FAQs

I have trouble coming up with a clean set of notes during class. What should I do? Why is there no conventional lecturing?
This is a “flipped” class. The class is not there to "give" you the content but to help you think through content that you have already developed through an active engagement with the readings. What matters is thinking through the issues. This is what will serve you well in the exam but also, more importantly, throughout your career. This also means that you will find it more difficult to find existing sets of notes from other years (this is not a bad thing: notes give you a mistaken sense that there is a "set content"). You may want to generate your own notes on a topic in advance of the class, and then enrich them retrospectively after class. Do not distract yourself with taking everything down, it is more important to participate in the exercises. The key is that we learn by doing, not by listening passively. Also, passivity leads to distraction. For those who are interested in pedagogy, particularly as it applies in law faculties in a period of rapid technological change, you may want to check this, or for the experience of legal academics this, this, this or that. The only difference is that I am not convinced of the utility of creating awkward videos of myself talking to a camera and inflicting those on you as a sort of lecture substitute. A combination of carefully selected readings and a summary seem to be better suited to the task.

How should I prepare for class?
A flipped class experience assumes that you come prepared like the aspiring professional lawyer that you are. You have prepared your files, thought of the angles. Imagine that you are going to encounter a minister/judge/partner in a law firm. Class is a meeting where we address outstanding and complex issues, not where basic knowledge transmission occurs. It is on this basis that class also includes an element of evaluation. If you feel you need to do more to be prepared, you should feel free to do more readings. I cannot recommend any particular textbook because there is no single textbook that caters to what I am trying to do and frankly I think most textbooks are not very good. However, for the later sessions on substantive criminal law, Kent Roach is very reliable. But the readings are compiled so as to produce a mixed textbook/case book experience.

I am not sure what a transystemic course in criminal justice is. I thought I was just going to learn about criminal law in Canada.
The transystemic approach is an effort to teach about legal concepts both locally and globally. Here the goal is to highlight the distinctiveness of Canadian criminal justice by studying it in comparative and multidisciplinary perspective. This is based on an understanding that the practice of law is increasingly local and global at the same time and that to survive in this environment, "knowing the law" is simply not enough. What you need to develop are the sort of higher order analytical and intellectual skills that the best lawyers possess. Parts of the course will no doubt deal with the law and justice as they are in Canada only. Over the entire year, you will read many Canadian Supreme Court judgments for example. At the same time, the course will seize every useful opportunity to show these judgments as part of the broader conversations that they are part of.

But does this or that "source" apply in Canada?
Yes and no. If I did not give you a specifically Canadian example it is because I did not think that whether it applied specifically to Canada was the most interesting question at this stage of the course. Sometimes the more interesting case or law will be a foreign one. You are welcome to check or to ask me what the equivalent Canadian provision/case is. However, especially in the introductory sections, what matters is less "what law is applicable here?" and more "how does the law work?". That question is highly relevant to anyone who seeks to practice law in Canada. Moreover, I will not require you to know the details of readings about foreign jurisdictions, just to understand the major issues they raise.

I have trouble with the readings. Some of them seem to discuss things that I cannot relate to the course.
Let me give you an example for this one. For the session on the history of criminal justice you had to read the Hammurabi Code and the Salic law. Obviously these are not immediately relevant to contemporary criminal justice and certainly not applicable in Canada. There will not be questions on the exam about how many camels you owe or what ear needs to be cut off. These are readings that are interesting because they show some particularly famous antecedents to criminal justice, and how societies very different from ours dealt with similar issues. You should treat them that way. So when you read them, what you need to take home is (i) how different were they, (ii) why, and (iii) how do these differences shed light on what criminal justice is today. Other readings need to be taken with a similar analytical and critical distance.

Are all readings equally important?
No, as a general rule there are readings that set out the law, readings that discuss legal issues, and readings that are just there to generate discussion. Understanding which is which is part of your emerging legal training. In fact, knowing what counts, how and why is absolutely crucial to being a good lawyer. You should avoid treating the last two categories as "authoritative" and approach them critically but even the more law-content oriented readings have to be taken with a pinch of salt (do I agree with the decision? how could this case have been decided differently? what is problematic about the outcome notwithstanding that it is good law?).

How is this going to prepare me for the bar exam?
The course is not a vocational course but it will give you a good overall sense of what the criminal law in Canada is and how to apply it. You will still need to do some specific learning by the time you take the bar exam, which is a few years from now.

We did not discuss this reading or issue in class. Will it be on the exam?
I will know very well what we discussed in class and what we did not discuss in class. The goal of the exam will not be to take you by surprise by asking you questions about some obscure part of the course. Having said that, the expectation will be that (i) you have done the readings, (ii) you have developed a sufficient understanding of how the criminal justice system works to apply your knowledge to a variety of issues. 
-
We are sometimes late in class and do not finish going through all of the slides. Is that a problem?
Timing an interactive class is extremely difficult because I cannot anticipate all of the questions and the level of participation. I would rather have a bit more left than nothing. The slides that we did not go through will still be posted. Remember that if you have done the readings, you should be able to address the questions yourself. More importantly, the class is based on a certain level of redundancy. An issue that is not examined in one session, can be examined in another through another angle. A lot of the general introductory sessions introduce ideas that will then be examined in more detail later.

Will we be quizzed on trivia?
No. The questions will not be on meaningless bits of information but on material that, as an aspiring lawyer, your readings should have led you to remember. The goal of the quizzes is to test your ability to "know your files", a huge part of being a lawyer (see "how should I prepare?"). Sometimes the questions will be more fact based, sometimes they will be more analytical. I will have a detailed record over the whole year of your participation to the quizzes.

Other sections do it differently.
Yes they do, and that is great. Different instructors have different philosophies, both in terms of content and pedagogy. That is what makes a faculty rich. The one thing you can be sure of is that a lot of thought has gone into each of our course designs. Also, there is little "set content" for any course, so be reassured that you are not missing out. Some professors will emphasize some issues more than others based on what they think is most interesting or feel most competent talking about, that is only natural. This section's choices are made on the basis of pedagogical research and innovation supported by McGill's Teaching and Learning Services, close consultation with faculty colleagues teaching criminal justice, and discussions with former students on what served them well on the long run.

I like just sitting back and taking notes better.
I understand, I did too. I could just lecture throughout the course. Many studies, however, now consistently show that passive learning of this sort gives students merely an illusory sense of understanding that is generally shattered at exam time or later in professional life The goal of a modern faculty is to teach you not just "the law" but "how to be a lawyer." This will involve being drawn out of your comfort zone, but I hope it will also lead to a much more sophisticated level of understanding and a greater level of satisfaction with your law school experience.

I find that a very interactive classroom makes me anxious
A degree of anxiety is inevitable. To entirely shelter you from a little anxiety would be to ill prepare you for the profession you are about to embark upon. You will be anxious during your first day in court. You will be anxious when your performance in court will make the difference between a person going to prison and being freed. You will be anxious when victims put all their hopes in you. A certain degree of stage fright is inevitable and it would be worrying if you had none. But class is also a safe and respectful environment, in which you are encouraged to grow. Anxiety is something to be managed and chanelled productively. Doing so will help you affirm yourselves and find your way. Remember that finding pleasure in what you do is key in keeping stress levels under control. If we can help in any way, Ana and myself are available. 

The class is going too quickly/too slowly.
There are 70 of you, and you all have a different pace. Some classes will seem rushed, others like they are in slow motion. If you have concerns about things moving too quickly or too slowly tell me or Ana, she will be sure to let me know, and I will adapt.

Some links are not working, how am I supposed to do the readings?
We put a lot of effort into making sure that this site is operational. Remember that you may just be off campus and not behind the McGill VPN. If a link does not work, please alert Ana or myself ASAP.

I raised my hand in class but my question was not addressed.
If the level of participation in class is too intense, I reserve the right to move on. I have a good sense of how much material is left to cover. Please feel free to come and ask me a question after class or by email. Sometimes, a question will clearly anticipate something that we will be addressing at a later point in the course. Please be aware of the overall arc of the syllabus. In any given session we will be addressing the readings within the framework of the broad heading of the day. Also exercise judgement about the relevance of your question/comment to the whole class, you are not just talking to the instructor but to 69 other students.

If I have concerns, and I address them to Ana, will I remain anonymous?
Yes you will, absolutely. The class is based on 12 years of teaching and feedback from students but I am also keen on hearing your views and making sure the course works for you. I learn all the time. That is also the advantage of a flipped classroom, I commit to constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Don't hesitate to come and visit me during my office hours, I am there to help.

Comments