The issue

The main form of assessment in LAW220 Business Organisations Law is problem-solving, where students are asked to give advice to a person or a corporation involved in a complex fact situation. Problem-solving exercises also form the primary learning tool both on-line and in face-to-face tutorials.

However students often find it difficult to determine the order in which to apply the various legal rules that may be relevant to the advice they are asked to give. 

How do you know where to start when faced with a statute like the Corporations Act which contains over 1600 sections? 

Of course because students know what particular area of the syllabus the problem relates to, the number of possible sections of the Act that might be relevant are far fewer, but even then there will usually be many different provisions that have to be considered.

Of equal importance as identification of the relevant law is the ordering of its application, because if you start in the incorrect place, without having considered legal rules that needed prior consideration, you will give incorrect advice.

Converting flow diagrams into adaptive learning exercises

So how do you help students learn to do this? I decided to try Smart Sparrow, and asked Gwenda Hardy to create a number of exercises that could be used to develop the skill of sequential thinking in students.

An example of such an exercise is this one, where students answer a number of questions, written in the correct sequence needed to solve a problem relating to a specific area of law.  Students will be able to progress through the exercise only if they answer the questions correctly – an incorrect answer will take them back to the original question, which they must attempt again.

What it looks like

The raw material for each exercise was a flow diagram of several pages, like this one:

Gwenda then translated the flow diagrams into a Smart Sparrow exercise – an example of which is linked from here and which you can try:

Smart Sparrow tutorial
Click on the image to open the tutorial in a new window

Student response

The exercises were non-assessable – they were meant only as a skill-enhancement tool.  Approximately a third of the class attempted at least one exercise, and the feedback I received indicated that those students found the exercises engaging and, more significantly, having attempted the exercises they found it easier to answer problem-type assessment items. 

Not all problem questions require multi-stage applications of the Corporations Act in a fixed sequence (some questions can be answered by identifying relevant sections of the Act in any sequence), but in the specific areas of the subject that I identified and for which Smart Sparrow exercises were created, the exercises were undoubtedly useful in teaching students how to identify the road map that should be followed in tackling assessments. I found that exam answers to questions within those topics were answered in a more systematic way than in previous sessions.

I would like to note thanks to Sandra Maathuis-Smith for her co-ordinating work, and in particular to Gwenda Hardy for her creative and technical skills in converting the flow diagrams into Smart Sparrow exercises and in assisting me with making the exercise accessible in this post.