As you know, we’ve starting some podcasts this year. After the warm reception to our first effort, you can now listen to some thoughts from Hong Kong about how we all have to deal with institutional constraints, ways in which we can brings students into more active learning approaches and how to make it all hang together. Plus some other stuff.
I gotta tell ya: Hong Kong is a great place. I’m on the verge of saying it’s the most cosmopolitan city I’ve ever visited, and I’ve lived in (and loved) London. It’s a true melting pot of cultures, where everything seems to be the product of exciting blendings of East and West, North and South.
I’m only able to tell you this because this week I’ve been visiting, in order to run a couple of our ALPS workshops at the City University’s Department of Politics and Public Policy. Just as engaging as the city itself has been the chance to spend some time working with the colleagues there on their situation and interests about developing active learning.
However, rather than just make this a travelogue or an advert for our very-well-received and insightful workshops, I want to unpack a couple of issues that came up in our discussion that have a wider bearing.
Colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic might have seen a recent call from APSA and PSA for joint activities, to promote closer links and generate new opportunities. If you didn’t, then the deadline’s today, so you’ll have to hurry.
Seeing this, the ALPS were very keen to pull something together, partly because it opened up the hitherto impossible possibility of getting most of them over to the UK, partly because we just like each others’ company. Plus Victor is always very generous with buying the rest of drinks at the bar/pub.
So we’re putting a proposal for a workshop, in May 2016, to try and share our work in active learning with a broad British-based audience. We should find out before the end of December if we’ve been successful on the funding.
Apart from trying to generate some early interest in this – and to sway any judges reading with our enthusiasm – I’m telling you about this mainly because the proposal intersected with some teaching I was doing yesterday. In that class, we were considering how their negotiation of a constitution for a desert island needed to reflect the facts on the ground (how much of a priority is compulsory education to 16 if you haven’t got any permanent dwellings?).
The thought occurred to me that my teaching here, and indeed possibly all teaching is a reflection of what teachers think is important. And in a university context, away from fixed curricula, that can often mean we teach about what we think is important right now. I certainly can speak to a shift in my focus of feedback over the past couple of years, since I moved into my Associate Dean role, where a lot more inter-personal politics is involved than in my previous work within my department.
In the same way, I found myself asking what it was that we were hoping to achieve with this workshop, if only to check that I was practising what I teach. And broadly speaking – phew – I do.
The workshop is designed to be very active in structure, with sessions aimed at giving participants a chance to experience for themselves how different pedagogies work. There isn’t really any transmission-by-lecture, but instead learning-by-sharing-and-trying.
In addition, we’ve tried to put in place informal spaces for discussion, because we’ve all found that those are the most useful for building connections with colleagues. If the weather’s nice (which is usually is in Guildford: come visit sometime), then we might even get people outside.
And finally, we’ve got plans for keeping the momentum going. Doubtless there will still be the re-invasion of the rest of one’s life afterwards, but we’re working on ways to maintain some of the spirit of the workshop and activity to encourage the kind of ethos of collaboration that ALPS itself has kept over the years.
Whether or not we’re successful – and we-d very much like to be – the exercise has been a good one for us. We’ve exchanged ideas and built on the work we’ve already been doing around such events, so nothing will be wasted. And you can be share that we’ll be telling more about it, as and when we know how well PSA and APSA have followed their strong (and correct) instincts to support this venture.
A reminder that that October 20 is the deadline for proposals for the 2015 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC), to be held January 16-18 in Washington, DC. The TLC differs from other conferences. At typical conferences, an attendee gives a brief presentation at one panel and then perhaps visits a few others. There is very little opportunity for feedback or dialogue. The TLC is very different — it follows a workshop format, where participants in a track exchange ideas on each other’s research throughout the conference. For me, the workshop format is far more productive than what I’ve seen at other conferences. For me it has led to several peer-reviewed publications, this blog, and learning from Simon how to rap like David Cameron. Plus there’s been no hurricanes or fires, unlike the APSA’s annual meeting.