Dr Derek Dalton’s novel approach to teaching his Crime, Law and Trauma topic has earned him a prestigious Citation for Contributions to Outstanding Student Learning from the Federal Government’s Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC).
His was one of eight Citations, each with a $10,000 prize, awarded this month to staff at Flinders University for high quality, innovating teaching.
Drawing on cultural studies, history, psychology, criminology and, of course, law, Dr Dalton encourages his students to use textual analysis to gain “a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of law”.
“Whereas in a traditional law topic students will be looking at case law and statutes, but these are not the only places where legal meaning resides,” Dr Dalton said.
“I look at all manner of things: film, political cartoons, photographs, poetry, biography and works of art,” he said.
The case studies that make up the bulk of the topic explore a lot of ground – from the trials and tribulations of Oscar Wilde, to the role of law as a tool of genocide in the Holocaust and offensive art controversies in Australia.
“For too many years people have laboured under the simplistic view of law as a rather positive, righteous force that solves problems,” Dr Dalton said.
“But the manner in which the law is directly or indirectly coopted to facilitate bad outcomes is often overlooked.
“The overarching theme that informs all the case studies is the idea of trauma that can entail death, suffering, loss, harm and anxiety, even in the denial of someone’s right to see an artwork exhibited in a gallery or to watch a particular film.”
The students, from four different undergraduate degree programs, apply their learning in individually tailored research projects of their own choice.
Dr Dalton said exploring the ethics of the law played a fundamental role in his approach.
“We often get caught up in the what and how but the why sometimes gets left behind,” he said.
“When I teach, I try to let go of the content and how I’m going to get it across but I often say to myself: ‘Why am I teaching this?’ The why is important.”