This year’s British Society of Criminology conference included two separate panels on learning and teaching that aimed to open up discussions on how we deliver teaching and learning and showcase innovate practices. Whilst it was great to see more learning and teaching being incorporated into this year’s conference, research papers still very much dominated the focus of the event. Following on from the conference, this blog hopes to open up wider discussion on why learning and teaching should be brought to the forefront of Criminology in the UK and ways in which it can be achieved.
By in large, learning and teaching is only a small focus for British Criminology. The BSC learning and teaching networkhas just over 20 members even though criminology is being taught in over 700 higher education courses in the UK (as either single or joint honours). The number of students choosing to study Criminology continues to grow and this has led to a growth in staff required to deliver the courses. Even with the popularity of the discipline and the increase in Criminology teaching posts, learning and teaching is very much separated from criminological research and this can be witnessed in a number of different ways. There is a distinct lack of research and writing that focuses on teaching Criminology, scholarship of this kind is largely confined to departments or schools and used to improve or reflect on individual courses. So, there may be some great work innovative Criminology and Criminal Justice courses, but we rarely hear about it. The BSC National Award for Excellence in Teaching Criminology and Criminal Justice, sponsored by Sage, has been a great way to celebrate excellence in Criminology, but each year it is surprising how few nominations are submitted, particularly given the size of the discipline.
Despite efforts of the BSC Learning and Teaching Network who host events nationwide, it is only a small number of academics who attend and contribute to these events. The presence of learning and teaching scholarship at regional and national criminology conferences and events is minimal in comparison to those on research and criminal justice policy and practice. Another problem is that for people who do undertake research specifically on Criminology teaching and learning, it can be very difficult to find the right outlet for publishing. Most social science teaching and learning journals are American based, such as the Sage Teaching Sociology Journal, the Journal of Criminal Justice Education or the Journal of Political Science Education. Undertaking a quick search through the British Journal of Criminology and Crime and Criminal Justice journal highlights that neither have any articles on teaching and learning. This results in generic HE journals becoming the main outlet for research findings, which often do not reach the audience of the discipline. This all indicates that teaching and learning are not at the forefront of British Criminology despite the growth in the number of institutions offering courses and the number of people teaching the discipline. In North America we see a different approach whereby they have a dedicated journal and the annual American Society of Criminology conference has an abundance of sessions discussing teaching and learning.
I suggest that learning and teaching is more important now than it has ever been given the current climate on higher education in Britain. The majority of academic staff spend a large proportion of their time on teaching and learning activities. For instance the 2016 UCU workload surveyshows that those on teaching and research contracts spent double amount of their time on teaching than research. The 2017 Times Higher Education teaching surveyfound that more than half of academics surveyed spend much more time on teaching related activities than admin or research. Given the amount of time and resources spent on teaching and learning within the discipline, it is questionable why we do not have wider discussions around how that teaching and assessment is undertaken and what is deemed to be effective teaching and learning in criminology. There are increasing debates around the research and teaching relationship, for instance the Times Higher Education recently published an article entitled Are teaching and research mutually exclusive?Pedagogical expertise is just as important as research expertise, but continues to be deemed less valuable in many cases.
The next important reason for a greater focus on teaching and learning is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The teaching excellence framework is currently being piloted at subject, rather than institutional, level. This means that subject areas are going to be measured and judged on their teaching and learning and will likely involve showcasing teaching and learning impact case studies and examples of best practice. Given it is still in the pilot phase and going through consultation, we don’t fully know what it will look like. However, from 2019/20, TEF will be assessed at subject and institutional levels. The 3 main metrics used (again these may change for subject level) are the learning environment, the NSS and student outcomes (i.e. where students go after graduating). Thus, there are implications here for Criminology and we need to consider how to address these should our institutions take part in TEF. In addition, the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) is accepting subject specific pedagogical outputs and case studies that demonstrate impact on teaching, thus subject level learning and teaching is gaining recognition within both excellence frameworks.
A further important reason to put teaching and learning at the forefront of British criminology is the new office for students, which came into effect this year. Their regulatory framework is designed to protect students by ensuring they are getting value for money and receive a high quality academic experience. This means that courses ought to consider whatis taught in criminology and criminal justice and howit is taught and assessed. Although Criminology is often taught in combination with other disciplines (i.e. law, sociology, social policy, psychology), when it comes to the university subject league tables it stands as its own discipline. This means that as a subject it is being judged and measured on the quality of the course, progression, outcomes and employability.
Taking all these together, I believe that we need to be putting a greater focus on teaching and learning in Criminology. We need to talk about it more widely, we should be sharing practice, undertaking scholarly pedagogical research, and treating it as equally important as our research projects. There are some small steps that could be taken such as including more criminology and criminal justice pedagogy research in the mainstream criminology journals and having more teaching and learning presence at regional and national events. As a member of the BSC Learning and Teaching network, I hope that the excellent criminology learning and teaching that occurs across UK universities becomes more widely recognised and celebrated.