Online students take part in mock trial

Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

By Charissa Hiebert and Vanessa Penner, Grade 12


A group of students from two provinces and one territory have made history by participating in an online mock trial.

During the past two months, about 21 students from Manitoba along with distance-education students from B.C. and the Yukon took part in the "R. vs. Joey Brock" mock trial, acting as an online jury for a trial that had already taken place.

The mock trial was created by Sandra Hawkins, a teacher in B.C., and the Honorable C.C. Barnett, a retired judge on the B.C. Supreme Court. They decided the trial would be educational for the students and set out to research the case. Barnett tracked down trial transcripts, psychiatric and other reports, trial and appeal decisions, and newspaper reports. This took about 40 hours.

After the scripts were written, Hawkins edited them and typed the report. Students were chosen to play the legal roles, and four full rehearsals were acted out before the mock trial began. The students who played the roles of expert witnesses, such as doctors, were expected to read the relevant material and to talk to experts concerning the special issues involved in the mock trial. Students with other roles were to do similar reading.

While anyone can write up such mock trials, Barnett reports that "getting them 'right' and 'realistic'" is the hardest part.

Hawkins, who served as judge of the mock trial, has created eight different mock trials for her students and community. During Law Week in B.C., students perform the roles of the various participants in the trials while the community watches. About 300 people were in the audience to see the R. vs. Joey Brock mock trial when it was first staged.

Hawkins believes that the main benefit of participating in mock trials is that you "learn a lot about law and particular legal issues without really being taught."

James Buhler, a student from Garden Valley Collegiate, acted as the foreperson for the online mock trial. Buhler explained that his duty was to keep everyone discussing the topic, to tally up the votes and to present the verdict.

"The most challenging [part of acting as foreperson] was [staying] out of the discussion," Buhler says.

The mock trial helped the students learn not only about law, but about English as well. Larry Danielson, an English Language Arts teacher at GVC, says taking part in the mock trial gave his students practice in multi-site communication with a meaningful focus.

Students also practiced legal writing and online communication, developing skills that will be necessary for future employment.

The students agreed that one of the most rewarding parts of the trial was learning that their final verdict was the same as the official jury's verdict. The defendant Joey Brock was found guilty of manslaughter, rather than second-degree murder.

Matilda Charleston, a student from B.C., said, "I think the most positive thing about the trial is that everyone enjoyed it, and it's great that we could come to the same decision as the real trial did."

Many students were grateful for the opportunity to learn how an actual trial is run, and they enjoyed the challenge of debating and attempting to get other jurors to agree with their own points of view.

"I think it is really good to be interacting with students from the Yukon and Manitoba," says Stephanie Brekke. "It was neat way of learning."

While the students enjoyed the mock trial, there were some frustrations. Technical difficulties with one B.C. server set a number of students there back a few days. That required them to spend some extra time reading to get caught up with the jury's discussion.

Also, Stephen Reid, another student from B.C., says that keeping up with the many messages presented problems for him.

This assignment was a memorable learning experience for the teachers and students, especially since this was a first for GVC students and teachers.

"I was most pleased with the enthusiasm, cooperation, and knowledge demonstrated by the students," says Hawkins.

Danielson says this collaboration between students in different provinces marks the beginning of a new style of learning. He looks forward to future opportunities that may be presented in this exciting field of study.

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