ISA 2018 San Francisco Report

I’m just back from the International Studies Association’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco, and it was a pedagogy bonanza! Great attendance at the pedagogy panels (even those held at off-times) and excellent discussion all around. One thing I love about us pedagogy types is a commitment to leaving plenty of time for Q&A and discussion, since everyone in the room has some expertise to share.

Victor Asal and I ran a new Career Course on Teaching the Intro Class. We focused on both intro to IR and comparative politics, covering such topics as what to do on Day 1, reading/text options, writing good exams and written assignments, classroom management, and of course, games and other activities to teach the material. Our participants had a ton of great ideas and insights.

On the panel on Theory and Practice in IR Teaching: Effectiveness, Political Engagement, and Active Learning, Marcelo Valenca of Escola de Guerra Naval discussed the changing nature and approaches toward pedagogical training in Brazil. He pointed particularly to the impact of the pedagogy workshops held by the College of Wooster’s Jeffrey Lantis, Kent Kille, and Mathew Krain as being instrumental in bringing change to that country. The Wooster Three were mentors of mine when I was in graduate school, so I wasn’t surprised but still pleased to learn about the far-reaching impact of their efforts.

I presented a paper on using a game-version of the television show Survivor to incentive my students to complete the readings, pay attention to current events, and learn geography. The results on the geography front were…not what I expected. Students who took a single, traditional Map Quiz performed much better than this students in the game that had regular, weekly practice in geography! But as we’ve said many times before, failure can be a useful learning tool and this has prompted me to really investigate the key variables about the game that may have hindered learning, so more on that in the future.

An audience member on that panel (Ian Manners, University of Copenhagen) pointed out the utility of using student-created learning modules as a way of engaging students in learning content at a high level. I love this idea, and i’m going to use it in my seminar on sex, marriage, and violence in the fall.

Finally, some conference news: ISA is holding its first Innovative Pedagogy Conference on November 15th in St. Louis, the day before ISA’s Midwest meeting. There will be a plenary, keynote speech by ISA President Patrick James, a graduate student teacher training certification session, and 8 workshops on subjects such as faculty led study abroad programs, designing curriculum, research literacy, civic engagement, assessment of active learning, publishing in the scholarship of teaching and learning, designing simulations, and using simulations and games to teach political violence. At least two members of Team ALPS (myself and Victor Asal) will be there, so please join us!

ISA now has a Professional Resource Center which includes a syllabi archive and a great site for finding some good simulations to use in your classes. You do have to be a member to access the PRC but consider sending in your materials for inclusion!

Finally, a note on submitting to ISA: the two sections that tend to sponsor ALPS-style papers and roundtables are Active Learning in International Affairs (ALIAS) and International Education. I’m section program chair for the latter, and talking with the program chair for ALIAS, we not that we don’t get a ton of first-round submissions. If you’ve thought about presenting a paper or organizing a panel or roundtable relevant to either section, please do so–we are eager for more submissions for next year’s conference in Toronto. There are also opportunities for Innovative Panels, Career Courses, and Flash Talks–check out ISA’s website for more details. Some topics that I know are of interest to my section include best practices in study abroad, transformations in higher education (particularly from a comparative perspective), the challenges of being a faculty administrator of international programs, and curricular design features for IR programs.

That’s it for now! As usual, conferences spur me into thinking in new directions for my pedagogy, and I’m excited to start putting some of these ideas into practice.

More Lego, more production values

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that Lego has been a regular presence in my practice. Whether for creative play or for insights into political theory, it’s a great medium.

Part of my use of it has been in videos. Many years ago, I made a little piece about electoral reform with the help of the university’s comms people, which went down well at the time.

Those very same bricks gave an idea for my work on Brexit, which has now been worked with a professional production company to produce this. The core idea remains the same, namely that the Lego can provide a helpful visualisation of an issue. Continue reading

Knowing your audience

Any questions?

As part of my other duties, I work with “UK in a Changing Europe“, trying to contribute evidence-led research to the debate on UK-EU relations, in which Brexit is a particular focus.

We’re branching out a bit on the programme these days, having built a very good reputation with journalists and policy-makers in Westminster. Very much conscious that influential though these people are, they’re not the be-all and end-all of things, we’re getting out across the UK to public events and to talk with as many different groups as we can.

One upshot of that has been the creation of masses of materials, on our website and our various flash publications. Which raises an interesting opportunity for us: talking to students. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh III: what model to follow?

I’ll admit now that I’m rather enjoying working through this refresh of my negotiation module (here and here), both because it’s intrinsically satisfying and because it’s giving me a bit of focus on L&T these days, when there’s much else I have to think about with the rest of my research.

So far, we’ve established that, while generally good, my module has got a bit stale (for me), so I need to consider how to renew it all, without losing the good stuff.

This brings us to the next big question. If I’m keeping the same core logic – flipped lectures and using the contact time for student negotiation activities – then how might I run both elements?

The flipped part certainly needs to be re-recorded, for the technical reasons I discussed last time around, but do I need to keep the same basic material? Continue reading

Keeping it fresh II: The wheat and the chaff

Yesterday, in the staff common room

As I wrote last week, I’m redesigning my negotiation module for the autumn, since I’ve got more time on my hands, and I’m doing to be doing that in as open a way as possible.

I’m happy to report that, having decided this, I’ve been really excited over the past seven days, trying to work out what I might do and how I might share it with you. (It’s January: I’ll take my pleasures where I find them).

The most useful starting point is, of course, to think about where I am now. In particular, are my learning objectives still appropriate and how have I been doing in meeting them?

This matters because no matter what path I take in this process, I need to making sure that everything points in the same direction, i.e. to giving students the best opportunity possible to achieve the learning objectives. A quick trawl through our fine search function will show just how often we talk about LOs and alignment and why that matters: short version is that without this, it’s just messing about.

Continue reading

Keeping it fresh I

Getting someone else to keep their finger on my pulse…

It’s only just occurred to me that this coming semester I don’t have any teaching, and even then it was only because I was thinking about this blog: truly my finger is on the pulse.

My lack of classtime this spring is down to my recent success with research funding, which means I’ll be spending a lot more time talking to civil servants, politicians and journalists about the wonderful world of Brexit. Great though that is, it’s a rather unusual feeling not to have a class.

Looking back, this’ll be only the second time since I started my career that I’ve had such a situation: the other was a formal sabbatical, during which I first met my lovely ALPSblog colleagues, so maybe that’s a good omen.

This time around, I’m not on sabbatical (despite what some line managers think I’m doing): I still have dissertation supervision for taught students, and tutoring duties, but it’s a small fraction of normal commitments.

The question is raises is how do I keep my hand in L&T, when my main route – teaching – isn’t there? It’s going to be October before I stand in front of a class again and as might be expected, one’s capacity atrophies without use. Continue reading

Who learns from whom?

Unhelpful advice (for this, at least) from Google Images…

I never tire of telling people how much I enjoy my negotiation class. That’s mainly because I’m never really sure what will happen and what we’ll discover together.

This year has been no exception and has really just stressed so much of what we write about here at ALPSblog.

Speaking personally, the real gains didn’t come in class time but in the series of conversations that I had with students last week as they prepared for their final assessment, a reflective piece on what they’d got from the class.

In those few hours, I got to discuss a whole range of ideas – generated by the students themselves – that I’ve never really considered properly before. These ranged from the relationship between leadership and negotiation to the extent that people project images of their desired selves through their interpersonal actions.

The aim of these discussions wasn’t to answer these points, but rather to use them as a means of organising students’ thoughts. However, I find myself turning these over and over and wondering how I can bring them into my own practice, be that in the class itself or more generally.

It’s a truism of active learning to say that we learn from each other, but it’s not that often that one gets such a vivid display.

I’m a better instructor and facilitator for moments like these. By trying to be open to the work and thought of others – and that very much includes students – we can all gain.

And on that thought, I’ll wish you a happy break, whatever you end up doing, and we’ll see you again next year. And who knows what we’ll learn then…


I remember it vividly-ish

See? It’s not just me…

A bit of an odd one for you this time: it’s the end of semester here and so the mind wanders somewhat.

Not so long ago, I was re-reading Eric Schlosser’s Command and control, an excellent account of nuclear weapons incidents in the US. This had been off the back of a lunchtime discussion with colleagues about how there’s a nuclear device buried in the Thames, not so far from where I write, which had been jettisoned back in the 1950s by an ailing RAF bomber.

Yes, we do know have to have fun.

Any way, the book’s brilliant and I totally recommend it to you and students for opening up classroom debate about nuclear ethics beyond MAD. However, if you weren’t sure about nukes and their safety, then I’d maybe give it a pass, otherwise you’ll not sleep very much.

But this is a – slight – aside. The book in turn reminded me of a film I’d watched back when I was much younger, which I recalled was a thoughtful dramatisation of a B-52 crew’s ethic anguish over their mission: shades of Dr Strangelove but without the LOLs. Continue reading