My teaching philosophy is the result of more than 20 years
of teaching experience in the Faculty of Law at NUS. I have
taught both substantive law and ‘skills’ courses,
and I have constantly experimented with various teaching techniques
My experience in preparing students for international mooting
competitions has had a considerable influence on my teaching
philosophy. I observed over the years that students participating
in international mooting competitions not only learned more
than students doing regular courses, but they also enjoyed
the learning process much more. This forced me to consider
how some of the techniques I used in coaching moot teams might
be employed in the teaching of regular subjects. As a result,
I have placed an increasing emphasis on problem-oriented methods
of teaching and exercises that require students to work in
My teaching philosophy can be summarised as follows:
- Most subjects in law school should be designed to produce
students who are creative problem-solvers, not students
who have learned large amounts of legal doctrine. In order
to develop problem-solving skills, there should be less
emphasis placed on substantive content and more emphasis
placed on the application of general principles. Greater
emphasis should be placed on making certain that students
have a thorough understanding of the basic principles and
a framework for analysing that area of law.
- From my experience the best method of teaching law students
to be problem solvers is to use the ‘problem-oriented’
method of teaching in which the students analyse complex
hypothetical problems. The problem method of teaching forces
students to analyse facts, identify the legal issues, research
the law, and prepare arguments or propose solutions. This
process requires students to think critically about the
law they have studied and to go into greater depth than
is required in regular classes. It develops their analytical
and research skills, and forces them to come up with practical
legal arguments for one side or the other in the problem.
In addition, students usually find complex hypothetical
problems challenging and interesting. Finally, complex hypothetical
problems are the best vehicle for encouraging students to
come up with innovative and creative arguments.
- Teaching should reflect the fact that law is best understood
in its broader context and as part of a dynamic process.
Law should not be taught as a static body of principles
and rules. Legal rules and principles are constantly being
adapted and changed to respond to technological advances,
economics, social, political and ethical values and other
forces. As teachers we must provide our students with an
analytical framework for understanding this dynamic process,
as this will enable them to be key players in the process.
- Teachers should understand that there are serious limitations
to the traditional lecture method of teaching. Lectures
provide a useful forum for teachers to generate interest
in a subject. Lectures can also be used to explain the basic
principles governing a subject area and the context in which
those principles developed. Lectures can also be used to
provide the student with a framework for analysing a problem
or issue in that subject area. However, when it comes to
the higher skills of analysing complex problems and issues,
I have found that lectures are of very limited value.
- Higher levels of learning occur when students are forced
to articulate their ideas and solutions in writing. Learning
is enhanced further if the written analysis is critiqued
by their peers or by the teacher, and the students are required
to re-write their analysis in light of the comments and
criticisms. A still higher level of learning is achieved
if the students must verbally articulate their analysis
and respond to questions that test their level of understanding.
The highest levels of learning are reached if the students
must repeat this process until they can demonstrate that
they have reached the desired level of understanding and
- Students can learn as much from each other as from their
teachers, especially if they are given greater responsibility
for defining the learning process. When possible, the teaching
methods employed in a course should provide students with
the opportunity of working together in groups to analyse
problems, conduct research and propose solutions. This is
also important in preparing students for legal practice,
where they will usually be working as a member of a team
on a case. This requires that teachers must be more than
good lecturers or communicators. They must also be good
facilitators and coaches.
- It is critically important that the methods of evaluation
and assessment in a subject reflect the objectives of the
course and the teaching methods that have been employed.
If creative problem-solving is one of the major goals of
a subject, there should be more use of methods of continuous
assessment such as writing exercises and moots, and less
emphasis on final examinations.
- Finally, and perhaps most important, always treat your
students with respect, and make an effort to get them involved
in the learning process. If you seek their views on the
teaching methods you plan to employ, they are more likely
to cooperate and support your efforts.
I have limited my comments to the teaching of law, as that
is the only discipline I am qualified to teach or comment
on. However, I would expect that many of my points may also
be valid for education in other disciplines.
Associate Professor Robert Beckman is a winner of the
2000/2001 Outstanding Educator Award.