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ALT Roadshow 13 June 2023: Module and Curriculum Design

Stella Coyle, Emma Allen, Eve Lakin

July 17, 2023

Hosted by Keele University School of Law


The first of the ALT’s new Roadshow events was held on 13 June, hosted online by the School of Law at Keele University and convened by Dr Stella Coyle, Dr Emma Allen, and Eve Lakin. It was attended by around 30 participants throughout the day.


The Roadshow highlighted some current hot topics in module and curriculum design, and a common theme running through the all the sessions was the role of student voice, and the importance of communication, in the design and evaluation of teaching and learning.

The day began with the launch of the ALT’s first book under its new Learning and Teaching: Pedagogies and Practice imprint. This was followed by presentations and discussions on Co-Creation of Teaching & Learning, Authentic Assessment, and Reflection.


ALT Publication Launch – convened by Stella Coyle


  • A Small Group Teaching Best Practice Guide Grounded in the Student Voice[1] – Dr Arwen Joyce, Leicester; Dr Victoria Ball, King’s College London; and Dr Charlotte Mills, Sheffield


Arwen and Vicky gave us an overview of the design and development of their Best Practice Guide, along with some of the key contents. It covers vital topics such as: structuring tutorials; building confidence; setting the tone; classroom management; active learning; managing boundaries and expectations; and assessment preparation.


In the discussion, both new and experienced educators recognised the invaluable support the Guide offers to small group tutors – both inside and outside the classroom.


Co-Creation of Teaching and Learning – convened by Emma Allen


  • Passing the (Proverbial) Baton: Engaging Students as Partners in Module Design – Dr Emma Allen, Keele

  • Decolonising the Criminal Trial Project – Dr Noel McGuirk and Tina McKee, Lancaster

This session focused on co-creation of teaching and learning with two fascinating case study presentations. To start, Emma detailed her experience of inviting students to partner with her in designing a new optional third year module, Contemporary Issues in Environmental Law. Noel and Tina then discussed their experience of engaging students as partners in re-designing the reading list and activities for a workshop on a compulsory first year module, English Legal System and Methods. Theirs was a decolonisation project aimed at better incorporating how ethnicity and race impact on criminal justice and the criminal trial. Noel and Tina worked closely with student partners Jeffrey Cheng, Fraser Dixon, Hajra Hasan, and Gabriella Oppong in preparing their presentation and were joined by Jeffrey and Fraser on the day.


There can be no doubt that both projects delivered considerable benefits to those who took part and may be deemed to have been a success. Emma noted that she has developed a module that is far better than she could have achieved without co-creation and Noel and Tina reported that 98% of the students who attended a re-run of their workshop viewed the co-created version more favourably than the standard version initially run.


The discussion was enriched by the willingness of the presenters to also reflect on the challenges of partnership working. Particular attention was paid to staff anxiety around student resistance and how we can best get students to step out of their (often comfortable) traditional role to engage in this different approach. While it was not possible to find definitive answers, it did provide important food for thought. The key takeaway from the session was that partnership work demands intense emotional as well as intellectual labour and there can be challenges but, in the experience of the presenters, it is worthwhile.


Authentic Assessment – convened by Eve Lakin


  • Introduction: What is Authentic Assessment? – Eve Lakin, Keele

  • Authentic Approaches to Assessment and Teaching in Land and Environmental Law – Dr Ben Mayfield and Dr Georgina Collins, Lancaster 

The third session focused on authentic assessment and was led by Eve, supported by an Environmental Law case study provided by Ben and Georgina, along with students Olivia Draycott and Csongor Szij.


Eve’s introduction attempted to demystify the term “authentic assessment” with particular reference to the thought-provoking work of Jan McArthur.[2] As McArthur notes, it is commonly (and incorrectly) assumed that authentic assessment means methods of assessment which are relevant to employability skills only. Here, the take-away was that authentic assessment does mean what is assessed will be useful in the “real world”, but as demonstrated by McArthur we need to broaden our understanding of the “real world” to include life beyond the sphere of employment.


The session went on to explore what challenges authentic assessment might present with one such challenge being that what students want may not align with what they need to be an engaged and proactive member of the world of work AND wider society. Additionally, what students want can vary quite considerably depending upon their chosen career path. For example, a student intending to become a corporate lawyer may expect “traditional” assessment methods such as essays and problem questions, whereas a student planning to become an environmental lawyer might welcome site visits such as those introduced by Ben and Georgina for their pilot project with Environmental Law.


Ben suggested this challenge might be overcome by encouraging students to change their perspective on an assessment method, without needing to change the assessment itself. Students can be directed to think about the practical uses that an essay answer could be put to (eg report to a local council, advice to a client, or a teaching resource for future students) without getting too bogged down in the style of assessment used.


Both the case study and the discussion of potential difficulties emphasised that open, honest dialogue with students is central to student buy-in to authentic assessment methods to ensure both successful outcomes and an enjoyable university experience for students.


Reflection – convened by Stella Coyle


  • Reflecting on Reflection: An early-career researcher’s first year as a Lecturer in Law – Dr Laura Higson-Bliss, Keele

  • Reflection in Teaching and Assessment: panel-facilitated discussion – Dr Stella Coyle, Lisa Mountford, Dr Jane Krishnadas, and Catherine Edwards, Keele

The final session explored the use of reflection in legal education, beginning with Laura’s personal reflection on her experience as an early career academic. Laura set her experience in the context of the multiple demands on academics in the modern, neoliberal university: the prevalence of overwork and casualisation; the lack of sufficient space and time to think; and the disturbing statistic that 43% of us have at least a mild mental health condition.[3] As an antidote to the anxiety, catastrophising and imposter syndrome that she identified in her reflection, Laura emphasised the importance of peer support and community building, as well as being your own “cheerleader” by keeping a file of positive messages and things we’re proud of.


Laura’s presentation resonated deeply with participants, who shared their own experiences of the pressures they have faced, and the need to challenge negative self-talk with more nurturing and supportive messages.


Next, a panel of colleagues from Keele Law School facilitated a discussion on using reflection in teaching and assessment. This year, reflection has been embedded across the Keele Law curriculum at levels 4 to 6, in a range of modules including both practice-based and ‘traditional’ academic subjects. Some panel members were already very familiar using reflection, while others were using it for the first time. Stella spoke of her experience of introducing reflection into two ‘academic’ subjects and reflected on some of the challenges, such as the perceived tension in legal education between the ‘rational’ and the ‘feeling’ law student,[4] and her initial discomfort in grading something that is not the usual law-based essay.


In the discussion, it became clear that challenges could be ameliorated through clear communication of expectations, so that students understood what they were being asked to do. This was echoed in the focus groups Stella had recently run, in which students emphasised their need to understand why they are being asked to reflect, and for clear rubrics and examples of what ‘good’ reflection looks like.


Anyone interested in using reflection will find Edinburgh University’s online Reflection Toolkit[5] a mine of useful information, with material aimed at both reflectors and educators.


 

[2] Jan McArthur, ‘Rethinking authentic assessment: work, well-being and society’. Higher Education (2023) 85, 85

[3] Liz Morrish, ‘Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff’ (Healthy Universities, 2019) https://healthyuniversities.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/HEPI-Pressure-Vessels-Occasional-Paper-20.pdf (accessed 17 July 2023)

[4] Emma Jones, ‘Incorporating an affective framework into liberal legal education to achieve the development of a ‘better person’ and ‘good citizen’’. European Journal of Legal Education (2023) 4(1), 27

[5] https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection (accessed 17 July 2023)


 

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