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This page features Northumbria academics talking about teaching and learning.

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Decolonising Criminology Transcript


Dr Kelly J. Stockdale, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and the BSc (Hons) Criminology Programme Leader


There are calls across Higher Education to address deep structural inequalities with specific concerns that certain voices, for example female, colonised, non-western and LGBTQ+ have been (and continue to be) marginalised.

Northumbria university has made a commitment to an inclusive curriculum as part of their approach to teaching excellence.

Today I want to briefly talk about some of the research I have been doing in relation to the criminology curriculum and how we plan to apply this to our teaching here at Northumbria.

Firstly, it is important to think about issues specific to criminology. Criminology as an academic discipline largely considers the processes of criminalisation, social control and social justice.  Yet as a discipline criminology and criminal justice need to do more – Chris Cuneen and Simone Rowe argue the criminology has made limited attempts to consider the theoretical and practice implications of Indigenous understandings and approaches. Biko Agozino argues that the colonial experience is instrumental in shaping modern criminology, yet this is largely ignored and criminology remains (albeit perhaps unconsciously) complicit to western imperial power. In part this is because criminology largely focuses on issues of social control – these criminal and social institutions rest on the perpetuation of racial difference and exploitation. Therefore it is difficult to remove criminology from colonialism due to its subject matter.

Raewyn Connell argues for a new ‘world science’ – one that is inclusive of many voices – and that there needs to be a more democratic global recognition of social theories from outside Europe and North America.

We argue that although the importance of traditional criminological perspectives and theorists should be recognised, it is also vital to consider the multiple perspectives and narratives relevant in global and contemporary societies concerning criminological issues.

The work we are doing is not only in relation to decolonising the curriculum, but addressing how marginalised voices including female and LGBT and all writers within the subdiscipline of queer criminology can be, as bell hooks argues, moved from the margins to the centre of our discipline.

In 2019 the British Society of Criminology conference presented a call for “how criminologists might address issues of power, marginalisation, intersectionality and justice in the 21st Century.” At this conference myself and my PhD student Rowan Sweeney presented our research on the criminology curriculum. The full paper is available to read online. I want to briefly talk through what we did, what we found, and next steps for this project.

The research
Our research project has two parts – firstly we explored the curriculum of a new criminology Bachelor of Arts degree programme at a post-92, English University. Whilst reading lists are only one part of developing an inclusive curriculum we needed to have a starting point to understand what students are assigned to read. Paulo Freire argues that prescribed reading plays an important role in the character of education that is offered to a student. On one hand it can be passive; a student can be filled with information and go forward to obtain a degree at the end of their course. But in the other hand both Freire and bell hooks argue it can be transformative, it can inform and humanise topics in a way which bring to life a variety of voices which a student may have previously been concealed from.

In this first part of analysis we found that criminology reading lists were mostly white and male. Yet the scale of this discrepancy is interesting. Overall less than 6% of first author texts were by BME authors, and there were less than 30% female first authors. Intersectionality is important - only 2 female BME first authors were included on the reading lists for the programme.

When we explored further, we found that often reading was consigned to specific modules i.e. Ethnicity Crime and the CJS or Gender Sexuality and Crime. Key concepts or criminological theory modules were overwhelmingly white and male.

For the second part of the study we developed an ‘intersectionality matrix’ and invited students to take part in a focus group. In these groups we asked students to write the names of any criminology authors they knew – in all cases the results showed a very visual representation as to how knowledge was predominantly produced by white/male authors. In the discussion afterwards students were shocked, but not surprised. Many spoke about how when they had seen this they actively wanted to read from a wider variety of voices – that it would make the topics more enjoyable and develop their knowledge to understand and encompass a wider range of perspectives.

What next?
This research serves as a starting point, and we have lots of plans for the future. The intersectionality matrix is being developed as a pedagogical tool to aid teaching and can also be used by academics to ensure they are using a variety of voices in their teaching, curriculum design, and in their own academic writing.

Here at Northumbria we are working closely with library support services team to develop our reading lists. We are examining our modules to ensure a broader range of voices and to explore the content of our curriculum for 2020. To further this aim we have set up a curriculum working group within our department and are working with students to co-produce more research in this area, as well as working with other academic departments and teaching and learning leads to develop best practice.

My aim is for an inclusive curriculum to be embedded within our criminology programme here at Northumbria, for resources to be shared and that momentum for change gathers across the discipline of criminology. Students should be empowered to work against the oppression of themselves and others, and via this critical information literacy they will be able to do this whilst building useful transferable skills and gaining more from their student experience.

Student Societies in Law Transcript

Hello, my name’s James Gray, I’m a Principal Lecturer in the Law School at Northumbria. 

As part of my admin role, I have responsibility for student engagement and in particular for encouraging and supporting student societies within the Law School.

When I joined Law in 1999, there was only one society, the Grey Society, which for over thirty years has remained the largest school society and currently has about 500 members.
Today, as well as the Grey Society, we have two other well-established societies: MARS – Mooting Advocacy Research Skills (that now incorporates the Mock Trial Society) and Legal History.  In addition, whilst not a Law Society strictly speaking, the Debating Society has traditionally drawn a majority of its members from Law so we also support their activities. New societies are proposed from time to time, the most recent to be formed is called Commercial Legal Awareness. Finally, there are external student law organisations whose activities we support within the Law School such as Aspiring Solicitors and ELSA, the European Student Law Association. 

It’s fair to say that the Law School is somewhat atypical in having such a range of student societies.

Apart from being an excellent way to socialise, a key reason for their success is that students realise that as a professional as well as an academic subject, a great deal of legal work requires skills that can only be developed though practice.  And, while the degree and postgraduate professional programmes do of course teach and develop skills such as legal research, negotiation, public speaking, presenting arguments, building business relationships and so on, the trade of being a lawyer has always embodied the idea of lifelong learning and these are all skills that we can never afford to stop improving.  Law students recognise this and organising ways to help themselves to practice them is a key driver behind a number of societies.  In turn, the students also find ways to share these skills with others.  For example, the Mock Trial Society recently visited a school and staged a trial for their students – this was a highly successful event that was informative but also fun in that it required the school students to role-play the witnesses in the trial. 

One further reason for having successful and long-lived societies is that we have been very fortunate with the students who have volunteered to lead them.  Having an effective committee is not just desirable but essential if societies are to survive and develop. Being part of a committee helping to  organise large events, dealing with fund raising, liaising with other societies are themselves useful experiences that students benefit from being involved with.

Finally, the school has always offered support, both financially and administratively to help students with the practical aspects of running societies. Although a small factor it is important to have someone the students can go to when they encounter a problem or when they need advice, not simply for the bigger issues like funding but for quite simple matters many of which can be critical to staging successful events. 

From an academic point of view, as much of the research literature on student welfare clearly demonstrates, developing a sense of belonging in the early stages of coming to university is vitally important to a student’s success and confidence.  An important part of this sense of belonging is meeting people and making new friends. Student societies are one way to help achieve this. 

An example of this is a new scheme we launched this year where the Law School has partnered with the Grey Society.  Under the scheme, all first year students are made members of the society and are given the opportunity to join a mentoring scheme where law students in their third or final years partner with first year and Foundation students to provide opportunities to meet, to give advice and encouragement or simply to have a coffee and a chat.  It’s a very simple scheme but it can help broker more adventurous exploration by new students of other opportunities and also overcome those initial anxieties that all students face when they first arrive at university.

Apart from student societies, other forms of student engagement have included cross-faculty events. The most notable of these was a scheme we developed jointly with the Design School where students on their Graphics module competed to design a law themed installation for our building – which was full of large blank walls when we moved in. The legal theme for these designs was selected annually by our students and then professionally made and installed. In this way students in both faculties benefitted from a scheme with real outcomes – and not only the students but the staff as well, of course.


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