It’s more complicated than that…

Surveys regularly pop into my inbox, much as I’m sure they do into yours.

I like to complete them whenever possible, partly because well-educated, white men in affluent regions would probably not get represented otherwise*, partly because I like finding out what other people are interested in finding out about.

So when I got a survey about the ‘state of poli sci’ the other day, I was all up for it. The author is someone who I know to do good work and in previous years I recall being asked about things that would be very useful to know about. No names, no pack drill.

And most of the survey was really good, and made me think about things more (always a good sign).

Then I got to a section about the use of virtual formats. I’ve screenshot some of those at the top of this post: you could slide the response scale to one of five points in each.

These feel, well, like less than helpful questions.

Let’s take Q27, for instance. I have lots of preferences in my teaching, for lots of different things, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. Plus I work in an institution that has policy about whether and when I use in-person or virtual formats: you might too.

So even if I could bundle up all my preferences, that’s unlikely to be the determining factor in what I use. Sure, I love doing in-person stuff, but for my current job it would be senseless to work to that, given my student population and profile.

It’s similar for the conference questions: there’s a lot of different things going on with events – in which the national-ness/international-ness is possibly the least of it – that mean your format depends on particular circumstances. What’s good for building up a bid for a specific funding call is probably not good for a one-off presentation or a big multi-day general conference.

On top of this, hybrid formats are not really a half-way house between in-person and virtual, but something different again, as anyone who’s been forced to teach that way can tell you.

Of course, I can see some of the intention of what’s being asked here – I managed to put something down – but all of this confuses abstracted views on format with the practice of teaching (and event organisation).

Central in this is – as ever – the combination of your learning objectives and the constraints under which you operate. I – like you – decide on what I’m trying to do, then work out how to fit that into whatever constraints I have, and use that to design a way of doing it. It’s very rare in teaching environments that those first two steps leave the option of choosing a format of the kind asked about here: even for events there’s often something that limits whether you go on- or off-line.

None of this is to dunk on the survey author, which is why I’ve not named them: the point here is more one of asking you to reflect more on how we understand teaching practice. In particular, recognising that this never happens on a blank page, but within a big pile of factors that push and pull us towards certain things.

And no, I don’t know how you’d measure that in a survey.

* – may not be actually the case.