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Developing an e-learning resource for OSCOLA

UKCLE PDF project

Project leader: Cathie Jackson, Information Services, Cardiff University (e-mail:
Project summary: development of a repurposable e-learning resource for the OSCOLA standard for legal citation
Completion date: October 2006
UKCLE funding: £5,372

Update – the fourth edition of OSCOLA is now available to download from Oxford Law.

The Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) provides a UK citation system for law materials. Although it is the recommended system in many law schools, very few training materials are available. The aim of this project was to create an e-learning resource on citing references using OSCOLA, in a format which was readily reusable and repurposable by other law schools.

OSCOLA style: citing references learning objects, the training materials developed by the project, have been loaded into Cardiff University’s Information Literacy Resource Bank. You can link to or view the tutorial there, or download individual learning objects for reuse in handouts or other e-learning resources from Jorum.

In June 2008 Cathie Jackson received BIALL’s Wallace Breem Memorial Award for the tutorial, now being used by over 20 law schools.

Project rationale

Cardiff Law School adopted OSCOLA as the citation system to be used by students from September 2006. This move to a standard system brought a requirement for training. It was recognised that e-learning would provide this training efficiently and effectively, as well as providing 24/7 support for students preparing formative coursework and summative assessment. A survey of other law librarians indicated significant interest in the provision of e-learning materials, and hence it was decided to create a resource which could be readily reused and repurposed by other law schools.

The aims of the project were:

  1. To create a suite of e-learning resources to guide users in how to cite using the OSCOLA standard, comprising a short standalone tutorial, which could be embedded whole within webpages or a virtual learning environment, and a set of ‘bite-sized learning objects’ (such as exercises, quizzes and diagrams), which could be repurposed within Web guides, e-learning materials, handouts or other media.
  2. To explore the use of bite-sized learning objects as a model allowing for greater repurposing of resources than is possible with traditional computer-assisted learning.
  3. To encourage a culture of disseminating good practice in e-learning within the law librarian community.

The project built on the Information Literacy Resource Bank developed at Cardiff. An e-learning tutorial template had already been designed for citing references, and this design was further enhanced for the OSCOLA tutorial.

The OSCOLA tutorial

The tutorial is built using dynamic html with Javascript for added functionality and interaction and includes highly granular and generic learning objects, which can be easily embedded into subject specific content.

The tutorial highlights how to cite key information resources such as books, journals, cases and law reports, plus Hansard, government reports, websites and newspapers. Examples of text and footnotes put the standards in context.

Interactive elements appear throughout the tutorial. Chunks of content are designed to be standalone, that is without any in-built navigation or textual cross references, to ensure they can be reused within other contexts. Examples include the ‘Ordering a citation’ and ‘Which report do I cite?’ activities. Similarly, the tutorial was able to reuse the ‘When to cite’ activity which had been designed the previous year for a short tutorial on avoiding plagiarism.

Consultation and feedback

Consultation and partnership working with the following groups was key to ensure the use and re-usability of the tutorial:

  • students – the text of the tutorial was discussed at a student focus group, which was useful in highlighting the issues of most concern to students as well as the importance of including interactivity and examples
  • staff – all Cardiff law school staff were offered the chance to preview and comment on the resource while in preparation
  • other institutions – the project team included the librarians from Kent and Staffordshire law schools, who reviewed and commented on the overall text and structure of the tutorial as well as on each of the learning objects. The tutorial and learning objects were also reviewed and tested by the librarians at Anglia Ruskin, Bangor, Nottingham Trent, and West of England law schools.
  • OSCOLA – Sandra Meredith from Oxford Law Faculty and editor of OSCOLA was also a member of the project team, ensuring that the tutorial was accurate in all regards to the OSCOLA rules and providing invaluable authoritative advice in interpreting the rules and creating examples

Evaluation and outcomes

The final project report included an evaluation of the success of the resources, measured in terms of their effectiveness in supporting the rollout of OSCOLA in Cardiff Law School, the level of reuse by other UK academic institutions, and how they have been repurposed to satisfy different needs or media. It also offered some general reflections on the management of the project.

Use, reuse and repurposing:

  • use – the tutorial files were loaded into Blackboard, the virtual learning environment (VLE) used by Cardiff Law School, by the start of academic year 2006-07. The emphasis on consistent citation using OSCOLA is reflected in the law school’s handbooks and emphasised in class and assessment outlines. The tutorial is widely used by students and is available from the personal development planning link from all modules, as well as as a direct link in many. It is also linked on the key library webpage for law resources. Students have welcomed the clear guidance and examples, and the resource has avoided the need for face to face training as well as easing the transition to a new system.
  • reuse – by February 2007 at least 24 other UK law schools were using the tutorial, with at least 19 institutions linking to the tutorial on Cardiff’s Information Literacy Resource Bank and five institutions downloading the complete tutorial from Jorum
  • repurposing – it is difficult if not impossible to measure the extent to which the learning objects have been repurposed, however somewhat unexpectedly the template itself has been repurposed! Dennis Warren, Law Librarian at La Trobe University, reused its layout, design and overall style to develop Citing the law: AGLC2, a tutorial for the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

An aim of the project was to encourage a culture of disseminating good practice in e-learning within the law librarian community. In March 2007 the tutorial was presented at an Intute: Law seminar and discussed at a workshop at Learning in Law Annual Conference, the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference. Attendees noted that the tutorial was very suitable for reuse, due to its minimal branding, lack of location- or institution-specific references, its brevity and the ability to download the files for use in a VLE.


Reflecting on the success of the project, the following elements were particularly beneficial:

  • The project partners provided valuable alternative perspectives from their different client bases. The two law librarian partners hoped to use the resource in their own institution and so were key stakeholders. The involvement of a representative from OSCOLA was extremely helpful, and had the unexpected outcome that the queries and questions raised by the project initiated a new iteration of the standards in 2006.
  • The law library community was consulted to gauge interest and to measure existing resource prior to initiating the project, and then informed of developments throughout the project to ensure everyone knew of the impending resource when planning courses. This enabled law librarians outside Cardiff to slot the resource into their information provision at the start of the academic year.
  • The timing of consultation within a project will influence the type of feedback gleaned. It was very beneficial to receive input from students, a primary use group, early in the project. The four librarians who gave feedback in the last stages of development contributed differently – they acted as testers, validating the resource prior to release.
  • The success of the project has illustrated the benefits of designing for reuse and repurposing whilst creating resources to meet a local need. Jorum provides a technical solution to enable law librarians and law teachers to create a community of practice to share learning resources and benefit from each others’ expertise.

Last Modified: 12 November 2010