University of Portsmouth
Improving Research, Helping Students Understand Complex Topics
This approach makes it much easier for students to understand complex topics. You avoid overwhelming the students with detail and provide a structure for their understanding.
Reader in Law and Behavioural Sciences
Helping Law Students Understand Complex Criminal Investigation and Trial Data
David Carson is a Reader in Law and Behavioural Sciences at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth. He has been using MindGenius for 5 years. He uses it both in teaching and for research. He shows students ‘maps’ of legal topics, e.g. the law of theft. To be guilty the suspect must have (a) dishonestly, (b) appropriated, (c) property (d) belonging to another, (e) intending to permanently deprive the owner. Each of those requirements is a limb in a map. Further detail is then added to each of those limbs, for example the courts have decided you are only ‘dishonest’ if (a) reasonable people would have thought you were and, (b) you realised that. Again, each of those limbs is mapped and any further detail is added.
This approach, he argues, makes it much easier for students to understand complex topics. You avoid overwhelming the students with detail and provide a structure for their understanding. As soon, for example, as they understand the legal meaning of a test you can introduce more detailed issues and knowledge. Most importantly, for students, it enables them to see how it all ‘fits together.’ You can explain how and where a court decision fits, like showing where a leaf should be attached to a particular branch. And, with later versions of MindGenius, the students can add notes to each branch (to help ensure they understand a point), and add electronic links to appropriate library resources. “Indeed,” he almost complains, “it can be frustrating when students find this approach so easy (you can see them ‘counting off’ the five requirements for theft in exams), when we had to read page upon page and then organise and understand all that detail for ourselves!”
Fig 1 Example Of MindGenius Criminal Investigation map
Please click on image for full screen view
David has, recently, begun to use MindGenius in his research. He is trying to show how the courts could make more reliable decisions on the evidence. If successful his work could both reduce miscarriages of justice and ensure more criminals are shown – proved beyond reasonable doubt – to be guilty.
He is developing a technique known as Wigmorean Charting. This involves linking, or mapping, the evidence in a case. For example all the evidence which suggest the person charged with theft was ‘dishonest’ is linked to that legal requirement. Perhaps Witness 1 saw the suspect acting furtively and Witness 2 heard him tell a confederate that they were going to cheat the victim. These pieces of evidence are mapped – David is using MindGenius - into a chart. Evidence which supports other evidence, for example why Witness 2 is reliable and was not mistaken about what she heard the suspect say, is added to the appropriate branch. Evidence against guilt, for example an alibi, is also charted. MindGenius allows prosecution and defence evidence to be presented in different colours, shapes, etc.
With a chart the evidence can be seen and rigorously analysed. ‘Weak spots,’ that is any point which needs to be proved but for which there is little or no evidence, will become clear. And MindGenius (unlike existing Wigmorean Charts), allows you only to display the branches you are interested in, as well as make electronic links to, for example, photographs or witness statements for easy access.
David hopes that Senior Investigating Officers (the detectives in charge of serious crimes), will find them a more practical tool than the ‘policy logs’ they must currently keep to explain the decisions they made. They should also help the Crown Prosecution Service when they decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring the case, and the judge when he or she encourages the lawyers to focus on the relevant issues in pre-trial hearings.
They could also help jurors understand the case put before them.
Police Professional, a weekly journal for police officers, recently published one of David’s papers on this topic (March 18, pp. 18-22). He is also promoting these developments through practical workshops on this and other topics (see: http://sites.google.com/site/dcccarson/). His ultimate ambition, he claims, is to make traditional law textbooks redundant, by replacing them with detailed mind maps!