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Decoding the Discipline for Postgraduate Law Students

Author Caroline Somers
Abstract What do I know as a lecturer and researcher that I wish I had known when I began my postgraduate studies in law? This is the question I sought to answer when preparing to teach Legal Research and Methods to postgraduate law students. To do so, I employed the seven step framework known as 'Decoding the Disciplines'. The scholarship associated with this model emphasises the need to understand the process of learning in the particular context created by a particular discipline. Instead of focusing on the mastery of disciplinary content, lecturers' concern under this framework turns to the disciplinary nature of learning (Shulman, 1987). There is a symmetry between the philosophy of 'decoding the disciplines' and the goals of the Legal Research and Methods module. This is a threshold module designed to bridge the divide between undergraduate and postgraduate study, to provide students with a deeper understanding of their discipline, and the skills they need to undertake their first significant piece of independent research. Using the 'Decoding the Disciplines' framework, which is discussed in detail below, helped me to identify an important difficulty facing postgraduate law students; that is a lack of understanding of, or confidence to engage in, the twin skills of critical reading and critical thinking. Moreover, by focusing on the disciplinary nature of learning generally, and the nature of undergraduate education in law in particular, I began to understand why such a fundamental skill is lacking in many of our postgraduate students. Before turning to the 'Decoding the Disciplines' framework and my application of it, this paper discusses a number of the key characteristics of disciplinary teaching and learning generally. It goes on to discuss the nature of teaching and learning at undergraduate level in Law, considering the particular challenges posed by our discipline which, I will argue, act as obstacles to student engagement with critical reading and thinking.
Published In ICEP Proceedings
Year 2013
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