Criminal justice and related degrees generally involve a balance of practical, applied or hands-on courses WITH knowledge, theory-based or lecture-style courses.
Examples of lecture courses might include criminology, the court systems, intro to the criminal justice system, criminal law, the history of policing, contemporary issues in corrections, the criminal mind, social policy, juvenile delinquency or multicultural dynamics.
Some students thrive in these types of courses where readings, memorizing facts, discussions, reflection, analysis and/or debates are involved. Others relate more to a hands-on approach to education and flourish during internships, re-enactments and opportunities where they get to learn and practice career-related procedures.
(Note that not all criminal justice courses draw a clear line between theory and practice. Once you start your studies, intriguingly you’ll notice a combination of both styles of learning within several of your courses.)
If you are one of those students who struggle with classroom settings centered on a theoretical style of learning, here are some tips that may help:
- Listening to Lectures: It’s normal for anyone’s mind to wander or to get overwhelmed during lectures.
- Utah State University’s Academic Center offers this great piece of advice: “Learn to identify the lecture style that is used by your professor,” adding that a lot of profs tend to introduce the subject at the beginning and summarize the key points at the end (although this might not always be the case.)
- Rather than be weighed down with every key detail, try to identify the most important information throughout the class.
- Active listening, to prevent the mind from wandering and to increase understanding, also involves becoming a direct participant. This might mean asking yourself, “How does what is being said relate to the key concepts?” It also means not being scared to ask questions during or after the lecture when you do not understand. Sitting up straight and maintaining eye contact with the professor also helps. Effective note taking is also especially helpful.
- Note Taking: While you may think that note taking is a waste of time, especially when you’re already doing readings, you’d be surprised how important it is. Ideally during class, the professor will be explaining the curriculum in a more understandable way than the textbook and he or she will also be identifying the key points to focus on. Taking notes can help you remember and retain the most relevant knowledge to be gained.
- Do not copy someone else’s style of note-taking. Over time, you will develop your own style that works best for you.
- One helpful tip is using telegraphic sentences. If you are a Twitter user, think of how you might shorten a key message to fit 140 characters. You can do the same while taking notes to increase efficiency. For example, instead of writing, “A felony is a crime considered more serious than a misdemeanor and usually comes with a punishment of at least a year of imprisonment…,” you could write: “Felony: more serious than misdemeanor, 1+ year prison…” You can adopt your own style, whether it is using words, symbols, flowcharts…
- The College of the Redwoods’ Academic Support Center recommends the “Two-Page System”. If using a notebook, the left hand page could be used to write down the lecture’s main points, and the right hand page could be used for the supporting details that coincide with each main point. (If using a lap top, you could make a two-column table if you like this note-taking technique.)
- According to the Cornell University’s Learning Strategies Center, what makes notes good, is not necessarily the quantity of notes you take or whether the penmanship is neat, but if the notes are useful. The Center adds, “The key is really what happens after class.” We will discuss this in more detail in Part 2 of Study Skills for Criminal Justice Lectures.
Also in Part 2, we’ll look at readings, test prep and other tips for studying outside of class.