Trials of Dissenters at ALT Conference, Oxford

April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week, Sarah Mercer and I presented a paper that we had written together titled ‘Trials of Dissenters: Student and Staff Assessment of an Innovative Module’ at the ALT Conference at Lady Margret Hall, Oxford. The paper was delivered in a session on Tuesday morning, alongside Allison Bone from the University of Brighton.

Our paper served as an update and response to a presentation by Sarah and Chris Rogers at the ALT two years ago which described the early development of a module, the remit of which was to analyse instances of legal dissent demonstrable in historic trials through teaching methods which themselves departed from traditional educative practice. Having studied the first run of the module in the final year of my undergraduate degree, we both agreed that it would be interesting for me to contribute first hand, qualitative data to supplement the views that had been collected by Sarah and Chris in the form of questionnaires.

[Lady Margret Hall, University of Oxford. Photo Credit: Lee McConnell]

Below is the abstract for the paper that we presented:

“In 2010, in a paper presented at the ALT conference in Cambridge, a new module on the trials of dissenters was discussed and the research to be carried out on student perceptions of it described.

In the module various historical trials are examined by the students with an emphasis being placed on the necessity to see them within their historical, social, economic and political context and where the use of non traditional sources such as literature and art are encouraged. In this paper the first year of the module will be reviewed, particularly in relation to how qualitative data received from student feedback has informed changes that might be made to the module for future years. The paper will be co-presented by a lecturer who helped to devise and deliver the module, and by a former student who studied the module in its first year of delivery. As such, it can provide an unusually rounded analysis of the reception of an innovative course.

The paper will be situated within the current academic discourse on pedagogy and assessment and will present information regarding the structure of the module, its reception and its mode of assessment. The delivery of the module was by means of 4 workshops and 4 presentations by students, with no lectures. This mode of delivery was chosen because of the recognition of the need for innovative methods of pedagogy and delivery in innovative courses. The paper will address how effective those delivering the module perceive this to have been, and will also provide evidence of the student experience, to determine whether both lecturer and student formed similar impressions of the reception of the mode of delivery and the extent to which this could be used to inform any subsequent change in the mode of delivery.

The paper will also consider the mode of assessment as it is particularly in relation to assessment that changes have subsequently been made.  Initially, it was decided the module should be assessed by the more traditional means of a 3,500 word essay although one where students chose for themselves the trials to be considered.  However, during this first year, the lecturers involved in delivering the module became concerned that this mode of assessment was not the best means of assessing students’ engagement with the module outcomes. Consequently, it was decided to change the mode of assessment for the following academic year. The paper will address the reasons for doing so, and what is sought from the altered form of assessment. The paper will also consider the somewhat limited evidence of the reception of this revision.”

The PowerPoint slides that we utilised during the presentation are available here.

The paper was delivered in a ‘call and response’ manner, with Sarah describing the issues encountered from a lecturer’s perspective on the module generally, group formation, functional issues, and assessment past and future. My contribution offered a critical angle on the module from the viewpoint of a student, and attempted some suggestions on the problematic issue of assessment of a module built almost entirely on group work and presentation.

My thanks to the delegates and to the ALT organisers, particularly Richard Owen and Amanda Fancourt.

– Lee McConnell

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