More Rashomoning: Considering truth in political communication

After our recent posts on teaching Trump, and on problematising interpretations of phenomena for students, I now find myself sensitised to such matters.

Walking through town at the weekend, I found a leaflet thrust in my hand. As you can see from the photo, this is obviously an individual with something that they feel strongly about: my very first impression was that the paper was irregularly cut, which means they have cut it by hand – no small effort.

And then you read it.

By itself, it’s an excellent piece for a group of students to discuss in class. The argument is there, but jumbled up and obscured: I’m still not sure the proverb makes any real sense (plus, it seems like a very long, and specific proverb).

But the bit that pulls one up is the arrest. How can promoting veganism get you put in jail? Continue reading

What do you see?

They let me out last week, to give a talk at a schools event, about studying at university. As well as a chance for some fresh air – and to discover the back roads of Dorset – it was also an opportunity to try out some new things.

In particular, I had been toying around with how to communicate what happens in a university, as compared to a school. Central to that – I decided – was building individuals’ capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection.

So I showed them this:

Continue reading

Teaching Trump 4: the view from outside

After all the great suggestions from colleagues (here, here and here), I thought I’d chip in with some ideas from outside, given that this Trump thing seems to be global in impact.

In particular, I’d point you towards the endless memes and gifs out there, the new President being a gift for such vehicles. Just trawl your Facebook or Twitter feed, or simply google it, for more material than you could ever want for. I’d then point you to Jack Holland’s post here for ideas on how to then use these in the classroom.

Personally, I’m interested in how Trump plays into European politics. One ‘resource’ that I’ve found really interesting is the Every Second Counts site.

This started with a Dutch late-night chatshow picking up on Trump’s inauguration statement of ‘America first’, by putting together a package about why that should also mean ‘the Netherlands second‘. Having duly gone viral, equivalent packages have been made by other European countries and are collecting on the main site: personally, I like the Swiss one.

As well as being entertaining, they also contain pointed critiques of both American and domestic politics: watch one as a non-resident of either the US or the other state and you’ll find that you’ve been left behind at several points.

However, as stepping-off points for class discussion about political identities, self-images and othering (and gender, for that matter), these are great. Indeed, if you felt bold then you’d ask students to make their own version.

The Lithuanians don’t even aim for second…

Making alignment work

Still not…

I’ve just been helping a young child who lives in my house with their French homework, practising sentences for a test that’s coming up. I imagine that many of you will have done the same, either in the parent role or the child role (or both, for that matter).

For me, it was a pointed demonstration of the perils of alignment in teaching. The child is going to be testing on their ability to write out a series of sentences, so is focused entirely on that. Thus, when I ask them to read out the sentences, I get something that even I know isn’t good pronunciation: ‘magasins’ is remembered as ‘being like mega, but maga, and then sins’.

In short, this child, like pretty much every learner, is learning to the incentives that are provided: if the teacher isn’t going to be bothered about the speaking, then why should the child? Continue reading

Table for one

Interestingly, much like my own office. Different dynamic, though

I’d like to pretend that the situation I’m about to describe is the result of some very careful planning, but I’ll assume that you all know enough about how universities work these days to know that it very much isn’t the case. Whatever the reason, when semester starts in a fortnight, I’m going to be teaching a module/course to a single student.

I’ve met my class earlier in the year and he seems very pleasant, so I’m sure it’ll be a great experience. But it’ll also be a brand new experience: that Oxbridge post that I never quite managed to secure, perhaps.
Of course, I’m prepping for this, because I won’t be able to use a lot of the tools in my pedagogic kit. No ‘discuss in pairs’, no simulations (not of the kind I run, in any case), not even flipping, since every single bit of face-to-face contact will be individually tailored to the one person. Continue reading

A final Brexit sim reflection

In our last post on this, Matthew LeRiche (Memorial) talks about his takeaways from our Brexit game held before Christmas.

 

With the semester now over and course commentary and review in progress it is clear that the Brexit simulation lead by Simon Usherwood in conjunction with Chris Huggins was one of the highlights for my undergraduate students. This past semester the Political Science Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN for short) was able to run its Public Policy Certificate program based at our UK based Harlow Campus – a gift from Lord Taylor many moons ago and a great platform to link our North American students to Europe and the world.

Although tardy in my contribution to the de-brief from the exercise, the following is a reflection on the exercise from my perspective and that of my students. The multi-layered nature of this simulation afforded great opportunity for learning. In particular, it afforded different learning to take place for the different groups involved, since the various groups of students involved from different institutions were undertaking quite different courses. For the MUN group, the key challenge and thus most important learning opportunity was the need to reconcile internally and manage the process of balancing several internal interests to then engage in a single front in a negotiation. For a group of public policy students this afforded an opportunity to think more deeply about the public policy process. Continue reading

Evaluating module evaluations

As for many of you, January is the time when students’ evaluation of your autumn courses and modules come in. It might also be the time when you have exciting conversations with line managers.

I think that I’ve laid out my view on such evaluations over the years – managerialist and often mis-directed questions – but perhaps its useful to think about how you can make the most of the information they provide.

As so often, three ideas to frame all of this.

The first is that course evaluations are useful, if properly contextualised. That means using them together with all the other feedback you get from students, plus your own reflection. I like using the ABC method for more constructive student input, but there are also all those chats you have with students, plus their assessed work: if no-one seems to understand concept X, or confuses A and B, then maybe you’re not presenting things very well to them. The key point here is triangulation: does a piece of evidence have support elsewhere?

The second idea is that you have to engage properly with the evaluations and the reflection. I, probably like you, have been known to skim through the comments, find the thing that it is obviously ridiculous and use that to roll my eyes about the whole exercise. As political scientists, we should know that just because people sometimes say and do silly things doesn’t mean that they are silly, or that everyone is silly. Instead, we need to understand why they say these things and how we might respond.

Of course, this is a bit tricky, especially when evaluations are anonymous and asynchronous to the class activities. Hence the importance of you running your own running evaluations throughout your contact time. Often, the source of the frustration is that you feel you’ve done something and the student hasn’t recognised that: this autumn, I laid on much more support on my assessment than before, only to read one student’s comments that even more was needed. The point should be that I need to think about how I communicate what I provide more clearly next time, rather than trying to track down this year’s lot and justify myself.

And this is the third point. Course evaluations are not meant to be character assassinations and – in the very large majority of cases – are not used as such by students. Much more common, in my experience, are staff taking comments as personal attacks.

Just as evaluations are about the students’ experience of the course, rather than about the student themself, so too should you treat them as about the specific instance of the course, rather than about you.

There’s the old teacher-training trope – which is actually very useful – that says people go through three stages in their teaching practice: they start by thinking everything’s about them (as teachers), then think it’s all about the students, and finally realise that it’s about the specific instance of interaction between them and the students. And so it is here.

One of the things we keep on returning to here at ALPSBlog is the idea that there is no one right way of doing things, only a series of choices that you can explore with your students. That requires self-awareness and self-criticality, underpinned by a sense that things will never be completely ‘right’ in any lasting sense.

Course evaluations might be flawed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. But it also doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all.