Conneely, Sinéad and O'Leary, Walter (2010) INTEGRATIVE LEARNING ON A CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEGREE PROGRAMME. In: Making Connections: Intentional Teaching for Integrative Learning. UNSPECIFIED.


Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) is a third level institution which locates its origins  and ethos in vocational and technical education. The School of Humanities is well established  and unusually vigorous but it does not conform fully to the liberal education model that a university offers: for example, there is less wariness about linking liberal education to  vocational ends. Coupled with this unusual environment for a BA curriculum, the course we have chosen to study is also unusual in itself. The BA (Hons) in Criminal Justice Studies is an interdisciplinary programme which combines modules from a range of diverse disciples  including Law, Sociology, Psychology and Business. It is a themed arts degree, which provides  the student with discipline specific training in subjects which are chosen to relate to the  theme in different ways. The aim of the programme is to develop professional criminal  justice practitioners of the highest calibre who will have the academic and vocational skills  necessary to deal with a diverse range of problems which they will encounter during their  careers. Consequently, those involved in the training of students who intend to work in this  area will need to ensure that they develop academic qualities that include a broad knowledge  base in their field, research skills, a proactive problem-solving approach and the ability to work independently, or as part of a team.    The course compels integrated learning by both its very structure and aims. Students must  become intentional and integrative learners if they are to put their academic training to  practical use in a way that encompasses the several strands of their programme. The need for good quality liberal education to be integrative in order to build habits of mind that prepare  students for life and to support vocational training are married within this course. However, as  Gale observed:  [W]hile integrative learning is by no means the be-all and end-all of  undergraduate education, it is certainly a central feature of liberal learning, a core capacity for academic success and life long meaning making (2006, p. 11).  This is typified within this course structure as while the modules from these diverse range of  disciplines are examined on an ongoing basis, each is assessed within the confines of that particular discipline and this does not attempt to evaluate the level of integrated learning achieved by the student. The programme represents an integrated curriculum but this may not lead to integrative learning without the provision of further student learning supports  (Malnarich and Lardner, 2003). Assessing the success of the course in this regard becomes a vital element in supporting its raison d'etre and there can be no room for complacency. The  global factors that compel educators to bolster integrative learning, such as new technology, globalisation, and academic dialogue across disciplines have also had an impact in Waterford.  The global economic downturn and national recession have focused our minds on graduate employability as never before, with flexibility and mobility of workers now required (Huber  and Hutchings, 2004). Thus, external and internal factors combine to propel the cause of integrative learning into the limelight for course teachers.    At the outset, as researchers designing this project, we were optimistic about the ability of  students to act as integrative learners. We founded our optimism on the nature of the course  itself, which as a themed degree encourages students to relate their learning to a focal  point. The applied social studies component of the degree is large and the lecturers are very     experienced in relative theory to practice and utilise a range of methods in support of this  integration, including reflective learning journals and portfolios. The core modules - research  methods, critical thinking, and professional and personal development - were designed to cut across discipline boundaries and encourage integrative thinking. Self-directed learning  was promoted in all areas but specifically supported by the inclusion of an independent study module in the final year. Assessment methodologies were various and imaginative,  encompassing examination, essay, presentation, portfolio, and team projects. The Institute  as a whole was showing a new consciousness of the need for integrative learning beyond theory to practice, with two new Bachelor of Arts degrees within the department building in interdisciplinary seminars to aid integration of major and minor disciplines into student thinking.    At the time we constructed the research proposal, there were 150 students on the programme,  with 10% over the age of twenty-three and seven nationalities represented in the student  body. We were confident that at least by the third year of the course, students would  demonstrate the integrative learning capacity which is now much sought after in the market place. We expected that mature students, owing to their superior life experience, would score  particularly highly in this regard while students with a strong academic record reflecting intentional learning, would also be very successful.    Only two elements gave us any cause for doubt. Firstly, the course has been modularised  and semesterised along with all the programmes offered in the Institute. While this has advantages for students, our experience as lecturers has been that it can encourage the  compartmentalisation of knowledge. Earlier elements are often left to one side once they have  been tested and there is little incentive for students to integrate their learning either within  or between disciplines. As such we considered that the system could be operating as an actual  barrier to integrative learning. All modules were chosen with reference to their relevance in the criminal justice sphere both from an academic and vocational point of view but the  course depends on the individual lecturers linking their work to the overall theme of the  course. Secondly, and possibly more problematically, the course did not specifically offer any form of institutional 'scaffolding' to encourage, support and build integrative learning skills.  Aside from the core modules, students were instructed and assessed within disciplines without  reference, necessarily, to other aspects of the course. Accepting the premise of Huber and  Hutchings that integrative learning requires work and is unlikely to occur without commitment  and creativity from educational institutions, we had to ask ourselves if we did enough as course designers to support the process. Only research could provide that answer.

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