Using blogging for assessment in a Law subject: A case study

Students used a blog to discuss evidence and construct legal arguments while preparing for a moot court. Students worked in groups of six, divided into two teams (prosecution and defence). Each group worked on a single case study that described a legal problem to be resolved in the moot court. Over the semester, students used the blog to prepare their cases, and then participated in the moot court, which was a major assessable task (worth 20% of the subject mark), at the end of the semester.

About the subject

The subject was called "Evidence Code" and was offered in the first year of a postgraduate Masters course, taught in a School of Global Studies, Social Science & Planning.

The subject examined legal issues arising from the application of the rules of evidence and considered the introduction of uniform evidence laws in Australia, with a particular focus on Victoria. The subject aimed to develop the legal discipline knowledge and skills in professional practice.

There were 18 domestic postgraduate students enrolled in the subject. While a small number of students had recently completed undergraduate studies, the majority were mature age students, already in employment and seeking career diversity. Students could participate in this subject online (as distance students) or face-to-face (on campus).

The subject was taught by one lecturer.

Assignment tasks and timing

At the beginning of semester, students were presented with a number of short case studies that described legal problems to be resolved in a moot court. The class was then divided into groups of six and each group was allocated a case study. Each group was divided into defence and prosecution teams and students were allocated one of three roles: i) senior counsel, ii) junior counsel, or iii) instructing solicitor. As the semester progressed, during each lecture students were provided with the legal knowledge required to argue the cases. During the semester, each team of students had to identify issues in the case study, determine which issues needed further exploration, and divide research tasks among the team. Students used the blog to present relevant information about the case, to store all relevant materials and evidence, and to discuss and construct their legal arguments. Students then used a class wiki to construct their final arguments. Before the moot court, each student acting as the instructing solicitor had to provide an overall brief, which contained a detailed outline of the arguments to be presented by both junior and senior counsel. This was posted in the class wiki.

Intended learning outcomes

In this assignment students were expected to:
  • Develop the legal skills required to analyse a range of legal issues, and interpret legal information
  • Analyse recent reforms in the area of evidence
  • Evaluate and analyse factual situations according to their legal effect
  • Recognise the relationship between terms and concepts in factual situations
  • Develop the ability to use legal information to support decision making
  • Explain legal principles and their practical application

They were also expected to develop:
  • Knowledge and understanding of the fundamental doctrines and principles that underpin the operation of the law of evidence ,
  • Knowledge of the sources of the law of evidence , how it is made and developed, and of the institutions that create, administer and interpret the law
  • The ability to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a wide range of legal concepts, values, principles of the law of evidence and the ability to explain the relationship between them in a number of particular areas.

Why Web 2.0?

The lecturer chose to use blogs and a wiki in this subject because the course included both distance and on-campus students and many of the students were in full-time employment. Therefore, students needed to be able to undertake group work using technologies that enabled them to contribute at different times, outside of working hours. The flexibility of web 2.0 tools was considered important to support students on this course.

Setting up the assignment

The lecturer prepared various criminal problems as case studies for the students to resolve in a moot court situation, and set up the blogs for students to use. The blogs left an auditable trail for assessing individual contributions to the task.

Supporting students through the assignment

The assignment was introduced at the beginning of semester. The lecturer explained to students why blogging had been chosen as the medium through which student teams would create their legal arguments. At the beginning of the assignment, the lecturer also explained to students the necessity of prosecution and defence teams, and emphasised that effective group work was fundamental to the ability of the teams to participate in the moot court at the end of the semester. Further information about the moot court was provided in class. In addition, the lecturer moderated team blogs and provided advice on the process of constructing valid legal arguments and identifying solutions to the legal problems contained within the case studies.

Marking the assignment

For the moot court exercise, students were marked as teams (worth 20% of the subject grade). They were, however, marked individually on their participation in the team blog. Blog participation was embedded in the overall assessment activity. The lecturer gave a mark for blog participation that represented her assessment of the individual's contribution to the solution of the case study problem (5% of the subject grade). The students could not prepare for the moot court without participating in the facilitated blog activity for the entire semester. The blogs left an auditable trail for assessing individual contributions to the moot court preparation.

Evaluating and Improving the Assignment

The lecturer was able to evaluate how well the assignment worked by reflecting on the information contained within each team's blog. The blogs were used to document students' collection of the evidence for their legal argument, and also documented what each student had contributed and when. The blogs therefore provided evidence about how effective the assignment worked and, importantly, how effectively the students had worked together as defence/prosecution teams.

The lecturer noted that plagiarism did not appear to be a problem in this assignment. Initially students referenced everything they found because they knew the evidence needed to be traced and explained. Later they used the information cited to construct the legal arguments for their moot court. The team-based progress, starting with an understanding of the case study and finishing with the moot court presentation, could be traced through the blog. In effect, the blog provided the evidence required to show where the information came from and how the conclusions were reached.

The lecturer has now set up the assignment so that it will be straightforward for other academics to run in the same course in the future.

Page source:
Gray, K., Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Clerehan, R., Sheard, J., Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2011) Using Social Web (Web 2.0) Activities for Student Assessment: Resources for University Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from https://web2assessmentresources.wikispaces.com