Many of us teach university students about dispute resolution and encourage them to engage in their own research. In 2018, Associate Professor Becky Batagol of Monash University invited her students in the Non-Adversarial Justice unit at Monash University to prepare blog posts, and she published some on this ADRRN blog, like this one. I was inspired by Becky’s use of blogs as an assessment task. When I taught a Dispute Resolution elective for students at the University of Tasmania in semester 1, 2020, I asked my students to present their research projects in both a research essay and blog or vlog format. This month I will be posting some of those blogs or vlogs.
To provide some context, and in the spirit of sharing dispute resolution teaching ideas, I will explain the dispute resolution research assessment task in more detail in this post.
You will conduct your own preliminary research to identify a research topic that responds to one of the following questions:
1. Identify an issue for lawyers related to dispute resolution. What are the challenges and opportunities for the legal profession?
2. Identify a specific context in which dispute resolution processes are used. What are the challenges and opportunities for access to justice for users of that process?
You need to choose a specific issue or context around which to frame your research assignment. There is considerable scope for the exact topic that you choose, so long as you make sure your work answers the question.
You have been instructed to explore “challenges and opportunities” so that you practise the analytical skill of considering both positive and negative consequences or factors arising from the issue or context.
I assigned two questions, because I like to encourage my Bachelor of Laws students to focus upon issues for lawyers in dispute resolution, but not all of my students were studying a LLB degree. All students were free to choose to answer either question. The instructions continued:
There are three items that you will produce from your research assignment:
1. Topic proposal – a template will be provided (1-2 pages).
2. Research Essay of 3000 words maximum.
3. Either a blog post of 300-500 words or a 3 minute vlog post using only one visual image. This item should present your “elevator pitch” of your research assignment to a general audience.
Feedback will be provided about the topic proposal.
Both the research essay and blog or vlog post will be graded, and the grade standard will be assessed against both items combined. Criteria are weighted equally.
|Criterion||Measures Intended Learning Outcome:|
|Criterion 1||Identify, explain and justify the topic||1 Identify, explain, justify and critique the nature and theories of the various dispute resolution processes.|
|Criterion 2||Critically analyse the issue and answer the question||4 Critically analyse and problem-solve issues arising in non-judicial dispute resolution processes.|
|Criterion 3||Communicate effectively||5 Communicate and collaborate effectively.|
Choice of Research Topic
Allowing undergraduate students to choose their own research topic ensures that they are able to research and write about something that drew them to choose the dispute resolution elective. My unit content introduces a range of issues, techniques, styles and contexts for dispute resolution – I think of it as an introductory smorgasbord. My aim is to help students identify their existing understanding and to challenge themselves with new ideas or unfamiliar approaches. The research assignment provides an opportunity to engage deeply with a particular issue, to find relevant literature and test students’ thinking. My hope is that some students will enjoy the research project so much that they will contemplate dispute resolution research as a career option.
One of the challenges in a self-chosen research topic is that some students feel stifled by lack of existing knowledge or overwhelm, and have some trouble identifying a workable research topic. These students were encouraged to meet with me to have a conversation. Typically, the first question that I asked them was “why did you enrol in this unit?”, followed by “what were you hoping you would learn about?”. Through conversation we could develop ideas and I could suggest that they start with some preliminary reading about a general area, to help them to find the specific topic that they wanted to write about.
Another benefit of a “choose your own topic” style assignment is that the chances that I would be exposed to new and exciting ideas and perspectives on dispute resolution was increased. Of course, not everyone takes a novel and original approach in such a unit, but not having to read 50 takes on the same narrowly expressed topic was a much more pleasurable assessing experience overall!
The 1-2 page topic proposals were due in Week 4 of a 13 week semester, but the due date was amended to “when you can” due to the COVID19 pandemic. The template invited students to identify themselves, and then to provide the following information:
- Title of Paper
- Issue to be Explored
- Proposed Scope and Structure
- Relevant Resources Identified So Far
This hurdle task provided an incentive to start planning the research assignment early in semester, and gave me an opportunity to give tailored feedback to each student about the appropriateness of the topic that they had identified, whether their scope and structure was feasible for a piece of only 3000 words length, and also to provide feedback and suggestions about the resources that they had identified at that early stage.
The essays are a form of assessment that students are familiar with, and a standard way of building and assessing academic writing skills and research quality.
Blog writing hones our ability as researchers to present our ideas to a general audience in an accessible and succinct way. It has relevance to graduate roles where presenting short form summaries is often required in briefings, information sessions, websites and presentations.
The instructions for students who chose to prepare a blog post were as follows:
For an excellent introduction to academic blogging see Assoc Prof Becky Batagol’s post on the Australasian Dispute Resolution Research Network (ADRRN)’s blog Blogging Basics for Beginners: Or, how to write a really good academic blog post. The best blogs submitted in this unit may be suitable for a guest post on the ADRRN’s wordpress site.
One image may be used to accompany the words in your blog post. Ensure that you attribute the copyright owner and have permission to use the image.
To give students an opportunity to make an oral presentation of their work, I also offered the option of a vlog styled on the 3 minute thesis competition for higher degree research candidates. The instructions for students who chose to prepare a vlog post were as follows:
I fully recommend vlogs as refreshing relief in the marking season.
I hope you enjoy the posts from some of my students later this month.