The beauty of studying politics – its ever-changing nature – is also its curse, at least when it comes to trying to teach it. This year has seen more than its fair share of surprising and consequential political developments, which presents us with a dilemma.
On the one hand, students are understandably keen to explore and discuss what’s happening around them, not least because it has a material impact on their lives. On the other, it’s hard to talk about something that’s still happening: that’s why so many of us encourage our students to pick recent – rather than current – developments for dissertation topics.
Without getting into the whole question of whether we should be led by our students’ interests, rather than by what is important (and even as I write that, cringe at both sides of the equation), we can still think about ways to allow us more scope to integrate the here-and-now into our courses.
Most obviously, we can – and do – apply models and theories to contemporary events, through our lectures and seminars, discussions and presentations. But this relies on a degree of luck in the synchronisation of real-world events and our teaching timetable, especially if we’re trying to do something more substantial.
One option is to have a regular slot for looking at current events. In the past, I have used the first ten minutes of a class to find out what students think has happened since the last class and how it relates to our work. This not only ties these together nicely, but also encourages them to pay attention to the news (that’s another post all together).
Likewise, one could build a much more student-led course, where they develop multi-session projects to develop their analysis of what’s happening into a more substantive output, ideally one that can be used and updated by later cohorts. Wikis are the obvious solution here, with their combination of multiple-authorship and trackable editing.
Most ambitiously, you can make your entire content about current affairs, building up a series of emergent themes. This requires both you and the class to be ready to jump around a vast range of potential subjects, plus an institution that is comfortable with nobody knowing what will be covered. That might be possible with a pre-determined assessment – perhaps an evaluation of those events in light of relevant literature.
Of course, the risk of this will be that suddenly not much happens in your bit of the world. Maybe that’s a small risk, but as always, it’s one you’d need to be prepared for.