The Department of Public Law teaches four core courses in the LLB curriculum: Constitutional Law, International Law, Interpretation of Statutes and Administrative Law, a s well as a range of optional courses in the final year.
Constitutional Law and Public International Law are taught very early in the degree as they provide a framework for the rest of the legal degree and communicate essential concepts and skills. But many of the foundational concepts in these two courses are difficult and sometimes intimidating: in Constitutional Law, for example, the meanings of some of the most central concepts (such as democracy, public participation, etc) are open and contested; in International Law, students have to come to grips with a legal system without a central lawgiver, in which the content of legal rules can also be uncertain.
Lecturers in International and Constitutional Law meet these challenges in a number of different ways. First, we keep lectures as interactive as possible. In this way, students are encouraged to express their own views and learn that they must aim towards presenting well-substantiated arguments, rather than providing the 'right' answer or agreeing with their readings and lecturers. Secondly, and with the help of the Vula interactive online learning system, we have set up an ongoing simulation in International Law. This system, known as Inkundla yeHlebathi (World Forum), divides students up into countries rather than tutorial groups and gives them practical exercises to carry out throughout the year, such as concluding treaties with one another. Inkundla yeHlebathi has helped to foster group identity and improve the communication within and between tutorial groups, as well as showing students the practical import of the apparently abstract rules they are learning. It has also made learning, and the online environment, fun and attractive, and we have a simply buzzing chat room! Click here to visit the VULA website.
Later courses, such as Interpretation of Statutes (taught in Intermediate Year) and Administrative Law (taught in final year) use lectures to provide a framework for reading and further research. In these courses, much of the teaching takes place in small groups, allowing students to discuss specific problems among themselves and with the lecturer. Lecturers find this format very useful: it allows them to get to know their students better and work more closely with them; it helps to maintain the interactive approach introduced in the foundational courses; it and allows for more in-depth engagement with legal issues. Here, as in the foundational courses, the classes are aimed at developing analytical skills rather than getting the 'right' answer, as students are again helped to construct and critique legal arguments with detail and precision.