Today’s guest post comes from Natalia Timus (Maastricht):
One of the challenges of teaching European studies apart from its multidisciplinary character, is a wide target audience interested in this field of studies. This requires a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the instructor in adapting their knowledge and skills to be transferred during the learning process to the specific audience, be it political scientists, historians, economists, or lawyers, for example.
For the second year in a row I have been invited to teach a crash course on the ‘EU and its outsiders’, with a focus on Eastern European neighbourhood, for a summer program of a business school. This represented a new adventure for me and a major challenge for my teaching approach. I was well aware that I have to keep it simple, interactive, and get most of the things done during the classroom, since the course consisted of three days intensive teaching (15 hours) and everyone was looking forward for some beach or sightseeing time in Nice, France.
My first concern in defining my teaching approach was how to optimally talk about business and economic developments from the perspective of a political scientist that I am, and not sliding into the business field that might represent a big mystery to me. For the beginning, I considered important identifying major issues within the field of political economy that might provide a fertile ground for the study of business and political science. Taking into account the multinational profile of my students, as well as the high probability of their lack of any previous background on Eastern Europe or EU external relations, I decided to balance between the time devoted to cover the domestic level transition to democracy and market economy and the external influence, covering both the EU and Russia.
Now that half of the job has been done, I still had to define the appropriate pedagogical approach I would use. Although I knew little about students’ background, I was informed that there is a large majority coming from the United States higher indication system, but half of them were Chinese, many of them being enrolled both at the BA and MA levels within business calls, some of them were practitioners that decided to use the summer as an opportunity for personal development, and their age varied from early twenties to forties. There was also the division between native and non-native English speakers that I had to be taken into account. In these circumstances, I reflected upon the pedagogical strategy that would provide enough room for everyone to feel comfortable raising questions and taking part in class activities, as well as balancing between individual and team work.
Knowing that case study is a widespread pedagogical approach within the business education, I have conducted a small research for better understanding the use of this method and ended up adapting it to my specific content to be delivered and the time constraints. I chose to work on four case studies engaging students in face-to-face group work during the classrooms and devoting around one hour for each case study.
Apart from that, being a fan of debates, which I have acquired as a learning approach during my high school years, I also inserted two open class debates, where individual student participation was assessed, and one final debate, like a desert for the course, which has been structured as a parliamentary debate and the two groups shared the grade based on their performance.
As I was new with teaching EU studies to business students, their feedback was very important to me. Therefore I have devoted 5 to 10 minutes for debriefing after each day for a joint reflection on the teaching of the learning process, and the final debriefing when I asked the students to reflect on two questions: 1) what course element did you like the most and why? and 2) what could be further improved and how?
I was glad to see that the students felt comfortable enough with providing an open face-to-face feedback additional to the formal evaluation forms that they had to provide to the administration. Overall, they shared the view that the course was well paced, with a good balance between lecturing and interactive parts, as well as regular breaks of five minutes once an hour. They also appreciated the case studies and their class material that they had to prepare on the spot and then take part in group and class discussions. Some of them suggested as a potential improvement a more focused lecture on Russia, taking into account their personal interests in the country, or would have welcomed more in-depth information on the EU, which largely represented a mystery for them. But all of them liked the fact that there was enough room to ask questions and that I, as an instructor, was feeling comfortable with addressing them, even if they were going somehow beyond the focus of the course.
I must confess I truly enjoyed this unique experience although it required a considerable amount of time and effort for preparing the tailor-made course for teaching the ES to business students. I felt empowered by their positive feedback and it motivated me to improve further for the second year and get more comfortable with my teaching approach. And finally, it just feels special when one as an instructor has the opportunity of introducing for the first time some knowledge to the students and know that it will have a significant impact on their personal development and the way they perceive the world in the future.