Reflective Learning, Skills Development and Careers Management Online-An Evaluation of a First Year Law Module

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper describes the development and implementation of a first year undergraduate law module which has been re-designed to enable the embedding of Personal Development Planning (PDP) within the curriculum. The module has been delivered through a combination of both face-to-face classroom and online activities using a virtual learning environment (VLE). The institutional background consists of two main elements. Firstly, recent policy changes now require that PDP for first year undergraduates is assessed either as an independent module or by being embedded within the existing curriculum. Secondly, both institutional and departmental policies promote the use of the VLE--a WebCT platform--for the delivery of all modules as part of a broader strategy to support more flexible, student-centred, learning.

The paper identifies the pedagogic rationale for the approach adopted and demonstrates how the use of the VLE has enabled tutors to create an integrated framework for the delivery of skills training, the provision of learning resources, online formative and summative assessment tasks, interactive discussion forums for learning support, an administrative structure for tracking and supporting student progress and for students to compile a record of their achievement. Finally, the paper presents an evaluation, drawing on student feedback, tutor evaluation and evidence of student performance on completion of the first year of the new module. The paper is based on a presentation and paper that was first presented at the BILETA Conference in April 2006.

Keywords: VLE, virtual learning environment, legal education, skills training, tutor evaluation, BILETA

1. Introduction

This paper describes the development and implementation of a first year undergraduate law module which has been re-designed to enable the embedding of Personal Development Planning (PDP) within the curriculum. The module has been delivered through a combination of both face-to-face classroom and online activities using a virtual learning environment (VLE). The institutional background consists of two main elements. Firstly, recent policy changes now require that PDP for first year undergraduates is assessed either as an independent module or by being embedded within the existing curriculum. Secondly, both institutional and departmental policies promote the use of the VLE--a WebCT platform--for the delivery of all modules as part of a broader strategy to support more flexible, student-centred, learning.

The paper identifies the pedagogic rationale for the approach adopted and demonstrates how the use of the VLE has enabled tutors to create an integrated framework for the delivery of skills training, the provision of learning resources, online formative and summative assessment tasks, interactive discussion forums for learning support, an administrative structure for tracking and supporting student progress and for students to compile a record of their achievement. Finally, the paper presents an evaluation, drawing on student feedback, tutor evaluation and evidence of student performance on completion of the first year of the new module. The paper is based on a presentation and paper that was first presented at the BILETA Conference in April 2006.

2. Pedagogic Rationale

The main impetus for the introduction of PDP into UK HEIs can be traced back to the 1997 Dearing Report on Higher Education, which proposed the introduction of Progress Files for the recording of student achievement as "a means by which students can monitor, build and reflect upon their personal development"1. Subsequently, this was endorsed by the joint UUK-SCOP-QAA Progress File Policy statement of 20002, which required all UK HEIs to introduce "opportunities" for Personal Development Planning by 2005-06, as a "structured and supported processes to develop the capacity of individuals to reflect upon their own learning and achievement, and to plan for their own personal educational and career development". …