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iLearn Open House – Featuring LAWS259

This weeks’ iLearn Open House features LAWS259 – International Law.

Dr Roy Baker, from Macquarie Law School, is the convenor of LAWS259 International Law. This unit introduces students to key principles, rules and concepts in International Law and examines how they shape contemporary international relations. Baker took over this unit in 2016 – at the time the iLearn unit contained little more than the unit guide.

The highlights of this unit include:

  • Topics are broken down into digestible chunks
  • Effective use of discussion forums
  • Variety and frequency of quizzes

In the unit’s first topic, key unit resources are introduced and a number of discussion forums are opened. Students can post questions relating to technical issues, unit requirements or questions about unit content. There is also a separate discussion forum for each tutorial group.

This is followed by information on assessments and PASS/PAL, (Peer Assisted Study Sessions and Peer Assisted Learning) with links directing students to support available. Interestingly, Topic 1, checks students’ understanding of unit requirements and mutual (staff and student) expectations via simple quizzes, ensuring students read the unit guide (which took Baker significant time to develop!).

Each week is organised into clear topics, with subtopics underneath. Because lecture delivery in this unit is completely online, Baker breaks up the lectures into short videos under their subtopic.

“On average [the lectures] are about fifteen to twenty minutes long, the students will listen to each subtopic lecture, read the pages in the textbook covering relevant material then complete the online quiz. So in the tutorial the students are ready to reflect and discuss their ideas, how it works [and] how it can be improved”.

To help students organise themselves, checkboxes are positioned to the right of all topic components, which students can mark off once they have completed each weeks’ activity.

Baker includes weekly summative and formative quizzes in the unit: summative are awarded marks while formative are not. He considers quizzes one of the most underrated iLearn tools as they offer a lot of different settings and question types.

“I think you just have to convince students that you will be doing a lot of work on these formative things, you won’t get any marks, but if the formative exercises are devised properly the student will be rewarded when it comes to the exam”.

During initial consultation, Baker was advised on a formula where students could only move on to the next quiz if they had received 100% for the previous quiz. Although he tried this out, he has largely abandoned the idea as it can be de-motivational to students. “What tends to happen if it’s an open ended question, a student will just get stuck and can’t move on”.

While setting weekly quizzes can help the student stay on track, marking must be considered before you implement them in your own unit.

“I think weekly quizzes are very good for teaching, but the administrative load of running the unit can shoot up, one way I work around is that I give 12 quizzes and I say you get the marks for the first ten you do, which means if they miss two they’re not disadvantaged”.

Baker’s biggest lesson creating a unit in iLearn? Striking the balance between online learning and human interaction.

“I have a couple of study modules, teaching students research and citation techniques, which are purely online. I had one student who just couldn’t do these citation tests so one day she came to the office to do it,  and as soon as she started I realised part of the problem was her eyesight. I made the text bigger on the screen and she got it. Of course on a face-to-face basis that problem would have been diagnosed within seconds, so what I have learnt is there is a role for online learning but it’s relatively confined, I think it has to be accompanied by a lot of face-to-face”.

To access Baker’s LAWS259 International Law unit, or any opened unit go to the iLearn search page  Enter a unit code or keyword into the search box.