Redesigning postgraduate curricula on commercial law through student engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary pathway programmes

Professor Stavroula Karapapa, School of Law                          s.karapapa@reading.ac.uk

Overview

In 2015/2016, we substantially redeveloped our postgraduate provision in commercial law through the introduction of a pioneering, student-engaging, research-informed and multidisciplinary set of postgraduate pathway programmes. Contrary to the programmes previously in place, the new curriculum is unique in its pathway design allowing students to develop a breadth of commercial law expertise whilst also specialising in their area of interest (for a full list of programmes see here). The project on which this entry reflects has resulted in an innovative curriculum that shaped the identity of Centre for Commercial Law and Financial Regulation (CCLFR) as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.

Objectives

  • To redevelop our postgraduate curriculum in commercial law through the introduction of cutting-edge themes of study based on the principles of research-informed and multidisciplinary teaching.
  • To empower student learning, improve student experience, and foster the development of a learning community.
  • To hear the student voice towards the design of the curriculum and to proactively and directly engage ‘students as partners’ in the development and evaluation of the core module for the new programmes.

Context

As often happens in Higher Education, the postgraduate programmes in Commercial Law previously in place were the result of the work of independent colleagues at various points in time, starting in 2011. Modular options reflected this dynamic, and they were also impacted by continuous staffing changes over the years. The pathway programmes are the result of collective effort within the School of Law, effective consultation with students and evaluation of their feedback, and constructive collaboration with colleagues from various Schools and services across the University (including marketing, careers, conversions etc.).

Implementation

Following a review of our PGT provision, we redeveloped our commercial law curriculum on the basis of three pillars:

  1. student feedback (module evaluation forms and ‘graduation’ forms collected since 2011) concerning suggestions for improvement, informal comments from students enrolled in 2015/2016 on ideas for new modules/programmes and engagement of ‘students as partners’ in the development of the core module for the new pathway programmes;
  2. extensive market study carried out by marketing and the (then) PGT Director regarding areas worth expanding on;
  3. expansion of our module offerings through the valuable contribution of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and consultation with various Schools across the University that agreed to open up relevant modules, effectively enhancing multidisciplinarity in our programmes.

Instead of offering numerous programmes with no clear link to each other, we introduced a set of pathway programmes (including 5 new PGT programmes and a redesign of the existing ones) whereby all programmes are centred around one core legal field, International Commercial Law, and students have the option to follow a pathway on a specialist area designed around our research strengths as a School and as a University, essentially building on research-informed teaching. Part of this redesigning process was the revision of the compulsory module for all pathways, LWMTAI-Advanced Issues in Commercial Law, which was based on the engagement of students as partners, drawing on a UoR small-scale research project that was initiated in June 2016, an entry of which is available here and here.

Impact

The collective effort of numerous colleagues in the School of Law and the support from various Schools and services across the University resulted in the development of a pioneering set of pathway programmes, centred around the values of research-informed teaching and multidisciplinarity and developed on the basis of student feedback. The project enhanced student engagement, taking on board student views on the learning design. The redrafting of a core module (LWMTAI) had direct impact on student learning, enabling students to proactively review their own learning process and to develop an increased sense of leadership and motivation. There was also positive correlation between the introduction of new pathways (especially Information Technology and Commerce; Energy Law and Natural Resources) and PGT recruitment. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the conversion rate of existing PGT students to our PGR programme has also increased. Importantly, the redevelopment of our programmes created a distinctive identity for CCLFR as a centre of excellence on cutting-edge themes of commercial law.

Reflections

The success of the redevelopment of our PGT curriculum was based on three pillars:

  1. Collective effort: The redevelopment of the programmes required the engagement of various colleagues from the School of Law who met on numerous occasions to reflect on the programmes and introduced new modules on cutting-edge themes to meet the needs of the new pathway design. This effort exceeded business as usual. An example of such collective effort is the redesign of the core module of the pathway programmes which followed the ‘student as partners’ approach and was implemented with the collaboration of various members of staff from the School of Law.
  2. Student engagement: Unlike what usually happens in higher education with ex post student feedback, the pathway design used that feedback constructively towards designing new programmes, taking into consideration student comments in evaluation forms and also engaging students in the programme design process. Importantly, it was students themselves that proactively informed the curriculum of the core module for all pathway programmes, with their voice having being heard even before the completion of the taught component.
  3. Cutting-edge themes and research-informed teaching: At the heart of student feedback was the desire to increase the number of modular offerings from other Schools and Departments, effectively to enhance the multidisciplinary approach that was already in place. Introducing more modules from other Schools to our curriculum on the basis of their relevance and appropriateness to our pathways has become a learning process to us as educators in that it has resulted in dynamic synergies and an innovative curriculum as end-result of the exercise.

Links

Details on our new pathway programmes are available here: http://www.reading.ac.uk/law/pg-taught/law-pgt-courses.aspx

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