My objective was to use the theme of abuse and violence against women and children as an opportunity to question and challenge criminal law itself and its approach to dealing with these issues. I needed to come back to my design and formulate a veiy clear vision for the course in the form of questions which students could find easy to understand. Thus, my vision for the course would be that students could explore the following questions deeply: (1) Is criminal law an adequate approach to deal with abuse and violence against women and children? (2) What are the aspects, premises, philosophy, and structures of criminal law that make it adequate/ inadequate to deal with these issues? (3) What role, if any, plays popular culture in contributing to an increasing reliance on criminal law to deal with these issues?
This vision would guide the enactment of the course, its subsequent student outcomes, and my course analysis. For this purpose, I would construct appropriate instruments—class activities, evaluation tools, and research questions to help students realize this vision and to determine if this vision is materialized.
THE PROMISING SYLLABUS
My next step was to prepare a course outline. I decided to adopt and implement the promising syllabus. The promising syllabus is a concept developed by Ken Bam (2004). It recognizes that people leant best and most deeply when they have a strong sense of control over their own education rather than feeling manipulated by someone else’s demands. The promising syllabus usually contains three components. First, it offers an explanation of the course’s promise to the students, i.e., what they will have gained, in terms of knowledge or skills, by the end of the semester. The focus moves away from what the teacher will cover to what the students will take away from the course. Second, it describes the activities in which the students will engage in order to help them fulfill that promise: the readings, the class activities, and the assignments. Third, the promising syllabus “begins a conversation about how the teacher and the student would best come to understand the nature and progress of the student’s learning” (Bain, 2004).
My promise to my students was that if they engaged in the course they would have a deep understanding of the criminal law approach to violence against women and children and the role that popular culture plays in shaping this approach. These were also my learning outcomes. I also promised them that I would do my best to make the course as intellectually challenging and as entertaming as possible, as this fosters intrinsic motivation.
THE SOLO TAXONOMY
Jolm Biggs developed the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome or SOLO taxonomy to assess the quality of student learning outcomes (Biggs and Tang, 2007). This taxonomy is divided into five levels, which include lack of understanding (prestructural), a veiy basic understanding of only a few aspects of a problem, question, or situation (unistructural), an understanding of several but unrelated aspects (multistructural), then an integr ated understanding of several aspects into a whole (relational), and finally, the ability to generalize that whole and apply to new situations (extended abstract). Since, pursuant to my university policy, I am required to segment learning and offer more than one evaluation instance in all courses, including a final evaluation, I decided to divide the assessment in five parts, even if I do not believe in fragmenting knowledge and assessment. So, I would assess how well students achieved the intended learning outcomes through theh active class participation, which was worth 30% of the final grade, an in-class test worth 20%, a portfolio, worth 10%, a paper worth 15%, and the final global-take home evaluation, which was worth 25% of the final grade. I implemented SOLO taxonomy evaluation criteria for each level of understanding for each of these evaluation components (see Appendix).
A very important aspect of the syllabus was the required and recommended bibliography. There is no textbook or book that deals with criminal law and popular culture with a focus on violence and abuse against women and children. So, I had to compile the reading list. I wanted to include academic legal texts dealing with violence against women and children. I included an article entitled “Violence Against Women and Children: Some Legal Issues” by Cynthia L. Chewier (2003). The article does not focus exclusively on criminal law issues and does not exhaust the topic, but I thought it was very clearly wr itten and students would get the big picture of the legal problems associated with abuse and violence. So I decided to include this article.
Sheehy (1999)’s article on “Legal Responses to Violence Against Women in Canada” provides a very good feminist theoretical framework written in a language that is accessible for undergraduate students. I have also included articles on bigamy (Bala, 2009: Drummond, 2009), infanticide (Anand, 2010; Osborne, 1987), and child abuse (Poulin, 2003; CCRC, 2011).