Ruth Houghton, Lecturer in Law
Newcastle Law School
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
What did you do?
Using OMBEA response software, I asked students in the Legal Institutions and Methods module to act as a juror, to vote on whether the defendant was guilty, in order to teach them theories of ‘truth’.
This approach develops the following attributes:
- Critical Thinkers
Staff can find out more about the Graduate Framework on the University intranet.
Who is involved?
Dr Ruth Houghton, Law School
Stage 1 Legal Institutions and Methods students (1st year Law School cohort)
How did you do it?
I briefly recapped the competing aims of the criminal justice system, one of which is “the search for truth”.
I then introduced them to the Trial of William Burke (1829), a famous grave-robber who collected bodies for medical science. Students were told that they were going to act as the jury for this trial. The question posed to the students was whether they thought Burke was guilty of murder or whether he had just stolen the body.
After revealing each new piece of evidence (e.g. where the corpse was found, where Burke had been the previous day, witnesses who had seen him do it etc), students were asked to talk to the people around them and then vote on whether they thought he did it, he didn’t, or they still weren’t sure.
The idea is that it is too ambiguous at the beginning, but that the facts build up a coherent narrative that suggests he was a murderer.
Why did you do it?
The alternative way to deliver the material is to lecture the students on the two theories of truth (correspondence and coherence), the academic literature, and then go through the example showing how the coherence theory works. These are complicated ideas for students to relate to.
By asking the student to decide what they would do with each fact, they are building up their own approach: some might be looking for a coherent story, some might be dissatisfied with the evidence. Asking them to act as a juror, makes the theories of truth more relatable. And hopefully, more memorable.
Does it work?
The students seemed to enjoy the exercise. They were engaged with the task. They were talking with the people around them, discussing what they would do with the piece of evidence.