.

In my view, there should be more emphasis on online games that can be easily accessed and shared. I know that some are out there but we have found that one has to remember where they saw it, or the clinic that used it. There needs to be more work done on this so we have choices on how to deliver effective PLE.

Barbara Hurd has worked in the community legal clinic and community agency sphere as a tenant advocate, municipal activist, community legal worker, and volunteer board member for over 35 years. She helped found West Scarborough Community Legal Services and a housing co-op in Scarborough in the 1980s, then coordinated a provincial tenants' association for several years. More recently, she was a community legal worker at Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services in downtown Toronto for 19 years, until she retired in March 2016. Barb continues to be interested in housing issues and municipal politics.

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