Assessment

As Penelope Russell points out in her chapter in Part I, assessment has long been recognized as having an enormous impact on student learning (Rowntree, 1987; Boud, 1995). If socio-legal studies is to become integral to the undergraduate curriculum it must not be an add-on which students can take or leave, but must be included as a central part of what is assessed. It is perhaps trite to point out that learning outcomes, content and teaching method need to be aligned with any assessment (Biggs, 1996, 'constructive alignment'), but it is undoubtedly the case that students will not value any content that is not aligned with the assessment. The questionnaire did not elicit many responses that pointed to specific engagement with empirical research through assessment, at best it seems to arise through essay titles that require consideration of existing empirical evidence.

This is perhaps not so surprising. As Charlotte O'Brien points out, Ball and Dadomo's (2010) survey of EU law teaching reveals a very conservative approach to assessment forms. As she puts it in relation to EU teaching:

[W]e should think about whether the exams and essays we set measure the things we wish students to learn - the ability to think creatively about social implications of aspects of EU law, to reflect on the impact of topical developments, and to spot and back up EU legal argument. (p. 187)

For EU, we could substitute any of the QLD subjects. During the seminar it was pointed out that law students are particularly assessment-focused, and therefore generally resistant to innovation in this area, thus perhaps reinforcing conservative assessment strategies. Including socio-legal elements of the curriculum may mean, however, opening up students to a more varied diet of assessment than is currently the case. As is stressed in the chapters that follow, where innovation is used it will be important to prepare the students and embed the assessment in the learning.

A number of different forms of assessment were mentioned in the survey and seminar responses, which may lend themselves to critical engagement with empirical research, for example, writing a memo to different policy organizations in an EU module, giving the option of doing a poster presentation, using reflective diaries. Other suggestions emerge in various chapters in this volume, including contract-drafting, content analysis (of judgments or academic journal articles), judgment-writing, use of news reports. While these may not all require the classic collection and analysis of empirical data, they do all open students up to a broader range of assessment types (thus ensuring that students do not see anything outside a narrow range of problem and essay-type assessments as unusual and something to be afraid of) and may incorporate some reflection on empirical research.

The assessment in the Leeds module described in Peter Vincent-Jones and Sarah Blandy's chapter requires such reflection explicitly, while the preparation of the research proposal required in Bristol and described in Morag McDermont, Bronwen Morgan and David Cowan's chapter requires consideration and justification of the research method to be used for the project. Interestingly, this has now become the second piece of assessment for the module rather than the first, because '[t]his was the piece of coursework that caused students most anxiety. In feedback, several said it was unlike anything else they had been asked to do as a law student.' (p. 31)

Penelope Russell's chapter provides a particular example of asking students to directly undertake empirical research. There are, as she points out limitations to what the students undertake at Sheffield. Important parts of the process of empirical research - in particular the study design - are not required of the students. Nonetheless it provides an important example of innovation that has also been used at other universities. She also describes the anxiety felt by students but sets out the steps that can be taken to allay any fears.

 
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