Teaching criminology through COVID-19, and the future of learning in a post-pandemic world

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science, Dr Xanthé Mallett, opens up about her experience of teaching criminology through COVID-19, and shares her views on the future of learning in a post-pandemic world.

COVID-19 has pushed us all out of our comfort zones, which has led to pioneering and exciting ways of teaching and learning. It’s meant I couldn’t have industry partners come in to speak as part of the Semester 1 core criminology units, so instead I have recorded interviews with them. This has opened a whole world of opportunities, as I broadened my horizons outside of those that could attend Newcastle to speak in person, to interviewing people from around the world. This brings a whole new element to the courses that I would not have considered pre-COVID.

Where possible I am using examples of crime related to COVID-19 to show how the theories can be explained by real-world situations. This could be the increase in domestic violence, or the creation of fake cures to profiteer from the pandemic. I believe a good Course Coordinator has a clear objective of what the course needs to achieve, the knowledge transfer that has to happen to allow students to develop their understanding of the topic. But it also needs to link with what is going on in the real world, at least for Criminology subjects. Much of the material we cover is theoretical, which is the foundation of the discipline, but theory can be hard to grasp. So a successful course is designed, developed and delivered to illustrate how theory applies in practice, to make the content contextually relevant to the students. And it’s so important to get it right early on, as for me it’s all about the foundation: Teach people well in their early years, and they will reap the benefits in the latter parts of their learning journey.

I want students who have completed my programs to think for themselves, not be automatons that regurgitate what others say. I encourage them to ask questions, to challenge the status quo if they don’t agree, to have opinions and to be confident enough to share those. But I also want them to have a social conscience, to realise the world is not black and white, and to be considerate of other people’s ideas and feelings so that they can go into the world and make a positive difference.

COVID-19 has been a huge challenge for everyone to adapt to, staff and students alike. I think some of these challenges will continue as we wrestle with how to safely teach large cohorts, such as those seen in Criminology. But we can mitigate some of these obstacles by some of the positives that have come out of this. We have a chance now to embrace some of the changes we have had to adopt as a result of the pandemic, and pick and choose what we want to keep and change – the way we’ve always done things doesn’t have to be the way we do them going forward.

Our biggest opportunities will come from remaining agile and being willing to accept a new future that we can all have a hand in creating.  While we have all been living in isolation, in some ways it feels as if COVID-19 has taught us we are all connected, and now we can leverage that in the education space, to the benefit of the student learning experience.

About Xanthé

Xanthé completed three of her degrees in the UK (a Bachelor of Science in Archaeological Science, a Masters in Biological Anthropology, and PhD in Forensic Science), before relocating to Australia in 2012. 

Working at our University since 2017, Xanthé's role was to establish and develop a new major in Criminology. To date, the course has been extremely popular, with almost 400 students taking the introductory course each year.

Xanthé has recently published a book exposing Australia’s worst wrongful convictions. ‘Reasonable Doubt’ examines cases where the criminal justice system has failed, and the wrong person has ended up in prison. She examines cases such as the Lawyer X scandal with Nicola Gobbo, Khalid Baker who was imprisoned for the death of a man his best friend has openly admitted causing, and Henry Keogh who spent almost twenty years locked away for a murder that never even happened.

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