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Transforming Researchers into Educators: Some Reflections on the University College Dublin School of Law Syllabus Design Workshop 2010

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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The priority given to the development of research skills during doctrinal legal education often neglects the importance of equipping PhD students with the pedagogical skills necessary to fulfill their important educational role as academics. Thus, in many instances there is a significant gap in the requisite skill base that PhD students acquire when they complete their doctrinal education. This paper outlines a first step that has been taken to address this deficiency in postgraduate legal education in Ireland. The PhD community of the University College Dublin (UCD) School of Law convened an internal Syllabus Design Workshop in April 2010 in order to provide doctrinal students with an opportunity to design a university module and to explore the issues which arise in undertaking such an exercise. The first part of this paper outlines how the workshop was conceived and convened, and provides an account of the considerations that each student had to take into account in the design of a syllabus. From here, we address the content of the workshop and reflect upon some of the important issues which were raised. Finally, we offer a number of recommendations in relation to the development of doctrinal students as future educators. By highlighting the importance of uniting research and teaching, it is hoped that this paper will contribute to postgraduate legal education in Ireland, and also internationally.

Copyright © 2011 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 Within this article, “course” refers to third or fourth level programmes such as degrees or masters; “module” refers to the individual subjects or units such as contract law or family law (these modules typically comprise the course, however they may be independent as in the case of language modules); and “coordinator” refers to the individual who is the central designer and instructor within the course or module.Google Scholar

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22 For example, the role of tutorials to complement lectures has steadily grown within Irish legal education. Group presentations and essays, mooting and legal writing projects have been introduced amongst other tools to facilitate the learning of both the law and relevant skills. Within University College Dublin, transferrable skill modules have also been established more recently in parallel with substantive modules.Google Scholar

23 For example, teaching styles are typically divided into extremes of pedagogy (instructing/relating to children) and andragogy (facilitating/co-learning/relating to adults). In deciding upon the appropriate style for the module, it is important to be aware of the distinctions, the benefits and drawbacks of each style, and whether a blend might be preferable; see Geraldine Holmes & Michele Abington-Cooper, Pedagogy vs. Andragogy: A False Dichotomy?, 26 (2) The Journal of Technology Studies (2000), available at: (last accessed: 11 July 2011).Google Scholar

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37 In support of this position, see for example, Burgan, Mary, In Defense of Lecturing, 38 (6) Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 30 (2006); Feaster, John, Public or Perish: Teaching, Learning, and the Ideology of Socialization, 40(2) College Teaching 75 (1992); Birk, Lisa, What's So Bad About the Lecture?, 62 (9) Education Digest 58 (1997).Google Scholar

38 “Large” class size is considered as a deterrent on effective class participation and the assessment of such, due in part to the potentially more intimidating setting and also in part due to the practical difficulties of facilitating active engagement of all members of the class and assessing this. See in this regard, Sifris & McNeil supra note 19; also in the context of teenagers, see Jimmie R. Applegate, Why Don't Pupils Talk in Class Discussions 44(2) The Clearing House 78 (1969).Google Scholar

39 For examples of literature referring to the benefits of small class sizes on participation see the articles at supra note 38. However, in many other studies other factors such as the relationship between students and teacher, the means of participation utilized and class activities were considered to have a greater effect than class size. See for example, Franklin D. Becker, Robert Sommer, Joan Bee & Bart Oxley, College Classroom Ecology, 36(4) Sociometry 514 (1973), which also notes the role of the layout of the classroom and the importance of how distant the students are from the teacher; also in Weaver, Robert R. & Qi, Jiang, Classroom Organization and Participation: College Students’ Perceptions, 76(5) The Journal of Higher Education 570 (2005), the authors refer to the importance of developing a rapport between teacher and students not merely within the classroom but also outside. Other articles note a wide range of factors that influence participation, for example, see J.R. Howard et. al., supra note 32, at 8 (1996).Google Scholar

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