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Teaching Psychology and Law: Strategies for the Dynamic Delivery of Course Content M. Kimberly MacLin & Dwight J. Peterson University of Northern Iowa.

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Presentation on theme: "Teaching Psychology and Law: Strategies for the Dynamic Delivery of Course Content M. Kimberly MacLin & Dwight J. Peterson University of Northern Iowa."— Presentation transcript:

1 Teaching Psychology and Law: Strategies for the Dynamic Delivery of Course Content M. Kimberly MacLin & Dwight J. Peterson University of Northern Iowa We describe a timeline approach for teaching Psychology and Law using a mock crime and trial. Discussion on ensuring that course content does not get “lost” in a dynamic, engaging class project, along with practical information on incorporating these mock events into your courses is provided. Abstract Introduction Project OverviewThe Crime Courses in Psychology and Law and its many variations are becoming increasingly popular for students in psychology, criminology, political science, and non-majors looking for an interesting elective. Students entering such courses often believe they will delve into the worlds of CSI and Silence of the Lambs and typically have career aspirations that are equally fictional. They are often surprised about the depth and rigor inherent in this field, as well as the breadth of topic coverage possible in such courses. While the course content is inherently intriguing to most, it still can be a challenge to organize and teach a course that accurately conveys course content while preserving the intrigue that brought students to the course in the first place. This semester-long class project is designed to engage students in the criminal justice process so that they can effectively apply the theoretical and methodological principles they are learning in a psychology and law course to the real- world situations to which they relate. The project is comprised of a mock crime and a mock trial, with all of the necessary preparations in between. Given the flow of the project, it is beneficial to cover course material in terms of the criminal justice timeline such that relevant course material is covered at roughly the same time that the major events of the project are taking place. Each student chooses a role to play and participates in the criminal justice and legal systems as that role throughout the entire semester. The class project requires individual and group work, and thus the students receive both individual and group grades for their participation. This project has been designed for a Psychology and Law, semester long (15-week) course that requires Introductory Psychology as a pre-requisite and is open to majors and non- majors alike. You can effectively carry out this project with class sizes from There are minor roles that can be excluded or included depending on the size of your class. Many roles can realistically have more than one person, and your jury size can range greatly. A class size of 38 is an ideal number. We recommend that you stage a murder as your crime. This allows for a lot of investigative opportunities and an intense crime scene and trial. Good locations for the crime include lobbies, wide hallways, and open areas (e.g., in your Union). Given that the crime occurs during class time, pedestrian traffic is often limited. Your crime site should not block any walkways. Be mindful of the weather (if outdoors), possible noise issues (the media and law enforcement often clash— loudly!) and getaway possibilities for your perpetrator. Arrange for your eyewitnesses to come upon the crime scene with the crime either just being committed, or just completed. This allows for the eyewitnesses to have an actual memory trace for use in the investigation. One of the witnesses calls 911 (a ‘police officer’s’ cell phone back at class), and the crime scene unit is alerted. The scene is processed, and if the media were paying attention, they often show up as well. Investigation and Trial Preparation Teaching Context as Well as Content Many psychology and law classes, as well as existing text books, are structured using a topical approach. In other words, various topics relevant to psychology and law are covered, sometimes in no particular order. By the end of such a course, the student has a solid understanding of major issues, but may lack a contextual basis from which to understand the impact of this information on the legal system. One way to teach context is by covering the content using a timeline approach. While incredibly complex, many aspects of our criminal justice and legal systems are time ordered. Thus, arranging course content along a meaningful timeline serves as a vehicle for teaching the relevant topics, methods, and theories in a psychology and law course. Benefits include covering material in the order that it occurs in the real world, from the causes of crime all the way to the inmate’s reentry into society. An additional way to teach content in context is to incorporate strategies that encourage experiential learning, such that students learn and do. One such strategy is a semester-long project developed for psychology and law courses that includes a mock crime-investigation-mock trial. We have found that students get deeply invested in the project and often are surprised by their motivation and intensity with regard to the project activities. This motivation turns the common classroom situation of ‘having’ to learn something (e.g., for a test), into needing to learn something in order to do the tasks necessary for the project. The investigation continues through periodic in-class project days. Investigation activities include: Interviewing witnesses Lineup development Lineup administration Witness interviews with sketch artist Autopsy/Coroner activities Police reports Background checks Case development Case planning Depositions Pre-trial motions The Trial Roles Police Officers (2) Detectives (2) Crime Scene Investigators (2) Sketch Artist (1) Profiler (1; optional) Bail Bonds (1; optional) Bailiff (1) Judge (1) Jurors (8-16) Jury Commissioner (1; optional) Defense Attorneys (2) Prosecuting Attorneys (2) Expert Witnesses (2; one for each side) Character Witnesses (2; one for each side) Eyewitnesses (2-5) Camera Person (1) TV Correspondent/Reporter (1) Newspaper Reporter (1; optional) Newspaper Photographer (1; optional) You will need to find people from outside your course to play the following roles: victim (1), perpetrator (1), innocent suspect (1). Don’t Lose Sight of Content This is a fun, highly engaging project. Therefore, you must guard against the project serving as the dominating content of the course. It is very important that the project is linked to reading material, assignments and lectures. Students report being very engaged in the academic aspects of the course, because they are using the information every day. The project then serves as a highly salient example for the theoretical and methodological content that is inherent in the course. The trial takes place over 3-4 class periods. Time limits are imposed for each portion of the trial (including deliberation). A class period is then devoted to debriefing, venting, critiquing, and evaluating the experience. Sounds Like a Lot of Work It is. But is also incredibly rewarding to see students get so invested, engaged, excited (and angry and frustrated). In the process, they learn about the scientific underpinnings of many aspects of our legal system, and how psychology plays an important role in scientific understanding of police and legal practice as well as an important participant in policy development and reform. Feel free to contact me for project materials or strategies to link course content to project activities


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