Led-research: using PBL+ and enquiry-based learning to develop student analysis, research, and application skills

Scott Slorach, The York Law School, University of York


The workshop will share design ideas, subsequent experiences and feedback from a
new module focused on developing student analysis, research and application skills, fundamental to success in future careers. The module design combines contextual advanced problem-based learning (“PBL+”) and enquiry-based learning skills. Students apply PBL+ to analyse a complex, multi-discipline case study, and then individual research interests and outputs triggered by the case study.

The case analysis and a portfolio of three researched outputs are assessed. The
portfolio gives students freedom to design their own thematic assessment, with few restrictions on format or word limit. Students present their portfolio proposal to the module supervisor and peers to demonstrate how it meets module and programme learning outcomes. Individual outputs are presented, peer-reviewed and supervised as they are developed during the module, which is intensive. The results were a range of varied academic and employability related outputs using differing communication formats, aimed at different audiences.

The presenter will share the module design and materials with colleagues, together with experiences and lessons learned, and examples of the range of research outputs created by students. There will be discussion of the ability to adapt elements of this approach to other disciplines, and the comparative benefits of “set”, standard and student-designed research-based assessments.

Chair’s Report

Workshop Panopto video recording (University of York login required)

Scott Slorach and Aaron Bhall delivered an informative and engaging workshop with opportunities for experiential learning, reflection and discussion for participants. Scott and Aaron reported from academic (Scott) and student (Aaron) perspectives about a pilot module for final year law students which used advanced PBL as a teaching/learning approach. The advanced PBL approach aims to facilitate students to ‘flourish’ – achieving and demonstrating analysis, creativity and evaluation through:

  • Higher level learning – of complex facts, issues and law related to real world legal scenarios and integrating different areas of law
  • Identifying and examining areas of personal interest relating to aspects of law using enquiry based learning
  • Personalising a high % of the curriculum and their approach to summative assessment

The advanced PBL module comprises:

  1. Analysis of the PBL scenario
  2. Development of learning outcomes
  3. Research/feedback cycle
  4. Full scenario analysis
  5. Individual student analysis
  6. Identifying interests and outputs
  7. Identifying outputs and project proposals – peer review
  8. Surgeries with peers and academic facilitator
  9. Conference – presentation of final draft for formative feedback
  10. Summative submission of ‘outputs’

Advanced PBL assessment comprises:

  • Analysis and explanation of complex corporate commercial scenario to client identifying range of legal, contractual, practical and ethical issues – referenced, 1500 words
  • Portfolio of 3 chosen outputs demonstrating evaluation of legal and practical issues from a number of different chosen perspectives. Students have freedom as to the format of these to represent 80-100 notional hours of learning

The workshop started with an opportunity for participants to experience the advanced PBL approach through analysis of a legal scenario typically used with final year students. Following this, Scott and Aaron provided an overview of the advanced PBL process and reflected on their experiences of this. Examples of the work students produced for their portfolio were shown to illustrate the creativity and level of evaluation achieved by students and the relevance to future employment.

Student reflections on the advanced PBL approach demonstrated that students valued the opportunity to explore different areas of corporate and commercial law, tailor the outputs to their own areas of interest and the freedom to shape their assessment. Aaron and Scott did also reflect that this ‘freedom’ caused some initial anxiety to students as they were used to being directed to the output required for a summative assessment.

From a lecturer perspective, the freedom to act as facilitator to the advanced PBL students was seen as liberating, in that the sessions were led by students with no prescribed plenaries or lectures, and also challenging, in that the session content could not be prescribed or prepared for.

The workshop discussion included how the advanced PBL fitted with the York pedagogy as a teaching and learning approach. It was interesting to find out what our colleagues in the Law School and other Departments are doing to foster ‘curiosity’ among students, developing and delivering innovative teaching, learning and assessment opportunities that enable students to ‘flourish’ and increase employability.

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