Top Ten: What makes a great Criminology course?

Teaching Criminology can be fun, exciting and engaging, but at the same time we can find it challenging, tiring and sometimes demoralising. Even if you take away institutional constraints and bureaucratic tape, the discipline itself poses great difficulties for lecturers today. There are so many Criminology courses across the UK now and some are definitely better than others. This post has been compiled from the experiences of criminology lectures, external examiners and programme directors. Thanks to all who contributed, I’m sure there’s something for everyone to take away from it.

  1. First of all, a great Criminology course has to be made up of great people teaching it. We don’t mean in terms of their academic profile, no, we mean a great team of people. A course has to be delivered by a cohesive group of people, who share the same professional values, a shared vision, and a shared desire to help students succeed. We have witnessed the consequences when staff members don’t get along and have different agendas. These consequences can be minimal but also devastating to the successful delivery of a course.
  2. The second is a creative curriculum. There are some amazingly innovative courses being delivered all over the UK. We have seen courses taking students abroad to give them comparative criminal justice experiences. Students studying alongside prisoners. Students being involved in designing crime prevention programmes. Students being mentored by criminal justice practitioners. These types of courses stand apart from others because they off their students unique opportunities to put theory into practice.
  3. The third is manageable numbers. Criminology courses have grown rapidly in many universities. The challenges of these monster courses have been discussed at great length by others elsewhere. Programme directors, lecturers and tutors all raise concerns over the quality of courses when the numbers become unmanageable. To truly engage and bring out the best in people, numbers, must be kept small where possible.
  4. The fourth point to make is that often Criminology makes little sense beyond the classroom. External examiners discussed courses that brought together academic theorists with criminal justice practitioners and it works beautifully. Employability can be massively challenging, particularly since criminology is not a vocational discipline. Having said that there are some excellent examples of enhancing employability. Work experience placements offered by courses are a must. Students need to understand the type of careers on offer and what those job roles involves. Students need to apply what they are learning to real world environments and understand the importance of the topics they are studying. If work placements aren’t practical (i.e. they can’t be offered to everyone) then at least having a variety of practitioners offer guest lecturers can offer an insight into practical working environments.
  5. Getting students involved in their course is vitally important for success. This goes further than just staff student meetings, and encourages students to evaluate their courses. Not only does this empower students it also gets them involved in empirical research. Asking students to contribute to marketing materials and open day talks are also examples of best practice we have witnessed. Making students feel valued creates communities of learners who are proud to be part of a course.
  6. Number 6 is the importance of pedagogical approaches. Dynamic teaching styles, creative assignments and effective learning environments play a much bigger role in creating great courses than some realise. Having a great subject isn’t enough, it must be delivered and assessed in ways that students can engage with and relate to. Digital technologies, collaborative learning, case study assignments and such like all bring criminology to life, beyond the textbooks.
  7. Avoid delivering boring courses. There’ s a lot out there. It’s quite incredible how some academics can make such topical studies ultimately dull. Students don’t want to be talked at, they want to be engaged. Variety is key here; guest speakers, educational visits, work experience. All these make for engaging courses.
  8. Inspiring programme managers are a crucial component to the success of a course. Removing the autonomy of academics and making them feel like micro-managed robots is one of the most dangerous moves. We have seen this happen too often and the result is demoralised staff, who lose interest in what they are doing. If staff aren’t excited to turn up and teach then the students will suffer the knock on effect. The best programme managers are those who support, encourage and inspire their team.
  9. Simple course at the key to success. Often courses complicate the structure in order to attract students. Disjointed courses with too many topics lack a vision. The better courses are simple, with smaller optional choices that tie in coherently to the core topics. Attempting to cover too many topics can lead to students only ever scratching the surface of important debates. The advice is keep it simple and focus with an obvious path of progression.
  10. The final but by no means least is extra curricular activities. Courses that encourage students to develop their own societies and debating clubs help to create a course community that goes beyond the classes and exams. Organising educational visits, field trips and social events enable staff and students to get to know each other by breaking down boundaries. Students want to look back on their course with fond memories of the social side and being made to feel part of the course. Criminology communities are just as important and criminology essays.

So there you have it, a collective top ten tips on what makes an excellent criminology course. I’m sure you will agree that many of these can be applied to other disciplines, not just Criminology. What are your thoughts? Feel free to share in the comments.

As always thanks for reading.


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