Research trails

Case study: research trails

The Practical Legal Research (PLR) element of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is assessed by a summative assessment in January. The assessment requires the students to research a specific legal scenario, write a memo dealing with the issues raised by the scenario, provide a research trail of all the research undertaken, and provide a bibliography of materials used in the research.


Throughout the PLR element of the LPC I work closely with a colleague in the Law School, sharing the teaching and cooperating to set and mark assessments for the PLR element of the LPC. My teaching colleague marks the answers/legal interpretation while I mark the research trail and the bibliography element of the assessment.


Prior to undertaking the summative assessment the students attend a number of small and large group sessions, which provide them with the knowledge and skills of the print and online resources that they could employ to undertake the research required for the assessment, as well as information on and preparation for the requirements of the assessment itself.


The formative assessment is undertaken in November, following the final two hour small group session, when the students undertake, in a class setting, the type of legal research and memo writing that they will need to do for the assessment. The marking of the formative assessment is more time consuming than the summative assessment as it requires the provision of individual and consistent feedback, related to the various requirements noted on the marking grid (example).


Prior to the summative assessment a final recorded lecture is uploaded onto Learning Central providing generic feedback on the formative assessment.


The same marking grid is used for the summative assessment, where I am responsible for sections 9 and 10. Marking the summative assessment consists of marking approximately 120 papers, which takes approximately 50 hours to complete. With no word limit for the research trails and the questions enabling the use of a wide range of resources, consistency can be a challenge.


To aid the marking process I produce a draft research trail of my own as a template for that particular question which aims to cover most research eventualities. If I find a student has successfully used a different way to find information, I add that to my template.


It is important that I am consistent and able to justify my reasons for marking a paper not competent. I create a document where, against each student number, I highlight any poor use of the resources and whether they were competent or not competent. This becomes a guide that I can quickly refer to in order to keep the consistency throughout the marking.


After marking is complete, I re-check those papers that were not competent and borderline competent. Then my teaching colleague and I meet to discuss any papers about which we have concerns. Finally, a cross-section of papers are sent to the external examiner to validate our marking. Students who are eventually found not to be competent can receive feedback in preparation for a re-sit.


Matthew Davies – Subject Librarian, Law

[The Handbook for Information Literacy Teaching ends here.]