Every class had a similar structure. It started with an input story: a popular culture story that contained a motivating problem, question, or situation about violence against women and/or children for students to solve, answer, or deal with. For this purpose, students had to work in small gr oups organized according to diversity parameters. Most of these activities were designed in the spirit of problem-based learning. Problem-based learning is a process where groups of students work with authentic—or simulated—problems (Barrows and Wee Keng Neo, 2007). I conceive the notion of the problem in problem-based learning in a very broad sense. A problem is not an equation for students to come up with the right answer or a case for students to decide whether the accused is guilty or innocent. A problem may deal with the analysis of a situation, the discussion of a challenging question, the resolution of a challenge, conflict, or dilemma, or the completion of a project2. In their attempt to deal with these problems, students engage in a process of discovery and creation of knowledge. They apply what they already know to the analysis and solution of the problem.

Similarly, the solution to the problem is also conceived in a broad sense and it may include students’ analysis of a situation, the production of a media text, or the writing of a document used in the legal and criminal justice professions.

Students seek, acquire, and use a wide array of resources. They do research, discuss their findings, and learn about issues that are needed to solve the problem. Students also immerse themselves in discussions about solutions to the problem with their group members. Then, they determine a solution and communicate it to the rest of the class. The rest of the class gives them feedback, which the students may incorporate into a revised solution of the problem (Barrows and Wee Keng Neo, 2007).

For some classes, I also prepared guiding questions to help students reflect about the problems, readings, and popular culture texts. Guiding questions orient students’ discussions and analysis and help them discover, negotiate, and construct knowledge without transmitting information or imposing any conditions on their learning process. Students were free to focus on some of these questions, disregard others, and even come up with their own questions.

Given the nature of the activities that included the analysis and production of popular culture texts, the class followed an intensive teaching format. It met once a week for 3 h instead of the traditional 90 min twice a week. Although I wanted an even more intensive format with more contact hours, I was only able to negotiate this schedule.


The objective of the first class was twofold: to introduce the course and to discuss general aspects of spousal and partner abuse against women (Table 8.1). With respect to the first objective, I wanted students to know what we would be doing throughout the course. So, I introduced the general theme, content, methodology, and evaluation of the course. I also wanted to set a positive environment and to create an enjoyable atmosphere.

With respect to the second objective, I wanted students to reflect about the causes and characteristics of spousal and partner abuse and its legal treatment and to create a website with information and resources for victims. For the input story, I showed the selected scenes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, A Murderer Among US (Shill, 2006). In order to facilitate their analysis, I gave my students some guiding questions. These questions had to do with the analysis of the scene, including rapid cognition strategies and decisions followed by law enforcement agents, and some general questions about violence against women and criminal law.

TABLE 8.1 Violence against Women: Guiding Questions.

  • • Why does abuse against women happen? Why do some men abuse their wives/ girlfriends/partners? Is it prevalent in our city? Why is it difficult for some women to leave their abusive husbands?
  • • Why do some abused women believe the abuse is their fault? Why do some victims of sexual abuse feel ashamed?
  • • What can be done to stop violence against women?
  • • What is the legal treatment to deal with violence against women? What do you think of the current legal treatment? Should there be a specific crime? If so, how could it be defined? What changes, if any, would you make to Canadian criminal law to better deal with abuse and violence against women?

I also asked them the questions that I would like them to be able to answer deeply by the end of the course. I would ask students these same questions toward the middle of the course and, again, at the end to see if they changed their minds, that is, if the course helped them change the way they view criminal law and its approach to violence against women and children.

These questions included the following:

  • (i) Is criminal law and adequate approach to deal with abuse and violence against women and children?
  • (ii) What are the aspects, premises, philosophy, and structures of criminal law that make it adequate/inadequate to deal with these issues?
  • (iii) What role, if any, plays popular culture in contributing to an increasing reliance on criminal law to deal with these issues?

Finally, I introduced metacognition tools to help students reflect about their learning process in the course and to be able to monitor this process. This included both criminal law and popular culture metacognitive tools.

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