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Enquiring Minds: The ‘Project’ & Strategies for Promoting (Better) Research, Autonomy & Deployment of Skills at Level 3

PUTTICK, Keith and HAMMOND-SHARLOT, Rhonda and SPENCE, Janet (2009) Enquiring Minds: The ‘Project’ & Strategies for Promoting (Better) Research, Autonomy & Deployment of Skills at Level 3. In: Learning in Law Annual Conference (LILAC) 2009 ‘Concepts of Culture in Legal Education', 20 January 2009, University of Warwick. (Unpublished)

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Abstract or description

The theme of our paper is student research. How do we help students become good researchers? Are we giving them sufficient opportunities to deploy research skills, pursue their interests in their final year and assist them in becoming research competent, autonomous learners? And what are the best kinds of research task that can deliver what is needed in this important area of the skills agenda?

We argue the case for a more ambitious agenda for student research. In doing so, we generally support most of the arguments for treating undergraduates as part of the ‘community of researchers’ (Chang, 2005), and which favour the ‘research scholar’ model (Hodge, Pasquesi, et al, 2007).

For the purposes of Enquring Minds a ‘project’ is taken to mean a formally assessed activity that is initiated and managed through to completion by a student (or group of students), typically across the whole period or substantial period of a module or award year/level. While sharing some of the characteristics of the coursework assignment, dissertation or extended essay, greater emphasis is usually placed on rewarding independent enquiry, and on fieldwork, statistical enquiry, interviews etc.

We contend that the key requirement of a formally assessed research activity is that it should be effective in facilitating:

*continuing development of research and research related skills into level 3, building on developmental work in years 1 and 2 (levels 1, 2) – ie its value as a developmental tool
* deployment of those skills, and in ways that promote genuine autonomy and meet the full range of expectations of students who are about to graduate, including the need for graduates to be ‘information literate’
* effective assessment (formative and formal) of research skills, and across the range of outcomes and skill sets expected by current standards

On these criteria we believe that a project that meets certain criteria, as outlined in more detail in the paper and examples in the presentation) offers a valuable model (perhaps even the optimum model) for assessing final year/level 6 student research. The case for such project work is reinforced when the core design characteristics we have referred to are accompanied by rewarded elements such as presentations of research results, face to face or online dialogue around work in progress (and linked curriculum themes), or creative elements such as the production of DVDs, Facebook work or publication in journals are introduced.

We see that the incorporation of interdisciplinary aspects such as engagement in projects and fieldwork with students from other disciplines can be valuable. However, we accept it is still a contentious area, particularly in the face of concerns from those who argue for a more vocationalist, ‘law’ focused approach to setting the parameters of undergraduate skills development and assessment (Edwards, 1992).

Project work can also confer important benefits on other stakeholders besides the student researcher, including students and staff – for example through the creation of a developing ‘knowledge pool’ to which the institution's academic community (and wider academic community)gain access. To date our evaluations have focused on the value of the knowledge pool for limited purposes such as in-course dialogic work, but other approaches highlight exciting and wider ranging applications, including Hasok Chang’s ‘mechanism of inheritance’. For law schools that support project options as an integral part of their research culture there are considerable gains to be had. They are a good way of showcasing students’ work, and contribute to, and strengthen, an institutional culture of research and scholarly activity, bringing the student and staff research functions closer.

Above all project work is effective as a means of promoting ‘autonomy’, putting research where we think it belongs – at the centre of the student learning experience.

Caroline Maughan (University of the West of England) reported:
The team put forward their case for a more ambitious agenda to encourage undergraduate students to become good researchers and outlined their work in progress on the development of research and related skills on law programmes. The Enquiring Minds project, a project in its first year, is evaluating current practice and developments in the design, use and assessment of research tasks undertaken by level 3 students.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M100 Law by area
Faculty: Faculty of Business, Education and Law > Law
Depositing User: Keith PUTTICK
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2013 15:53
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2013 15:53
URI: http://eprints.staffs.ac.uk/id/eprint/1463

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