Updated: Oct 21, 2020
by Dr Emma Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Law, Law School, University of Chester, United Kingdom
This paper reflects on the implementation of an intense front-loaded delivery model on an undergraduate Law degree programme’s foundational module in 2019-20 in Chester Law School in the United Kingdom. The module introduced the English Legal System whilst embedding legal study skills – particularly, information literacy - onto the curriculum.
Students acquired base knowledge of the mechanics of the machinery of justice before studying substantive areas of English law, allowing the substantive elements to be contextually understood. This intervention was designed to bridge the gap between entry-level study experiences and First Year study, seeking to even the playing-field across the whole cohort, irrespective of prior academic qualifications or familiarity with the legal system.
The combined lectures, workshops and seminar activities engendered opportunities for students to engage in a shared learning experience which strengthened their sense of belonging to the Law School and to their cohort, thus instilling a sense of learning community.
The challenge posed by the current post-Covid Higher Education climate will be to digitally achieve these same ends with students who, whatever their prior studies, are likely to have experienced a significant hiatus in their learning since the global lockdown.
This paper considers the evaluation exercise which measured the success of this delivery model and draws upon pedagogical responses to the current crisis to inform the module’s future enhancement. The module’s latest iteration will adopt online delivery and seek to embed digital skills onto the curriculum.
Rationale for intervention
Following a systematic review of the Law School’s retention, progression and success strategies, it was decided last year that the first-year curriculum design be overhauled, such that students be immersed in the intense delivery of this foundational module for the first six weeks of term before commencing studies in areas of substantive law.
This would mean that the first year’s assessment schedule could accommodate a far earlier summative assessment point. Students would accrue academic credit far earlier in the year, meaning students would be invested earlier in their studies (Jones, 2008; Thomas, 2012). Students would gain feedback on their attainment, and assessment results would be fed into the pastoral system, meaning opportunities for tailored support could be sooner identified.
The pedagogical objective of this curriculum redesign was to provide students with base knowledge of the machinery of justice before studying substantive areas of English law, thus allowing the substantive elements to be taught and understood in their real-world context.
Underpinning the module’s substantive content, teaching and learning activities were designed to develop information literacy in collaboration with the Law library team and assessment literacy, helping students to make sense of the assessment criteria and their feedback. This intervention was further designed to bridge the gap between entry-level study experiences and First Year study. It achieved an even playing-field across the whole cohort, irrespective of prior academic qualifications or previous familiarity with the legal system and the study of law.