Encouraging student feedback

Durdle_Door_OverviewAs my American colleagues know, the UK is a socialist paradise and it’s one of the reasons they’re all coming over later this month (the other is our workshop, which you can book a space at here).

One of the many great consequences of our enlightened political choices is the notion of ‘bank holidays’, days especially chosen to have poor weather, so that us Brits can really indulge in moaning about rain. We love it.

This weekend past was, unfortunately, a very poor example, as the sun shone for a full three days, but I braved it all, to go on a short family break on the South Coast. This included a Sunday lunch in a small pub, where (it turned out) a recent graduate of my fine university was one of the people serving us. Continue reading

Ethical Exercise

Philosophers Football 2Here is an example of Michelle’s last post about activating prior knowledge — an exercise that also relates to my caution against relying solely on dense canonical texts to engage students.

In class, give students the following scenario:

You have a brother who has been living with you since losing his job a few months ago. Recently he has seemed unusually distracted. One day while rummaging through a hallway closet, you accidentally knock your brother’s coat onto the floor. A cigarette lighter with the letters “LS” engraved on it falls from one of the coat’s pockets. The next day, while listening to local news on the radio, you hear a story about a woman named Linda Smith who was found murdered a few days before. Police have asked the community for help with the investigation. Do you inform the police that your brother might be the murderer?

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Is there anything new under the sun?

The sun, yesterday

The journey back from TLC is always a reflective one for me, not least because I’m sat in a airplane seat for a long time and I’d rather dwell on what I’ve been doing, rather than what I am going to have to do. This year is no different.

We talked in our podcast about what had particularly struck us from the Portland event, so I don’t want to go over that ground again. But I do want to work through one of the discussions that wove (weaved?) its way through different parts of the conference, namely the limits to what we can learn.

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Our review of APSA TLC Portland… in a podcast!

That’s right, we’ve decided to practise what we preach and have done a bit of experiential learning (well, the others did – I’ve got history on this one).

Myself, Michelle, Amanda, Chad & Victor sat down after a long day to talk about what we’ve got from the conference, as well as to look ahead to some new projects we’ve got coming up.

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy 20 minutes of conversation.

We’d love to get your feedback, both on our thoughts and on our podcasting. If it’s something you’d like to see/listen to more of, then we’re biddable, especially now that we’ve seen just how easy it is to set up.

It’s in the bag

This week, I did an activity in my human rights class that I’ve been doing for a few years. It’s a quick and easy interactive exercise designed to kick off a discussion – the activity can be adapted for a variety of topics. In my human rights class I use it to gauge student beliefs about which rights are universal. I project a slide with a one-sentence description of five different rights – ranging from rights that are widely accepted as universal (right not to be tortured) to practices that are consistent with cultural relativist critiques of universal human rights (freedom to marry and female genital mutilation).

I place five bags (simple brown paper lunch bags work well) around the room, labeled with each right. I give students five small slipsBy ThatPeskyCommoner (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons of paper and tell them they can select anywhere from zero to five of these rights as “universal” by their understanding of the term. Continue reading

A conference that’s good for something

This one, right?
This one, right?

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious middle-aged academic (and I appreciate it may already be too late on that front), I reached a key inflection point in my professional life some years ago.

As a bright-eyed, fresh-faced doctoral student, I was thrilled by the thought of conferences: travel to interesting new places, the cut and thrust of informed debate on key issues in the field, the chance to meet the great and the good, etc., etc.

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Teaching Identity

I am what I think I am?
I am what I think I am?

My students are more interested in learning about individuals than in concepts—this is the USA, where ideas are filtered through the “me, me, me” lens of personal experience, whether real or imagined. Teaching abstract concepts tends to be difficult, but moving from specific biographical examples to institutions and principles is usually easier than going in the reverse direction. Here’s an example from the second day of my comparative politics course, when I introduce political identity:

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