3 ways to teach the 2015 General Election

UK_opinion_polling_2010-2015For a very long time, teaching about British general elections was hampered by one simple fact: you were never quite sure when they would happen. Unless there was a clear play to sit out the maximum term (as in 1992), then students and instructors would be at the whim of the occupant of No.10.

So the introduction of fixed term parliaments by the current administration is a real boon: we have a date (7 May), which also falls nicely towards the end of the teaching period in the spring semester. This lets us think about some creative ways we might teach about it.

I’m assuming that those devoting entire modules/courses to the subject will already be up and running, but for the rest of us, there’s still the opportunity to import aspects of what’s happening into the classroom. Consider these three starting points.

1: real-time information

The most obvious thing to do is to get students aware of, and discussing, what’s happening right now. Major news outlets are setting up micro-sites for the election, aggregating content. Likewise, there are some excellent resources, including those handling polling data (here and here) or more general academic comment.

What’s becoming evident is that there is a huge amount of near-instantaneous material/comment available, so setting up a module account on Twitter to collect and share it is a great way to capture this and funnel it into the class: perhaps you set the last half-hour of a session to discuss what’s happening.

2: active debate

Last semester I got my students to role-play a debate on the television debates, playing different parties. This topic is still on-going and gets the students into thinking about the media, the status of parties and the semantics of public debate, in a form that is readily accessible.

If that’s not your thing, then you could run a hustings, or a putative post-election coalition negotiation. All of these active-learning models force students to take their knowledge and apply it to a situation, where they can see how positions interact with each other and where presentational (and representational) factors can strongly influence the course of events.

3: comparative approaches

Aware as I am that most of our readers aren’t UK-based, it’s also worth thinking about using the British case as a comparator for your own national system. As I’ve noted, the quantity and quality of material available is extremely high, and students’ awareness of the basic features of the system should be pretty good (at least in the relative sense). Couple this to the obvious differences between your country and the UK (electoral system, parliamentary government, party structure, media structure, etc.) and you have a great opportunity to leverage more insight into how national polities work.

This might be of comparing electoral campaigning, or issue development, or even just how your country sees what is going on elsewhere in the world (this last one might well be most suitable for those places that think they are the centre of the world (ahem)).

As I say, this is just a first effort, but if you have more suggestions, either of techniques or of resources, then do please post below in the comment box.

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