Redesigning Curricula in First Year Law: An Approach to Identifying Threshold Concepts

Heidi Savilla, Samantha Kontra

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


From the moment they commence their time at law school, legal research becomes one of the most important skills for a student to develop. This is a fundamental skill that, if taught and learned correctly, will be pervasive to a student’s entire time at law school and beyond, as they enter the legal profession.

This presentation draws on the idea of threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2003), an idea which has been relied upon in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries in January 2016). This framework identifies a number of threshold concepts which are pivotal to a student’s understanding of information research skills, however there is little literature on how these concepts relate to the teaching of legal research.

Threshold concepts can be difficult to define, and to embed into curricula. This presentation will discuss a unique approach to identifying threshold concepts. Instead of relying on the experiences and opinions of those teaching research skills (Hofer, Townsend and Brunetti, 2012), this approach will draw from the experiences and opinions of later year students who have previously undergone research training. New teaching materials will be developed for a first year topic, Legal Research and Writing, and piloted on students who have already completed this topic. Their feedback will help identify troublesome concepts and inform how these concepts can be embedded into a redesigned curricula for first year students.

The methodology used for this project is to develop a one hour Legal Research Information Session which will be delivered in early September to students who have completed, at a minimum, their first semester of law school (and have thus completed the introductory course on legal research). After the Information Session, participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire exploring their thoughts on the Session content and delivery. Participants will be invited to take part in Focus Groups to further explore themes of teaching legal research skills, and to provide feedback which will be used to assist in developing a best practice guide in this area.

This presentation will talk through the process used to develop materials for the Information Session, and will discuss the role this plays in redesigning the teaching of legal research to first year, first semester law students. Comments will be made about the structure and questions to be used in the focus groups, and potential challenges will be raised for discussion with the audience.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventHigher Education Research Group of Adelaide, 2016 - University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 22 Sept 201622 Sept 2016 (Higher Education Research Group Adelaide)


ConferenceHigher Education Research Group of Adelaide, 2016
Abbreviated titleHERGA 2016
Internet address


  • legal research
  • training legal research
  • threshold concepts
  • information literacy


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