A lecture consists of the teacher’s transmission of knowledge to students, whose role is reduced to taking down notes, asking a few clarification questions, and reproducing the information in the form of exams and essays.

Lectures originated in early medieval universities where books were scarce. Practically speaking, only teachers had access to books. So, they transmitted the information from the books to their students in class. Teachers either read directly from the books to their students or recounted the information from those books orally. Students had to absorb and remember that information. Teachers made sure that their students knew the content of the books and the information transmitted in class by asking students questions where they had to reproduce that information back to their teachers.

Despite wide access to books, articles, and other publications both in print and in electronic form, the essence of lectures in today’s higher education system has not changed considerably. Teachers continue to convey information orally to students about content that they read from books and other publications.

The lecture is the signature pedagogy for the teaching of law in Canada and Europe and for the teaching of criminal justice in undergraduate programs. In Canada, law schools claim to follow the American casedialogue method. However, empirical analysis of what happens in the law school classroom reveals that the predominant teaching method is the lecture (Rochette, 2010). Most of these lectures focus—albeit not exclusively—on cases. Like in the United States, Canadian law school students also read casebooks that are modeled after the American counterparts. In Europe and elsewhere, lectures about the law (and not necessarily about cases) predominate. European law books, outside the common law world, focus more on the explanation of the law and principles rather than on judicial decisions. Criminal justice undergraduate programs both in North America and Europe, as well as in other regions, are based on lectures, where teachers explain all aspects of the criminal justice system.


Some graduate programs in criminal justice focus on seminars. In other programs, teachers use lectures or a combination of lectures and seminars. In seminars, the teacher selects and assigns texts for students to read individually and then discuss in small groups, after which each group reports its discussions to the whole class. Then, the whole class engages in a discussion about the assigned texts.

In the seminar, “the teacher tries to serve mainly as a mediator and guide to a conversation among students themselves. A seminar instructor usually asks questions of students, at least at the beginning of class, but less to elicit particular answers and lead the class along a rigidly predetermined path than to stimulate conversation and debate among the students” (Brinkley et al, 1999).


There are several theoretical categories of analysis to examine the predominant pedagogy in a program. Bruffee (1999) distinguishes two types of teaching practices: lecture conventions and recitation conventions. In the lecture convention pedagogy, which includes traditional lectures, ques-tion-and-answer discussions, the case-dialogue method, and some types of lab sessions, teachers are the center of the teaching practice. Teachers are seen as the knowledge authority, and students’ answers, questions, and participation reinforce this role of the teacher as expert. Teachers control the classroom interactions. And teachers evaluate students’ learning. In this context, students are unable to discover and construct knowledge. In the lecture, only the teacher uses higher order cognitive skills and competences to prepare and deliver the lecture. Students use lower order-cognitive skills, such as listening passively, taking notes, and reproducing information. The teacher robs students the possibility of negotiating knowledge among their peers. In the case-dialogue method, the teacher’s complete control of the pedagogical exchanges deprives students of the fr eedom needed to engage in a deep learning process and the possibility to construct and negotiate knowledge with their own peers.

The recitation convention includes seminars, tutorials, and writing seminars, where students present their work to the teacher, who still controls, evaluates, and performs. The nature and knowledge authority vested in the teacher and the classroom’s hierarchical social structure remain unquestioned. Students, even when purportedly talking to other students or commenting on other students’ work, are acmally performing for the teacher. Their contributions are influenced by students’ perceptions of the teacher’s requirements. Furthermore, the teacher retains the prerogative to lecture at any time, even if he or she does it subtly while commenting on a stirdent’s paper, answering a question, or giving instructions.

Critics of the seminar method argue that teachers do not help students discover and construct knowledge by themselves and do not help students engage in the practices that members of the professional or academic communities that students are trying to join routinely cany out. Despite a misperception that this method fosters active learning, in practice the discussion is a substitute for the lecture.

Many of my seminars as a gr aduate student were run by what I call the beach-ball method: Just as a crowd at an arena bounces a beach ball at random from one person to another, the professor depends on the students to keep the seminar going just by talking—which they do, bouncing from topic to topic without design (Cassuto, 2003).

Anton Rosenthal describes his discontent with this method as follows:

I was dissatisfied with the way I was teaching graduate seminars. The model for our department was somewhat unstated but dominant: select a number of readings relevant to the topic, bunch those books and articles together in topical groups, sit around and talk about them on the assigned class day, and have students write a 20 to 30-page cumulative paper (Rosenthal, 2005).

Usually, teachers select too many articles for students to read and include too much information in the seminars in the belief that quantity and difficulty of reading assignments will magically translate into leanring. Then, they ask students to discuss their readings without actually doing anything with what they read other than to write a paper at the end of the course.

Both lecture conventions and recitation conventions are considered to lead to surface learning, because they do not create an environment where students can formulate their own goals and engage in a process of construction of knowledge through individual discovery and social interaction.

Another theoretical approach to examine the signature pedagogy in law school and criminal justice programs is Shulman’s four dimensional analysis (Shulman, 2004). Any signature pedagogy has four dimensions: (1) surface structure, (2) deep structure, (3) tacit structure, and (4) shadow structure (Shulman, 2004). The surface structure of a pedagogy is the set of behaviors that can be observed. The deep structure is the set of underlying intentions and goals that the observable behavior models. The tacit structure refers to the values and dispositions that the behavior implicitly models. The shadow structure is the repressed pedagogy. It is what the pedagogy does not do.

The surface structure of a traditional lecture reveals that the teacher explains facts, students take notes and ask questions, and the teacher answers those questions. The deep structure of the traditional lecture is that there is an expert, the teacher, who has the knowledge and transmits it to nonexperts, the students. The tacit structure of the traditional lecture reveals that it promotes a foundational conception of knowledge as a real entity that is not subject to collective negotiation (Bruffee, 1999). The shadow structure of the lecture shows that it does not promote student research or student collaboration, stirdents’ formulation of goals, students’ selection of problems or reading materials, students’ initiatives, and self-evaluation, among many other equally important factors.

Similarly, the surface structure of the seminar shows that students read authoritative texts written by disciplinary experts and discuss them in small groups, which is followed by a whole class discussion facilitated by their teacher. The deep structure reveals that there is an expert, the author, who transmits knowledge to students through the texts that another disciplinary expert—the teacher—selects. The tacit structure shows that knowledge is a real entity which is transmitted to students from books and mediated by teacher-facilitated discussions. The shadow structure demonstrates that the teacher retains control of the class, that stirdents’ initiatives and creativity are suppressed, that self-evaluation and metacognition are not present, and that students do not engage in problem solving, among other issues.

The surface structure of the case-dialogue method is a series of oral questions that the teacher asks his or her students about edited appellate cases and hypothetical cases which the students answer orally. The deep structure is the dissection of cases through the rule-based analysis of judicial cases. The tacit structure shows that there is an unquestioned acceptance and respect for authority, whether it is the law teacher (in the teacher-student relation), the judge (in the trial setting), the lawyer (with respect to the lawyer-client relation), or the precedent (as the unquestioned source of law in the common law world). The shadow structure shows that students do not engage in research, collaborative learning, extensive writing, consultation of texts about law written outside the legal field, the production of media texts, the analysis of popular culture stories, the drafting of legal documents, the negotiation of deals, the learning of law that does not emanate from governmental authority, and the exammation of comparative law solutions, among many other issues. Like the shadow structure of lectures and seminars, it also shows that students lack initiative and power in most aspects of the class.

Shulman’s (2004) four-dimensional categories of analysis lead to the same results as Biuffee’s framework for analysis, that is to say that, the case-dialogue method, the lecmres, and the seminars do not help create an environment that is conducive to deep learning, because they fail to promote the conditions that encourage students to embark on a deep learning process.

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