Facilitating Independent Inquiry, Critical Thinking and Writing: An Integrated Teaching Methodology applied in Human Rights Education

Dr Li-ann Thio
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The promotion by teaching and education of human rights by every individual and organ of society was advocated by the UN General Assembly in adopting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Within the context of university education, human rights education is an integral aspect of cultivating global citizenship pursuant to the goal of realising human rights as a 'common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.'

This paper discusses an integrated teaching methodology designed to facilitate independent inquiry and exploration by students into a particular topic within this discipline, through the adopting of various pedagogical techniques. Firstly, a firm grounding in the general principles of international human rights law is imparted through formal lectures and interactive seminars where conceptual and theoretical issues are examined in depth. This is to ensure a sound understanding of doctrine and contemporary controversies in the field, which equips the student with the understanding necessary to formulate a viable research proposal and to critically engage issues. Secondly, independent inquiry is facilitated through affording the student the opportunity to write a research paper on a particular human rights topic, under close supervision and so to find their 'voice' and develop their informed perspective on a problem pertaining to social welfare, as examined through the lens of a human rights framework. Aside from close supervision which allows the student to receive regular feedback during the process of research and writing, workshops are conducted on the more practical aspects of research and writing, including how to identify a viable topic, conceptualising and structuring a research thesis, what critical methodology to adopt, the function of footnotes and developing a disciplined writing regime. What has been found particularly effective in aiding the writing process is the adoption of a process of 'peer review' whereby a student critiques the first research draft of a fellow student and offers constructive criticism on how to improve the paper in both substantive and stylistic terms, drawing from the reviewers' knowledge of general human rights law. A workshop on criteria upon which to base a peer review guides the student in the process of evaluating the (a) ideas and content; (b) organization and analysis; (c) sources and methodology adopted and (d) structure, style and clarity of expression of a peer paper. In the process of assessing the cogency and clarity of a peer paper, the student becomes conscious of the strengths and weaknesses in his or her own paper which aids in the completion and revised of the final research paper. In terms of teaching objectives, the student emerges with a solid appreciation of general human rights law, in depth expertise in his/her chosen research topic as well as familiarity with the work of a peer through the peer review process, as well as advanced writing, research and evaluative skills which are transferable to the study of other fields within this discipline. Furthermore, this course has produced some high quality research papers which have subsequently been published in law review journals, thereby empowering students by facilitating their contribution to the body of knowledge in this field.

Keywords: Critical Skills, Research and Writing Skills, Teaching Methodology, Human Rights Education
Stream: Adult, Vocational, Tertiary and Professional Learning
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Facilitating Independent Inquiry, Critical Thinking and Writing

Dr Li-ann Thio

Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore

Dr Li-ann Thio teaches and researches public international law, human rights law, constitutional and administrative law and has published widely in these fields. She was Chief Editor, Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law (2000-2003) and is currently on the editorial and advisory board of the Singapore Yearbook of International Law and New Zealand Yearbook of International Law respectively. In 1997, she was Young Asian Scholar at the University of Melbourne Law Faculty. A leading Singapore constitutional scholar, she co-authored Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore (Butterworths, 1997), is the corresponding editor (Singapore) for Blaustein & Flanz's Constitutions of the Countries of the World and the International Journal of Constitutional Law. In 2001-2002, 2002-2003 she was ranked an NUS Excellent Teacher and in 2004, was the Faculty nomination and recipient of the NUS Outstanding Young Researcher award, given in recognition of her scholarship.

Ref: L05P1186