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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

The initial results of the grade impact have been worked out.

This blog post looks at the impact so far on pass rates and grades in the modules which are the focus on this project. As you will remember from previous posts about the project, Kate Exall and I are looking at the impact on staff and students of the trialling of “concentrated” delivery of Level 4 modules. The delivery change sees a standard 20-credit module delivered in one trimester, rather than two, with no reduction in contact hours – moving from Model A to Model B:


As the teaching and assessment on both modules 1&2 is complete, barring a handful of pieces of resit coursework, we are able to give interim results on the student performance on these modules,and a tentative comparison again the 2015/16 results. This is slightly artificial for Module 2, which is a new module, so the comparison will be made with the similar module which it replaced.

Module 1 saw a 5 per cent rise in pass rates, and an 11 per cent rise in A/B grades. The average grade on the module increased by one grade.

Module 2 saw a 7 per cent rise in pass rates, and a 14 per cent rise in A/B grades. the average grade on the module increased by one grade.

There are many other variables that may have influenced this improvement in performance – the specific cohort, the increase in the use of blended learning which was triggered by the revised delivery, and so on. However, the initial results are looking promising, and are certainly worthy of more investigation.

We will be continuing trial the concentrated delivery idea in 2017/18, and so a follow-up project is already being considered to examine the impact in a more longitudinal fashion.

This is the 5th is a series of posts about this project. The previous post can be found here.

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Karen Lawson, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Employment Tribunals were introduced with the aim of allowing employees to resolve their employment disputes in a forum which was “easily accessible, informal, speedy and inexpensive”.[1] As part of this aim, and in contrast to other courts, there was no fee for issuing a claim in an Employment Tribunal.

However in July 2013 the government introduced fees for issuing a claim. The fees are significant – for claims such as unpaid wages or a redundancy payment the total fee payable is £390 and for claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination the total fee payable is £1200.[2]

Following their introduction the government ordered a review into the fee system and their long awaited report was published in January 2017. Did they conclude that fees were a barrier to claimants being able to access justice?

Why were fees introduced?

Before looking at the government’s conclusions on fees in their review report, it is worth examining some of the key reasons why the government decided to introduce fees in the first place.

(i)            To recoup the costs of running the Employment Tribunal system.

The introduction of the government’s review report begins by stating that “few would argue with the principle that those who use the Employment Tribunals should make some contribution to the costs of the service”.[3]

However, the Employment Tribunal fee system is not  based on a ‘polluter pays’  principle that those who have caused the system to be used in the first place should contribute to its running costs.  Instead the burden of paying fees falls entirely on claimants (i.e. employees and former employees) who have to pay the fees upfront before they can issue the claim and then again before proceeding to a hearing. This is still the case even when their claim, and therefore use of the Tribunal system, is arguably caused by the employer who has failed to pay their wages or dismissed them for a discriminatory reason. It costs the employer nothing to defend a claim.

There is also an argument that it is the duty of the state to provide a court system out of general taxation that can be accessed by all citizens, rather than expecting those who have to seek justice to bear the costs.

In any event, this aim of fees significantly contributing to the costs of running the Tribunal system has not been met as only 9% of the running costs are currently covered by the fees.[4]

(ii)          Encouraging settlement.

Another aim of introducing fees was to encourage parties to settle their claim. This partly explains why the fees are paid in two stages – the first fee in order to issue the claim and then a second larger hearing fee in order for the claimant to proceed to a Tribunal hearing.

However the evidence is that Employment Tribunal fees are doing exactly the opposite of this intended aim. The Law Society in its response notes that before fees were introduced in 2011/12, 33% of cases were settled through ACAS, but by 2014/15 this had fallen to only 8% of cases.[5]

The reason for this fall in settlements was outlined by the House of Commons Justice Committee’s report into Courts and Tribunal fees which noted that “there was no incentive for an employer to settle in cases where the claimant might have difficulty raising the fee”.[6]

Even the government’s review report acknowledged that “anecdotally,…..some employers ….were delaying any negotiations to see whether the claimant would be prepared to pay the fee”.[7]

(iii)         To ‘weed out’ unmeritorious claims.

The government claimed that by having to pay a fee, those individuals with poor and unmeritorious claims would be discouraged from bringing a claim. It repeats the logic behind this view in their review report which states that the requirement for claimants to pay a fee “provides a financial discipline, encouraging people… to weigh carefully the strength and merits of the claim against the financial outlay required.”[8]

However the Law Society notes that the number of claims in the Employment Tribunal which were successful fell from 18% in 2011/12 to 4% in 2014/15.[9] In addition, the statistics in the government’s own review report show that there has been an increase in the number of unsuccessful claims since fees were introduced from 19.8% in 2012/13 to 29.8% in 2015/16.[10]

In other words, since fees were introduced the number of unsuccessful claims has gone up and the number of successful claims has gone down. This is the opposite of what should happen if fees were really discouraging individuals with unmeritorious claims from bringing them to the Employment Tribunal.

What has been the effect of fees?

The main effect of Employment Tribunal fees is that the number of claims being brought to the Employment Tribunal has fallen by 70%.[11]

The Law Society refers to this reduction as “dramatic and persistent”.[12] The House of Commons Justice Committee says that the fall in claims is “undisputed and precipitate”.[13] Even the Government’s review report itself describes the reduction of claims being brought as being “sharp, significant and sustained.”[14]

Despite the link between the drop in claims and the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees being clear, the government’s review concluded that “While there is clear evidence that ET fees have discouraged people from bringing claims, there is no conclusive evidence that they have been prevented from doing so.”[15]

The government does not unfortunately enlighten us on what would provide them with ‘conclusive evidence’.

Neither does the government’s review report explain what the difference is between people who are ‘discouraged’ from bringing a claim and those who are ‘prevented’ from bringing a claim.

Nothing to see here.

An insight into how the government came to this counter- intuitive conclusion is given at paragraph 5 of their review report when they note that evaluation by ACAS of their early conciliation scheme confirmed that there were between 3,000 and 8,000 people who did not resolve their dispute with their employer through conciliation, but did not then bring a Tribunal claim. The reason given for this by those individuals was that they could not afford to pay the fee. However the government concludes that this does not mean that those people “could not realistically afford to pay the fee”.[16]

The government then helpfully points out that what they mean by ‘realistically’ not being able to pay the fee, is that individuals could have afforded to pay the fee if they had instead decided to reduce “non-essential spending.[17] What the government views as ‘non –essential’ is not explained in the review report however and neither does the government point to any evidence to support its assertion that individuals are choosing to spend their money on ‘non – essential’ items, rather than sensibly deciding to spend £1200 on Employment Tribunal fees at a time when many have just lost their job.

The Law Society notes in its response that “There is no good reason to suppose that, when these individuals said that [they] could not afford to pay the fees, they did not mean it”.[18]

A barrier to justice?

The government’s review was an opportunity to undertake a serious evaluation of the impact of Employment Tribunal fees on the ability of ordinary working people to access justice when they are owed wages or holiday pay, have been discriminated against in the workplace or have been unfairly dismissed.

Instead the government’s review has come to conclusions which are not supported by the evidence presented to it; based their conclusions on assumptions rather than evidence and drawn an artificial distinction between people who say they cannot afford the fees and those who ‘realistically’ cannot afford the fees.

Perhaps in order to assess whether Employment Tribunal fees are a barrier to justice we should look instead to the report by the cross-party House of Commons Justice Committee who also heard evidence from many involved in the Employment Tribunal system, including the Senior President of Tribunals and Employment Lawyers who represent employers and employees.

They concluded that “the regime of employment tribunal fees has had a significant adverse impact on access to justice for meritorious claims.”[19]

Karen Lawson


[1] Dickens, L. Jones, M. Weekes, B. and Hart, M. Dismissed: A study of Unfair Dismissal and the Industrial Tribunal System, Basil Blackwell Limited, 1985,  page 8

[2] Smith, Alex ‘Does access to justice cost too much?’, published 10th March 2017, available from https://wearecitizensadvice.org.uk/employment-tribunal-fees-is-access-to-justice-too-much accessed on 11th April 2017

[3] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at page 3

[4] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 2.

[5] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 4.

[6] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 64

[7] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 167

[8] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 27

[9] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 3.

[10] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at Table 8 page 78

[11] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 1.

[12] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 1.

[13] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 61

[14] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 4

[15] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 8

[16] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 5

[17] Ministry of Justice, ‘Review of the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunals’, published January 2017 at paragraph 5

[18] The Law Society, ‘Law Society Response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of employment tribunal fees’, published March 2017 at paragraph 8.

[19] House of Commons Justice Committee, ‘Courts and tribunal fees’, published 16th June 2016, available from www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmjust/167/16707 accessed on 10th April 2017 at paragraph 69

 

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer, News, Student Voice.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

This is the fifth is a series of blog posts about my ILT-funded project investigating the student views of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (and latterly Kaltura) as alternatives to face-to-face, in-class lectures.

This month, I have asked students to fill in the final questionnaire, which dovetails nicely with the one completed at the end of term 1. The first questionnaire asked students to rank the face-to-face, in-class lecture sessions on content, accessibility, speed, and their perceived ability to interact. The second questionnaire asked essentially the same questions, but of the two online alternatives.

I was genuinely surprised by the results – the view that had been (vocally and repeatedly) expressed to colleague on other modules was that “student hate the online sessions” but the questionnaire results simply don’t back this up.

Attendance at the face-to-face lecture sessions, according to SEATS, averaged at around 55% in Term 1, and students asked, again on average, perhaps one question per session, although it was usually at the end.

Of the 69 students who completed the questionnaire, 55 had engaged with the Kaltura sessions, and 61 with the Collaborate sessions, either live or at a later date. As an asynchronous podcast, Kaltura does not lend itself to questions, though the attendance at the seminars which linked to the sessions was about par. The Collaborate Ultra sessions were designed to include a pause for questions every 10-15 minutes, and for each session, there were five or six questions. Although this is still relatively low, it does represent a marked rise compared to the in-class sessions.

I am still processing the data, but the graph below shows the overall student reaction to each type of delivery. All three types of delivery follow the same pattern, but it is interesting to note that a higher percentage of students selected “like a lot” or “like a bit” for the Collaborate Ultra sessions.

It raises some interesting questions which (spoiler alert). I will address in the conference papers which are coming out of this research.

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Dr Melanie Crofts, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

I have been teaching in Higher Education for 16 years and during this time it has struck me that in recent years many more students are disclosing to me instances of domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape.  I am not sure why this is, although I guess that factors such as increased media attention, a reduction in support services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence and the fact that I am a female lecturer teaching areas such as consent and equality law, may play a role.  However, although I have some knowledge of support services available (those which are left!) and I have some idea of the law relating to these issues, I still feel completely under equipped to offer effective support to the students who disclose their distressing and horrific experiences.  I find that a number of factors contribute to the inability to provide the support which is necessary, including stretched mental health and counselling services (internally at the University and externally), the demands on my time which mean that I often cannot spend as much time as I would like with students who disclose and the fact that I can only provide limited support as I am not a trained counsellor/adviser.

I fear that I am not alone in feeling that I am letting students who have experienced gender based violence down.  The issue has been reported quite widely in the media over recent years and months, see for example, “One in three UK female students sexually assaulted or abused on campus” reported in Jan 2015 and “London students leave underwear around university campus to protest sexual violence” reported only last week.  As far back as 2014 (building on a report from 2010), the National Union of Students issued a report “That’s what she said” which explored the impact of lad culture, sexism and harassment on campuses.  In October 2016 Universities UK published their Taskforce Report “Changing the Culture” which examined the issues of violence against women, hate crime and harassment against students.  It concluded that “Universities need to be encouraged and supported to take an institution-wide approach which draws together activities across the university from promoting positive behaviours through to ensuring that appropriate support is in place for students. In adopting such an approach, it is vital to ensure that there is effective data collection, appropriate governance, robust risk management and regular impact assessments.” (p4)

Following the UUK’s Taskforce Report, HEFCE released £2.45 million to fund projects to address some of the issues which were identified in the report. This was an opportunity not to be missed and I was thrilled when the bid we had put together was one of only 60 across the country which was accepted.  Our project, New Spaces: Safeguarding Students from Violence and Hate, is a cross Faculty and collaborative project which has been created in partnership with Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council and Rape Crisis, the University’s Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice, students and former students and experts from Psychology.  The aims of the project are to:

  • develop existing and new institutional policies and strategies to support students in reporting harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence and hate crime
  • develop a student led collaborative initiative to identify what currently happens when disclosures are made, what good practice exists and how existing practice can be enhanced
  • use the insights to produce a robust policy and training for staff for when disclosures take place and to develop a package of support for staff to enable appropriate and effective responses to the disclosures of harassment, hate crime, sexual abuse and sexual violence
  • ensure that the frameworks and training packages developed are suitable for delivery at the university’s new urban campus, in particular taking into account a new campus environment and changes to the accessibility of staff.

The project will be informed by, and created with, students who wish to participate and act together with staff members.  Students’ perspectives and experiences will constitute valuable contributions throughout the duration of this project.  It is intended that the support package will be embedded in the policy frameworks of the institution for both staff and students.  This would also be accompanied with ongoing training for existing staff and appropriate induction for new staff.  Information relating to the support package would also be contained in both staff and student handbooks and it is intended that activities and information connected to the support package would be embedded in activities in student induction in Welcome Week.

We have our first project planning meeting next week and I am excited to be part of something which has the potential to really impact on the student experience at the University of Northampton.

For more information about the project, please contact: Dr Melanie Crofts, melanie.crofts@northampton.ac.uk

Project Team:

Sarah Armstrong-Hallam (Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice)

Becky Barrick (Law Graduate)

Professor Jane Callaghan (Psychology)

Dr Melanie Crofts (Law)

Dr Kimberley Hill (Psychology)

Foster Mukhwapa (Student Law Society)

Stephanie Nixon (Student’s Union)

Dr Evangelia Prokopiou (Psychology)

 

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Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Last week in my Environmental Law class, we discussed the topic of nature conservation and remediation. I mentioned the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (LINK) and the fact that s14(1) of the Act (as it applies to England and Wales) makes it an offence to release non-native species, and this triggered a debate about what counts as “native” in an island whose inhabitants have been importing for millennia.

Legally, the provisions of s14(1) make it an offence to release or allow to escape into the wild any animal which “is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state” or is listed in Part I of Schedule 9. There is a less onerous restriction on plants, where s14(2) makes it an offence only “if any person plants or otherwise causes to grow in the wild any plant which is included in Part II of Schedule 9.”

Schedule 9 makes for some interesting reading. There are currently 69 species listed in Part I, under the heading “Animals which are established in the wild” and recent additions include the Red Kite, Wild Boar, Barnacle Goose and Eagle Owl, all added in 2010. What this means is not that a person could import Wild boar willy nilly prior to 2010, but that the ban on releasing Wild Boar has moved from s14(a) to s14(b), as the species have moved from “not ordinarily resident…” to “established.”

In terms of plant species, there is a difference between those listed for the whole of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and those listed for England and Wales only. There are 26 species listed for Great Britain, and a further 55 species listed for England and Wales. These are mostly listed because not only are they non-native, but because they are invasive, or otherwise detrimental to domestic wildlife. The two variants of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica and Polygonum cuspidatum), are listed along with their less famous cousin the Giant Knotweed and the hybrid variant which is a combination of both.  The threat of knotweed to buildings is well-known (though, according to Jeff Howell, writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2014, “grossly exaggerated, chiefly by an industry that has grown up to eradicate it”) but other garden favourites such as Cotoneaster, Virginia Creeper, Montbretia and Rhododendron are also included. Remember this, if you are tempted to do a spot of “guerrilla gardening” – described by Catharine Howard in the Guardian in 2014 as “fun, and it’s coming to a space near you, soon” – s21 of the Act sets out that if your act of “urban greening” contains the wrong plants, you could face a fine and/or up to two years in prison.

What about non-native plants in the garden?

It the ban on non-native plants and vegetables was to extend to cultivated (i.e. non-wild) spaces, it would have a catastrophic impact on our lives. Garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, oranges, chilies, even apples (yes really), are all non-native if you go back far enough. Enjoy the late spring yellow flare of forsythia? Eastern Asia. Love the scent and purple haze of Lavender? Sorry, Southern Europe. How about one of the myriad types of clematis? Nope, China and Japan.

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed (@simonsneddon) may have noticed that I am currently growing an apricot (Prunus armeniaca) in a flower pot on the windowsill. As the Latin name suggests, the Apricot is thought to originate in Armenia, the former Soviet Republic bordering Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran.

When it is large enough, I intend to plant my apricot in the garden and in a few years, enjoy a harvest of fruit. I am not expecting a bumper crop – the climate of the East Midlands is not as balmy as that in Central Asia. Given the hassle of growing an apricot from the stone in the UK, I doubt if my tree will prove to be the primogenitor of a 21st century apricot forest, but you never know.

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Nick Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

You don’t need to have read news reports about the benefits cap, the withdrawal of housing benefit for younger claimants or how jobcentre staff are being set targets for sanctioning claimants to understand that this government’s policies are creating a rising tide of homelessness.  If you walk round the East Northamptonshire I grew up in the rise in the visible signs of homelessness are stark.  Seeing a homeless man, like the Houses of Parliament, was reserved for school trips to London.  Now the homeless can be seen sheltering in shop doorways in Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby.  Depressingly, with the steady rise of homelessness also comes the rise of vicious, hate fuelled, assaults.

As part of the University’s Changemaker agenda staff and students are encouraged to support local charities and I serve as a Director of Northamptonshire Rights and Equalities Council (NREC).  As part of my responsibilities as a Director I have decided to base myself once a month in Johnny’s Happy Place (JHP), Kettering to see if there are people who need to talk to someone about the discrimination they’ve experienced.  JHP is a remarkable project, set up after Johnny McKay was let down by the very services established to look after him and took his own life.  The ‘pay what you can afford’ cafe was set up to provide a safe space for anyone who needed a cup of coffee, a hot meal or just to sit in the company of others without being judged or made to feel uncomfortable.

Saturday was my first stint, more a scoping exercise than a clinic this time, and it was great to meet the volunteers, enjoy the homemade beef stew and do some craft activities with other diners.  Inevitably the number of homeless people who need places like this has risen and these now make up the majority of diners.  Looking around you can’t help but conclude that you are amongst some of the most vulnerable people in society.  Talking to Denise, who founded JHP after her son’s suicide, I am told of incident after incident of these men and women being subjected to the most vile treatment.  Urinated on while they sleep, late night revellers setting fire to their bedding or being forced to perform sex acts.  These people are being victimised because of who they are, yet because it’s not about their religion, the colour of their skin or their sexuality these inhuman incidents are not counted as hate crimes.  A hate crime is when the victim is targeted because of one of the nine characteristics protected by the Equality Act (2010).

I appreciate that there is a qualitative difference between homelessness and the characteristics protected under the Equality Act.  Homelessness is both undesirable and temporal, whereas race, gender, religion, sexuality etc… are to be enjoyed, if not celebrated, and are permanent.  However, the justification for treating some crimes as hate crimes is to identify that being motivated by hatred of another because they belong to a certain class of individuals different from oneself makes the assailant more culpable and deserving of greater punishment.  Although the detection, and therefore prosecution, rate is low and the deterrence effect arguably nil the message that a society sends by uniting in the face of hatred and standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings is powerful.

It is true that there is a simple solution to homelessness – fund more homes.  But while we wait for progressive solutions to be realised there are also simple things that we as individuals can do to demonstrate compassion, grabbing a coffee and a slice of cake at JHP and making others feel welcome is one thing, asking your MP to extend the definition of hate crime to include homelessness is another, or simplest of all you can click here and add your name to my petition to raise awareness around this important issue.

If you think you would benefit from the advice that NREC offer then either visit their website or call in and see me at JHP, I’ll be there from 12-2pm on Saturday 8 April, Saturday 13 May and Saturday 17 June.

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer.

Nick Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

Developing the Resources Students Want

I strongly believe that our students are more empowered and engaged if they have more control over their own learning and teaching but it is a challenge to meaningfully involve students in designing their own learning and teaching.

I am currently leading two projects funded by the Institute of Learning and Teaching which focus on creating exciting and relevant resources for our law students which are centred on what our students actually want.

The first project is an URB@N (Undergraduate Research Bursary at Northampton) project, the funding provides a bursary to an undergraduate student to undertake a research project.  Bex, a second year law student, will be holding focus groups next week to examine students’ opinions of the resources we currently use. It is vital that it is a peer that collects this data, rather than me as the power relationship between lecturer and student would corrupt the data – I want to know what my students really think, not what they think I want to hear!

The second project is funded by an innovation grant and is about incorporating the student voice in creating new resources to support their learning and teaching.  Working with two recent graduates from Northampton, one an intern in the Media department and one a Graduate Teaching assistant in law, we will draw on the experiences of first-year UG students to create resources that will sit outside of modules as a ‘TV channel’ on a streaming platform so they can be accessed by all students as and when they wish.  These resources will also be shared with colleagues across the sector as Open Educational Resources.

Student feedback indicates that they need to revisit foundational topics and key skills throughout their degrees.  By creating accessible, online resources that are relevant to students and that they can dip and out of when necessary I believe we are better supporting our students.

The big difference between this project and others is that at the heart of what we create is the student voice – we don’t know what we’ll create yet because we’re still working with students to find out what they want, but what we create will be exciting, relevant and the process will have empowered our students.

If you are a current law student who studied ‘LAW1020 Learning the Law’ then I would love for you take part in one of our focus groups, and to say thank you we have a £10 Amazon voucher for all participants.  There are three focus groups, all in N18, at the following times: Tuesday 14 March at 2:30pm, Tuesday 14 March at 3:30pm, and Wednesday 15 March at 11am and you can sign up here: http://doodle.com/poll/xd43ncif37cb4k5b

 

Posted by & filed under Featured Lecturer.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

I have recently redesigned the assessment strategy on one of my Year 2 optional modules, ready for the September 2017 intake. The rationale for the changes was to make the assessment more like the “real world” (I hate to use the phrase in this context because it implies that University is somehow a mythical out-of-touch environment, which is has not been for decades).

What I mean by real world is that the assessment strategy mimics elements of employment-based report writing, and helps prepare students for life after University. The question is released on NILE at a set time, and 48h later the student submit their responses, and they are free to use whatever sources they feel appropriate during the assignment. This is what Mueller calls authentic assessment:

“A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.”[1]

For obvious reason, the date of the assignment release and submission dates have to be publicised in advance, which does detract from the true authenticity of the assessment.

Wehlage, Newman & Secada[2] talked about authentic achievement in schools more than 20 years ago, so it is not a new concept across education, but with the increasing focus on employability in Higher Education, a complementary increase in the “real world” applicability of module learning and assessment is essential.

The assessment titles are likely to be fairly broad (for obvious reasons, I am not going to list them here!) and will allow students the opportunity to develop their ideas within a set framework. As Albion states:

Allowing students to be let loose to find solutions independently, within a structured task, can result in them gaining a sense of what it is like to be a professional early in their studies, as well as provoking a deeper level of learning.”[3]

An earlier (2002) study in Australia found that:

Students value assessment tasks they perceive to be “real”: assessment tasks that present serious challenges, not only for the grades at stake, but also for the nature of the knowledge and skills required. Students respect assessment tasks they believe mirror the skills needed in the workplace.”[4]

As this will be a method of assessment that students may be unfamiliar with, relying solely on summative (formally marked and graded) assessment might not give students the best chance of success. To that end, I am introducing a formative piece of assessment to allow students to monitor their own progress, and to provide an ungraded opportunity to try out new idea and approaches.

The idea behind this formative piece of work is to allow the students to work in a “safe space” and minimise the consequences of misapplying the law, or misunderstanding the task. Siering says this approach is essential and that we need to address:

students’ culturally derived aversion to failure, and we need to give them safe spaces to take risks. Providing … a structured environment for taking intellectual risks can help minimize the pain of making mistakes[5]

The formative piece will requires students to identify (in seminar group-based Googledocs, linked from NILE) the key questions and stages which they believe necessary to answer a scenario-based question and commenting on the merits of each other’s answers.

These discussions will form the basis of a tutor-led seminar discussion, and a combination of individual and group formative feedback (both tutor-feedback and peer-feedback) should result in those students who participated having a valuable toolkit for the summative piece.

There has not been a great deal written about the use of Googledocs in a specific law context, but Clark & Blissenden[6] identify Googledocs as one of the tools which can be used in effective groupwork. Albion adds that “teamwork is … pivotal to legal practice[7] and Googledocs can enhance this. The element of enhanced collaboration afforded to users by Googledocs was also identified by Newsom & Kennedy who stated that

Today, with all of the social networking software and other technology capabilities, collaboration has become easier and convenient.”[8]

Students will be assessed on their ability to carry out research and planning in condensed timescale, and their skills at being able to apply the background information accurately and promptly.

As with other modules, I took a scaffolded approach to this module, by designing the week-by-week coverage and the formative assessment to clearly link to the two pieces of summative assessment. Murtagh & Webster stated that this type of scaffolding of formative and summative assessment was “conducive to deep learning[9] and having “the potential to impact positively upon academic achievement.”[10] This idea of deep learning was echoed by Albion[11] who said that authenticity further enhanced depth of learning.

The “deep approach” to learning was outlined neatly by Entwhistle and it is clear that if students can see a link to both the “real world” and future employment possibilities, then deep learning becomes more likely.

Entwhistle’s defining features of a Deep Approach to learning[12]

In addition to the topic-specific support for students, there will be a blended session in Teaching Block 1 which looks at the academic skills necessary to write a coherent essay, specifically using the PEAL (Point-Evidence-Analysis-Link) and PEEL (Point-Evidence-Evaluation-Link) models whic, although developed for GCSE-level writing,[13] but have proven invaluable to undergraduates. This is being introduced in response to student feedback, as this year students have commented that when they start their Level 5 modules, they have not written a summative essay for six or seven months.

This is the latest stage in the continual gradual development of the assessment and delivery of this module which started over a decade ago. I have taken Olsen’s view that we should not “innovate too much, too quickly.”[14]

 

 

This post is heavily based on a piece of work written (by me) and submitted for the EDUM129 Designing for 21st Century Learning module in January 2017.


[1] Mueller, J., 2016, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, North Central College, Naperville, Il: http://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/whatisit.htm

[2] Wehlage, G. G., Newmann, F. M., & Secada, W. G., 1996, Standards for Authentic Achievement and Pedagogy, in Newmann, F. M., Authentic Achievement: Restructuring Schools for Intellectual Quality, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers

[3] Albion, E., 2016, Seeing is believing: we are all converging, The Law Teacher, Vol 50 No 1 44-60, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2016.1146455

[4] McInnis, J.C., & Devlin, M., 2002, Assessing Learning in Australian Universities: Ideas, Strategies and Resources for Quality in Student Assessment, Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, available at www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

[5] Siering, G., 2012, Why Risk and Failure Are Important in Learning, University of Wisconsin Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Available at http://citl.indiana.edu/news/dir-feb2012.php

[6] Clarke, S., & Blissenden, M., 2013, Assessing student group work: is there a right way to do it? The Law Teacher, Vol 47 No 3 368-381, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2013.851340

[7] Albion, E., 2016, Seeing is believing: we are all converging, The Law Teacher, Vol 50 No 1 44-60, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2016.1146455

[8] Newsom, C., & Kennedy, K., 2008, Google and Collaboration, Journal of Library Administration, 46:3-4, 87-97, http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J111v46n03_08

[9] Murtagh, L. & Webster, M., 2010, Scaffolding teaching, learning and assessment in Higher Education, Tean Journal 1 (2) December [Online]. Available at: http://bit.ly/tyfJ5M

[10] Ibid.

[11] Albion, E., 2016, Seeing is believing: we are all converging, The Law Teacher, Vol 50 No 1 44-60, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2016.1146455

[12] Entwhistle, N., 2005, Contrasting Perspectives on Learning, in Martin, F., Hounsell, D. & Entwistle, N., (eds.) The Experience of Learning: Implications for teaching and studying in higher education. 3rd (Internet) edition. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, p18

[13] Davison, N., 2016, English: GCSE revision and exam technique, Times Educational Supplement, available at https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/blog/english-gcse-revision-and-exam-technique

[14] Olsen, D, 2014, Enriching Social Science with Quantitative and Survey Data Using Flipping, University of Manchester, available at http://www.elearning.eps.manchester.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/RDIEmbeddingFlippingQMOlsenFaculty.pdf

Posted by & filed under Events, Featured Lecturer, News.

Dr Simon Sneddon, Senior Lecture in Law writes:

Since the last blog post on this project, on 23rd January, several things have occurred. I have submitted an abstract on this project for the Crackerbarrel sessions at this May’s Learning & Teaching Conference, and I have had an abstract for a paper on this project accepted at the socio-Legal Studies Association Annual conference in Newcastle in April. The aim of the SLSA is “To advance education and learning and in particular to advance research, teaching and the dissemination of knowledge in the field of socio-legal studies”[1] and there are usually around 400 attendees to the Annual conference.

This is great news for the project, as it means that one of the goals for dissemination has already been addressed. There is still some money left in the pot for dissemination events, so I will need to work out the most effective way to disburse that.

In terms of the project itself, the questionnaire for the second round of feedback is written, and the date for collection of feedback has been set (13th March). This is a week later than originally planned, but still provides plenty of time to analyse the results.

The delivery of Collaborate and Kaltura sessions continues and, anecdotally at least, it seems that students are overcoming their initial reluctance to engage with Collaborate. There are technical issues that are causing a few problems – some students can’t log on, there is inconsistent wifi signal, I mis-clicked the record button so the session was unrecorded (this last one is being rectified as I am doing an additional Kaltura recording) – but overall the initial reluctance is dissipating.

There is reluctance to ask questions in the allocated spaces, which is hopefully because things are explained so well there is no need to ask, but needs unwrapping further. For those who are new to this project, the hour-long session is delivered in four sessions of approximately 12-minutes each, with two minutes in between where students can ask questions or contribute to the debate.

We have one more session planned using collaborate, and the final session will be in class, mainly due to the practicalities of distributing and collecting questionnaires and also distributing the “mystery gift” to those who complete it.

This is the 4th in a series of blog posts on the ILT-funded project Strength through Collaboration. The previous post can be found here.

 

 

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Kate Exall, Senior Lecturer in Law writes:

The staff experience of the revised assessment strategy.

This blog post will be focussing on some of the practical issues coming out of the assessment strategies for these condensed modules.

In previous academic years both modules had an assessment strategy that consisted of a 2,000 word assignment, a 45 minute Time Constrained Assignment and a 1 hour 30 minute examination.  Moving to condensed modules posed a number of practical considerations in relation to the assessment strategy.  The modules were redesigned with Waterside in mind so that for those modules running in the first term there would be no facility for examinations at the end of the first teaching block.  As such both modules took the opportunity to revisit the assessment strategy.

In module A the assessment strategy is now made up of a 2,000 word Court Report, a 1000 word Skills Audit and a 2,000 word Journal Article Exercise.   The Court report was submitted in November and the other two in January.

In Module B the assessment strategy still uses the Time Constrained Assignment, which is now in the form of a Multiple Choice Quiz, but has introduced a 1,000 word assignment and a 3,000 word portfolio.  The MCQ and 1,000 word essay were submitted at different times in November and the 3,000 word portfolio in January.

The MCQ was an online test that was automatically marked and so was returned to the students immediately.  There were however technical difficulties with this assignment which took some time to be resolved and generated considerable extra work for the module leader.  Hopefully these problems will have been resolved for the next academic year.

With the assignments submitted in November the module team were still teaching on the condensed modules and it was therefore difficult to get the required blocks of time to complete the marking.   The module teams are considering moving these submission dates to allow for marking to be done at the start of the Christmas vacation.  The teams have nearly completed the marking of the January submissions which as they are all new assessment items are taking more time than usual to be marked and moderated.

The module leaders reported that there was a high volume of extension requests for the January assignments which has impacted on attendance on the condensed modules starting this term as well as on other modules.  To what extent this is something new is not clear as there is a pattern in other modules of students requesting extensions for work intended to be completed over vacation periods.

This is the 4th is a series of posts about this project. The previous post can be found here.