International Law Mooting

Professor James Green, Law
j.a.green@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2007-08

Overview

Since 2007, the Law School has run a Part Three module entitled ‘International Law Mooting’. This is a highly innovative module, where a team of four students participate in the prestigious Telders International Law Moot Court Competition. The competition involves the team presenting written – and then, crucially, oral – arguments on a fictional dispute in international law.

Objectives

  • Memorials are jointly written and a single mark is given to all students: this builds teamwork, and prepares students for the submission of written memorials in real cases.
  • The oral performance is assessed, meaning that advocacy and presentation skills are developed.
  • Students are also assessed on individual reflective portfolios, which reward reflective learning and emphasize skill development.

Context

The team competes externally, for the University of Reading, against other universities. This gives the University of Reading a profile nationally and internationally, and provides students with a wonderful experience. The work required to compete in the competition is significant, and so – after entering for the first time in 2006 as an extra-curricular activity – it was decided that student effort here had to be rewarded with appropriate degree credit, hence the creation of the module. It develops a wide range of practical legal skills that are simply not part of other, traditional, law modules.

Implementation

Of the various issues that arose with regard to implementing the mooting module, the most pertinent for possible implementation elsewhere is the manner in which this module was to be assessed to give best effect to its learning objectives. A key learning objective was to develop communication and advocacy skills – but there is a danger of placing emphasis entirely on the student’s performance in the single external moot. Pressure is high, and ‘stage fright’ very possible. It is also difficult to ensure quality review of the marking of oral presentations/mooting. It was therefore decided that this issue could be addressed by complementing the marks awarded for the oral performance by also awarding a percentage of the marks for a reflective assessment. This ensured that students gained the credit that they were due for their skill development across the module as a whole, and not just based on the moot final alone.

Impact

The module has been hugely successful over the years. Students consistently give extremely positive feedback on the unique module design, and team-orientated nature of the module. It is also almost always the case that students gain extremely high marks in the module, with a significant number of firsts having been awarded. Indeed, no student has achieved an overall module mark below the 2:1 classification in 9 years of running the module.

Reflections

We have, of course, reflected on the module over the years. One change we made was to increase the percentage of the overall grade for the oral performance, and to slightly reduce the amount for the portfolio. This was in response to student feedback – we had the balance a little too heavily on rewarding the reflection, and students felt they should get rather more credit for the moot itself. We feel, after reflection and a few tweaks to the module design, that the assessment methods now best suit the learning outcomes. By and large, though, the module is a resounding success and continues to run in a form that is not too dissimilar from what was originally envisaged in 2007.

Follow up

Nothing beyond what is stated in the ‘Reflections’ box, above.

Links

The Module Description Form for International Law Mooting: http://www.reading.ac.uk/modules/document.aspx?modP=LW3ILM&modYR=1617

The website for the external Telders competition: http://teldersmoot.com/

Exploring value co-creation (CCV) in the Law Feedback Project at ESLTIS 2016 by Imogen Moore and Laura Bennett, School of Law

Introduction

As joint staff leaders (together with Dr Nora Honkala) on the current Law Feedback Project, we recently presented a paper exploring aspects of the project to the second annual Enhancing Student Learning Through Innovative Scholarship Conference, held at University College London on 28-29 June 2016.  This blog post explains a little about the Law Feedback Project, how (and why) value co-creation principles were incorporated within it, and what we found useful at the 2016 ESLTIS conference.

The Law Feedback Project and Value Co-Creation

The Law Feedback Project was set up in September 2015, in response to Periodic Review recommendations and student feedback in the NSS and elsewhere, which while generally positive, indicated some room for improvement. Periodic Review had recommended involving students in development of feedback (and other) strategies, and this provided us with the impetus to put students at the heart of the project, supported by our Head of School, Professor Susan Breau. Rather than simply seeking student views on assessment and feedback in a way potentially driven and limited by staff preconceptions and preferences, we set up the project drawing on principles of value co-creation, as espoused by writers such as Catherine Bovill and Alison Cook-Sather (Bovill et al, 2012 & 2014; see also McWilliam, 2008; Mihans et al, 2008;  Tabrizi & Ackfeldt, 2013) .

CCV envisages students acting as partners in learning, moving beyond a consumer-oriented role, and has been successfully used with a wide range of teaching and learning projects. For the Law Feedback Project this would mean involving students from the start and throughout the project – in scoping, designing and running the project, and ultimately creating and implementing changes to policies and practice. Students were recruited on a voluntary basis, via the SSLC, to co-lead the project working group (alongside the three staff members). Additional students participated in focus groups which explored more widely and deeply the issues identified within the working group.

Our primary aim in using CCV was to lead to more meaningful assessment and feedback practice that better met student needs, while still recognising system and staffing constraints. The project showed that students had quite clear views on what they needed and what they liked and disliked. While often their views matched staff expectations, this was not always the case. Fears of some staff that students will always demand more feedback were somewhat unfounded – quality and specificity were favoured over quantity (although quantity mattered too). Importantly the project indicated that students did not always understand and share the language of assessment and feedback, suggesting student dissatisfaction with feedback is sometimes due to miscommunication rather than deeper failings. Involving students through CCV will assist in finding a common language for our discourse with students and allow us to identify ways to improve their assessment literacy.

ESLTIS Conference 2016

The paper was well received at the ESLTIS conference, and was followed by some interesting discussion relating to our experiences and the challenges and benefits presented by CCV. It was valuable to have the input of fellow teaching-intensive colleagues from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines, in such a supportive and thoughtful atmosphere. In total the conference was attended by well over 100 teaching focused staff from institutions across the UK and further afield, with representation from all career levels.

There were two excellent keynote speeches. The first was given by from Dr Dilly Fung of UCL, who spoke around her recent HEA publication ‘Rewarding educators and education leaders in research-intensive universities’. Her vision of what education means – and its depth and breadth beyond ‘just’ teaching – was particularly interesting. Professor Carol Evans of the University of Southampton gave the keynote address on the second day: ‘Developing and implementing holistic assessment practice’. Professor Evans looked at bringing together different aspects of good assessment practice, including the importance of students understanding the assessment and feedback – something with obvious links to our own project. The rest of the two days offered a multitude of papers under themes of assessment and feedback, scholarship of teaching and learning, supporting students, and the role of teaching-focused academics – so many stimulating ideas and new approaches to old (and new) problems. We were also treated to an entertaining panel discussion which gave insights into different institutions’ attitudes to teaching-focused staff.

Conclusion

The experience of running the project, and presenting at the conference, has been very rewarding. Following a CCV approach has taken us out of our comfort zone and added another dimension to our teaching and learning, and it was interesting to explore with others how to successfully involve students further in teaching design. As far as the project is concerned, it is hoped this will continue into 2016-7 (with some change of membership due to staff changes and student graduations), to develop and implement policies and assessment criteria in partnership with students. As for ESLTIS – well, the next conference, which is organised through the Teaching Focussed Academic Network, will be held in Newcastle in the summer of 2017; hope to see you there!

Using an enquiry-based learning assessed work activity to enhance assessment and feedback

Professor Paul Almond, School of Law
p.j.almond@reading.ac.uk

Overview

9367A project to encourage students enrolled on a Part Three module within the School of Law, Criminology (LW3CRY), to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the links between criminological theory and policy, through a redesign of the Assessed Work project contained within the module. Results have suggested that the project was successful in achieving its objectives, and there were additional, unexpected benefits.

Objectives

  • Rework the assessment for the module so that students are better able to gain an understanding of the links between criminological theory and policy.
  • Utilise the principles of enquiry-based learning.

Context

One of the established learning outcomes for LW3CRY requires students to: ‘Apply theoretical criminological concepts to practical issues within the field of crime, law and social control’. Students had in the past tended to struggle to make meaningful connections between these two things, and to take a very simplistic view of the theory-policy relationship.

Implementation

The assessment project for the module was reworked so that it utilised principles of enquiry-based learning and required students to do something with the substantive material that they engaged with during the course. Students were set the task of producing a report for a fictional client, the ‘Minster for Justice’, recommending how a budget of £100m should be spent (on policy choices drawn from a list of available options). This open-ended requirement forced students to define their own terms for answering the question, in that they had to construct and apply the theoretical framework that explained and justified their choices, and settle on a series of recommendations that they put forward. As there is no ‘right answer’ students engage with the process of choosing and justifying rather than reaching a specified ‘correct’ conclusion. The report produced at the end of the project had to clearly explain choices with reference to theory and evidence.

The problem given to the students as the basis of the project was ‘client-centred’, in that they were supposed to be working for the Minister. To this end, the launch document and project materials were formatted in the style of official Government documents and the launch was in the form of a video podcast from the Minister (played by an actor). Project updates were also in the form of video and audio podcasts on Blackboard Learn, and the Minister had his own email address from which to send updates and respond to enquiries. Finally, in order to provide some realism in the ‘client-facing’ research relationship, some details and features of the project were staged so as to be changed or updated as the project progressed.

Impact

The average mark for the assessed work project rose from 60.9% in the previous year to 62.8% when the Project was implemented. In addition, subsequent performance in the examination for the module also improved from 60.1% to 61.2%, demonstrating that the gains in terms of the learning outcomes had carried across from the initial assessment activity.

Reflections

In order to allow this assessment change, the module convenor created the materials and released them via Blackboard Learn, responded to enquiries and provided updates, and then assessed the assessed work reports. Although this involved quite a lot of initial work, the materials and design are reusable meaning that there is a diminishing workload attached to the Project as it is reused in subsequent years.

A couple of problems arose in relation to implementing the project. Firstly, some students were unclear as to what the requirements of a ‘report’ were, and how this should differ in style, structure, and approach from an essay. Despite reassurances that ‘report’ simply meant ‘focused on providing a take-home message about the recommended policies’, they found this terminology confusing. In subsequent versions of the project, more guidance has been provided on what this requires. Secondly, the scope of the project was quite broad (in that students could end up writing small amounts about a large number of policy items), meaning that they were not able to demonstrate the depth of understanding required. Tweaks in the costs of individual items have been introduced to combat this.

Overall, this was successful, and has been utilised in subsequent academic years. It is effectively ‘future-proofed’ in that minor changes to costs, policy choices, and details allow for the materials and project to be reused again. It also involves a very specific problem, reducing opportunities for plagiarism and ‘essay-buying’. An unexpected benefit was the way that this assessment could dovetail with the rest of the course; the use of Blackboard Learn to communicate and store materials increased through-traffic on the course page generally, and it also gave a good focus to subsequent revision classes (the Minister delivers generic feedback and gives suggestions for improvement). The feedback available for this project is easily adaptable in terms of explaining the specific criteria and requirements of the examination; the style of exam question set has been altered in order to achieve ‘constructive alignment’ and ensure that the skills learned in this project are of use in the subsequent assessment.