Sharing teaching practice

Now that we’re moving more fully into the holiday period, I’m casting around for ideas for my teaching. After reading Nina’s piece on zombies last week I think I have some more, just as I do after interviewing for a new colleague.

Sadly, much as I’d like to share the latter, I’m going to stay quiet about it, so I can get them to write about it themselves once they are here with us. Suffice to say that it’s an idea that is close to my own heart, in that it involves some non-communication of key information, resulting in the opening up of reflection on higher orders of analysis.

As for Nina’s ideas for using World War Z in the classroom, it’s interesting to see how she has taken it in a very different direction from my own (mainly because of the big scope for exploring IR theory in the text), even if we both find ourselves noting the rise of the zombie metaphor as value-laden. The book has helped inspire me to produce my own zombie game, which I freely admit isn’t quite right yet, and Nina’s post has encouraged me to revisit the gameplay, to focus more fully on the purpose I want to achieve.

However, since it’s apparently a day for higher-order reflection, I’m struck by how we share teaching practice, since it seems to operate in a different way from other areas of academic life.

In particular, I’m thinking about how we credit ideas from others.

In research, there is a clear protocol – you reference fully and consistently. Failure to do is one of the greater crimes of academe, not least because it underpins the scientific method and its ideas of replicability and transparency (older readers can think of Pons and Fleischmann; younger readers can wonder how it even got as far as it did).

By contrast, in teaching, we very rarely the source of our teaching practice. I use simulations – at least in part – because I was taught using simulations, but I don’t credit Helen Wallace (who taught me), just as she didn’t credit whoever taught her to use them, and so on, ad infinitum.

The argument for why this is might be twofold. Firstly, no one completely replicates another’s teaching methods, so they have some degree of individual creation and innovation. Thus, in one of the few occasions when I do use someone else’s materials – a disarmament game created by Carolyn Shaw at Wichita – I also note to students that I’ve modified them, because I’m using them in a different way to Carolyn in a number of aspects. As such, it’s at least a bit ‘mine’ (although mostly hers).

Secondly, we might argue that it’s all just about vehicles for teaching, rather than substance and it’s only the latter that needs referencing. A moment’s reflection tells us that this is nonsense, since any methodology makes endless value judgments and assumptions: simulations are no different, as I argued in my APSA TLC paper this spring.

I raise all of this, not with a solution in mind, but rather an intention to bring it to discussion. Is it practical to credit the sources of our teaching practice? Is it necessary? Would it add anything?

My personal opinion is that if we are to stimulate good practice, then giving people more of a sense of where ideas come from is helpful, because it gives colleagues more incentive to share. Currently, too much good practice goes unnoticed and the potential that innovative practitioners have for building their work further is unrealised.

To take a case in point, our new colleague says our School has an excellent reputation for teaching and wants to learn from us. I’m just as interesting in learning from our new colleague, who has some excellent ideas. Just as we would hope research brings out new ideas regardless of status, so too should teaching work in the same way.

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