Would you wiki?

Did you know…? Oh, you did?

It seems that Brexit has not sorted itself out over the Christmas break, so I’m still deep in people asking me to give my views (despite last week’s hopes). But I’m going to try to build some synergies with my L&T by using some new approaches to it all.

This week, I’m trying to get back into wikis. As you doubtless know – not least from your TurnItIn reports – wikis are webpages that can be edited and refreshed by multiple people. They are a good way of getting near-simultaneous input into building a collective output, coupled to clear tracking of who’s done what and when. As wikipedia regularly demonstrates, the results can be very impressive. We’ve used them before for our students, but never with a public audience. Continue reading

What a year! What sort of year?

Insert joke about being two-faced here

I’m dragging myself over the line of 2016. I’m sure we all feel that each new year is more draining than any before, but in this case I have have nothing even vaguely comparable in terms of professional activity. A couple of weeks ago I totted up flights I’d taken, only to spend the days since adding in more and more.

That’s lovely – if you love airport lounges (which I don’t) – but how does it relate to L&T?

Last week, I found myself suggesting Victor’s identity salience exercise (here, but he still needs to write it up for us) to a colleague. It’s a great way of getting to the core of how we see ourselves, and understanding how our identity is made up of various elements that we might not normally see as connected.

I’m now fining myself wondering whether this couldn’t be re-purposed for reflecting on what’s happened this year. So let’s try it. Continue reading

Making Brexit happen (sort of): A sim round-up

img_7517This semester, I’ve been running a Brexit simulation with Chris and Matthew (here and here and here). Yesterday, we ran our final session, a two-hour face-to-face negotiation at our campus.

We’re still pulling together feedback notes and debriefing students, but generally we’re really happy with how it all went. Since you didn’t get to experience it, I’ll just draw out some positives and some negatives.

On the plus side…

Brexit is stupidly complicated as an issue, as numerous European politicians are finding out in the real world. That also makes it much harder to teach to students. The simulation has been great at helping them – and me – to integrate the very many issues into a more coherent whole. Particularly towards the end, the need to seek out points of agreement did work in supporting this.

The format also seems to have worked for helping with the understanding of EU politics, especially the two-level nature of the exercise. Matthew’s going to write something on that shortly here, since it was a big learning point for his students. Continue reading

Future-proofing your course

It’s… um… oh…

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. Continue reading

Too soon…?

There is literally one photo that could be used to illustrate this story. But I used this one instead

You’ll have noticed that we’ve not posted about the result of the US Presidential election, despite four-fifths of us being American and all of us being political scientists. Let’s put that down to this being a blog about Learning & Teaching, rather than anything else.

However, as with Brexit (here and here), this elections opens up a huge opportunity to explore and investigate much political science. With that in mind, here are a couple of things to toy with.

Most obviously, the impending arrival of the Trump administration means that policy is going to change. Eight years ago, I ran a simulation with my UK students, formulating a new foreign policy doctrine for the incoming Obama administration, with groups representing the major arms of federal government and Congressional committees. This culminated in a three day final session, which produced a document just before Christmas 2008.

This works because of the necessary gap betweeen election and inauguration, so if you were to do this, then you’d have to get moving, as the premise collapses somewhat as you move into February. There’s lots of materials available, not least media coverage, so its not hard for students to pull together a brief. Indeed, my main challenge was that my students thought all Americans agree with each other (ha!) and struggled to get fully into the tensions between State and Defense (for example). I’ll take a bit of a leap here and assume that would be less of an issue this time around.

Obviously, such a simulation also works for domestic policy, either collectively or more singularly. One might imagine a game working on Obamacare reform/dismantling, to produce a proposal for the new President, which would require careful consideration of legal instruments and executive authority.

If all that is too much to bear, then the other big area of work concerns the discipline of political science as a whole. Whether for a freshman class trying to get to grips with it all, or a more advanced group, there have been some great pieces in the past week that invite class discussion about the nature and future of PoliSci. To take just four examples, Duck of Minerva  has a very thoughtful discussion, the Atlantic has an overview piece, as does Politico and Will Jennings and Martin Lodge here in the UK consider how this relates to Brexit. Lots in these to get balls rolling.

So there you go; lots of learning moments. Not to mention a very graphic demonstration of the importance of fall-back positions, both in the classroom and outside.

Thoughts from the 2016 EuroTLC, Brussels

carolabetzold_bild_mini johan_adriaensenThis guest post comes courtesy of Johan Adriaensen (Maastricht) & Carola Betzold (Antwerp).

Higher education often engenders a dual ambition. Upon graduation, we expect students to be prepared for the professional labour market. At the same time, we aspire them having developed academic qualities such as a critical mind-set, an understanding of scientific research and an inquisitive attitude. Reading between the lines, it is not hard to see that many of these ambitions do not revolve around students’ acquisition of knowledge but rather about the mastery of particular skills and attitudes. While there is a lot of literature available on innovative teaching methods to promote the learning of skills and attitudes, we wondered whether the standard methods of evaluation (exams, written assignment) are adequate to assess a student’s mastery of these important skills and -in turn- signal their accomplishment to any future employer.

But what exactly are these skills that students should learn, what are different ways of evaluating these skills, and how could we help students showcase their skills to the outside world? To address these questions, we organised a session on “Student evaluation and student portfolios” at the recent EUROTLC conference in Brussels. Using a World Café format, participants first identified generic skills students should acquire over the course of studies and then turned to different forms of evaluation of these skills. Finally, the discussion centred on student portfolios as one tool to enable graduates to present their skills to future employers.

So what are the skills we should teach and students should learn? The list is long: being able to communicate clearly via written as well as spoken word. Organising, prioritising and filtering information. Acquiring an inquisitive mind and becoming a life-long learner. Interestingly, these skills were quite generic to university education; it was much harder to identify skills unique to political science, international relations or European studies. Yet, the relative importance of the identified skills – and thus their prominence in the curricula – is likely to differ.

How can we assess these different skills? Is there more than essays and exams to evaluate students? Does our examination privilege certain skills or types of learners, and if so, how could we change this? Participants agreed that the evaluation of skills and attitudes require a slightly different approach and brought a range of examples on how they or their institutions provide feedback and evaluate students. One participant for instance described how he has a “menu” of tasks that students need or can do to obtain points in his class. Some elements are mandatory, but most are voluntary. Students can thus select a format that suits them: you may want to write an essay, but you could also do a presentation or take an oral exam. Another participant presented how they use peer review to obtain feedback on group work, whereby all group members have at certain points rate themselves and their peers on specific criteria such as creativity, reliability or punctuality. These open ratings are then discussed within the group: why did you give or obtain this rating? What do you take away from this? This peer review system worked very well, but did not influence the final mark.

But how much does such a mark really say about skills to a potential employer? How could students provide evidence for their skills beyond a numerical mark on an abstractly named course? To this end, we proposed the use of a portfolio. We viewed this portfolio as a sort of repository of students’ achievements and activities. The question then was how can we, as academic staff, help students to build up this evidence into a student portfolio? Ideas ranged from specific written assignments such as position papers, speeches, articles in student journals or opinionated editorials to participation in simulations and student debates. Branding and badging is an important aspect to ensure recognition of the accomplishments of the students. Competitions or the award of prizes are but one example how this can feed into a portfolio. With such a repository, you have concrete examples you can refer to in cover letters or job interviews to plausibly show what you can do.

Ultimately, time was too short for our discussions to come to a conclusion. Still, we were left with the impression that our exercise is useful for many educational programmes. Clearly, each programme is likely to prioritize different skills, requiring a different evaluation practice and offering alternative opportunities to develop a student’s portfolio. As in our World Café, the choices ultimately made, was contingent on the participants around the table. Identifying the required skills and tailoring one’s programme to it, is a collective endeavour of all involved teaching staff.

Biting off more than you can chew?

We can do better than this. Probably

A while back, I wrote about running a sim on Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU. (Obviously, ‘departure’ makes it sound grand and stately, rather than the big old mess that it more actually resembles, but I digress). In it, I asked if anyone was up for working together on doing this.

Well, we have a winner: Matthew LeRiche from Memorial in Newfoundland. Matthew joined us in Surrey earlier this year for our ALPS workshops, and this doesn’t seem to have discouraged him from working with us again. Continue reading