Get over yourself, get over your students

Making a good impression or the Monet shot (I'll stop now)
Making a good impression
the Monet shot
(I’ll stop now)

Talking with a colleague at another institution this week, he mentioned that many of his colleagues felt there was a ‘student problem’: the teaching was good, but the students were simply unable to make much of it. Their poor grades and weak academic practice was, essentially, their fault.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that such views are not uncommon. You see echoes of it in those listicles on Facebook come marking time: “look what my dumbass students wrote”, “15 photos that make you ask why we bother to even try to teach them.” I’ve done it myself, like when I talk to people about the class presentation I had to sit through on Claud Monet’s contribution to European integration. I’m smart, they’re dumb, and you’re smart, because you understand what the mistake is and why they’ve made it. Basically, XKCD for political science, but much less generous in its humour.

This, of course, is all wrong.

Continue reading “Get over yourself, get over your students”

What does it take to remember something?

Deja vu, etc. etc.
Deja vu, etc. etc.

I am going to have to profess a certain degree of bemusement here. On this blog, we talk about the value of active learning, not least by making students become active participants in their learning environment, they are more likely to appreciate and internalise the learning they do, as compared to in a passive set-up.

To take a (non-random) example, a few weeks ago in class, we had a great learning moment about perceptions and how we need to work with them. I even wrote a blog piece about it, because it struck me rather forcibly at the time.

At the time, I didn’t tell you about what actually happened, but in essence some of the students decided they needed to step out of the room to have a private conclave, but by the time they had come back, everyone else had turned on them. There was much recrimination back and forth, not least about needing to respect the views and status of others.

Basically, it was the big thing of that class.

So here’s the kicker. In this week’s class, we had an almost identical situation. One group – the provisional government in a DDR game – took themselves off for five minutes towards the end of negotiations to sort out their position. Upon returning, every other group had decided they weren’t being any help, first calling in the UN (me) to oversee discussions and then the army mounting a coup against them.

We talked about this in the debrief and it was very striking that even though everyone remembered the previous incident, the group in question still stuck to their view of the gameplay – why do they hate us/where did that come from? – and appeared to have as much difficulty as the other groups did last time around.

I asked those directly involved last time about this – none of them were involved this time – and they all said they’d seen what was happening and let it happen, because it suited their various agendas. In their case, I’m inclined to believe they have learnt that lesson. But the others? I’m really not sure that they had. Until now.

To have such an obvious failure of process, and then to repeat it in relatively short order, strikes me as odd, precisely because it goes against much of my experience with using simulations, especially in this module.

What it does tell us is that we have to be very careful indeed about what assumptions we make about learning, whatever we do. Just because we talk about something, doesn’t mean it’s learnt – something we all know from our last lecture – but it’s also true that just because students experience something, also doesn’t mean it’s learnt.

How we deal with that is a big challenge and one I’d welcome your thoughts and input on.

It’s not what you say…

2934775218_4edd6d67a5There’s a lot to be said for banality. It’s probably the most under-rated of teaching practices, mainly because it’s so little remarked upon. We always talk about pushing our students to the edge of their knowledge and understanding, so that this edge is pushed further back, and we also keep flagging the core ideas as lodestones, but we only rarely come back to the stuff in-between: the logical corollaries of the core concepts.

Yesterday’s class with my negotiation students was a case in point.

The session was centred on the theme of preparation, and asked them to agree a governmental coalition in the wake of the Spanish elections. This threw up lots of great thoughts and discussions about many points: Spanish politics, coalition-building in general, verisimilitude in simulations (they ended up with a grand coalition), and even stuff about preparation (I’d possibly been less than helpful about what prep they needed to do).

But for me, the big lesson was one that I end up discussing at length every year, but never quite manage to embed explicitly in the module’s work. And it’s a banal point: simply put, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear that matters.

“Sure”, you’re thinking, “that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”


Even if you never studied negotiation, then you know enough about constructivism to appreciate the objective weight of subjective interpretations, enough about the importance of clear communication in any sphere of life, and enough about life to know that misunderstandings and talking-at-cross-purposes happens pretty often.

But you also might well have never put those things together to consider the banal point that people will tend to understand things as they understand them, rather than as someone else understands them. So it doesn’t matter if I think I’m being clear, if you don’t think I’m being clear.

Likewise, my students seemed to have a bit of block in understanding why there had been some tension in the negotiations. A couple of groups had left the room to work out some options, and didn’t want to be disturbed by emissaries from the other parties. Unfortunately, since they were the PP and PSOE and ended up with that grand coalition proposal, when they did present it to the others, they didn’t get much joy. Both sides were still quite sore about it, even during the debrief, and we had to work through how this had come to pass before we could get to all that other stuff I mentioned.

I’ve written about this before in a different context and that’s maybe the point: at some stage it becomes so obvious that it’s hard to remember that we need to remember it.

In my case, I’m fortunate that it’s such a pervasive issue that it does always come up at some point in class, but you might not have that. All of us might do well to remember that to leap from central theoretical tenet straight to the boundary can be exciting and engaging, but it can also come with costs.

Cleaning up other people’s mess (in a good way)

3175714614_321ac67ede_bA few weeks ago, I wrote about simulating the Greek crisis. I suggested then that one issue in doing this was the difficulty of carrying things over from year to year in the classroom: students change, curricula change, you never quite know whether it’s still going to be relevant, etc.

As Amanda rightly pointed out in an email to me some time later, you can perfectly well do it, with a bit of thought. So it’s with that bit of thought that I am now doing it.

Last year I created my first online asynchronous simulation for the INOTLES project in which I participate. As you’ll see from the post, it’s a simplified recreation of the East European situation, with a friendly (if ponderous) EU-like structure on one side and a confident (if worryingly so) Russia-like country on the other.

I played this with my students too, with the upshot that the ‘Russians’ produced a surprising success in sealing a deal with the ‘East Europeans’ (largely over a misunderstanding, but let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen in real life too). I put the simulation back on the shelf, mused on what had happened and then basically forgot about it.

Until Amanda’s email. There’s no reason why this year’s students can’t pick up where their predecessors left off.

It’s a fictional scenario, with all the requisite information provided. Since it allows for a wide-ranging set of actions, there is no obvious end-point or stable equilibrium. Indeed, one might imagine that some students might take the opportunity to revise the actions of the past, just because they can. Certainly, given the rather devil-may-care approach to a second round of the Hobbes games in class yesterday, that looks like a rather likely outcome.

I’ll quote Amanda at some length here:

Whenever we do a simulation, it tends to be a new run of an old game–how neat would it be to have the simulation just continue, with students acting as the newly appointed representative for that country and having to work with old agreements produced by students who are no longer in power?  I find the idea really interesting, not only for the sense of realism it brings to ongoing negotiations, but also for the real-world skill of having to step into a job vacated by someone else and having to figure out what the prior office holder did and how to incorporate their decisions into your own

Amanda’s last point is perhaps the crucial one: we all have to pick up other people’s stuff and deal with it – it’s a basic stable of professional life – so getting to experience that is a useful opportunity for personal development.

Indeed, in this game the original conceit that it opened with no particular situation is clearly unrealistic, so we’ll learn about path dependency directly.

Amanda’s one concern was about record-keeping: how to capture what had happened, so that we can pick it up again. Well, I’ll admit that this isn’t a big issue in this case. The final agreement reached ran to a full four lines of hand-written text and there was nothing else to share. I’m hoping that this time around we’ll have clearer sight of the next year, so that paper-trails can be left, with all the joys that brings.

As usual, this is all new territory for me, so I’ll be reporting back as we progress.

Does experience matter at all in L&T?

it doesn't matter, Jimi, it doesn't matter
it doesn’t matter, Jimi, it doesn’t matter

I got to have one of my periodic treats as an Associate Dean yesterday, when I sat in on presentations from colleagues taking the university’s Graduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching.

This is much like the courses run by other British universities, as part of a general shift in recent years to ensure that all teaching staff gain some formal training in what is a key part of their professional activity.

In our case, one of the activities is to work in a group to produce a description of a module/course, present it and then write an individual critique of it: since these proposals often get picked up for real by the university, and since the staff will have to do this for their own teaching, the activity maps well onto core competences and should feel relevant to them. This matters because often this kind of programme is seen as a distraction.

Any how, it’s fair to say that the two groups presenting yesterday got a good grilling on what they’d done. As one of my colleagues pointed out, this was because they’d done something that strong central ideas, albeit with queries about how it was presented: if they’d done something rubbish, he said, we’d have just muttered platitudes.

Of course, on the other side of the room it didn’t look like that and some frustration was voiced that we (‘the experts’/’people with lots of experience’) could only come up with all our points because of that experience, while they knew (comparatively) little.

I challenged that point of view then and I’ll challenge it again here now.

As I started off, I really like these sorts of debates, because I always learn something. Indeed, every time I attend a discussion about L&T I learn something (like last week). It’s the old truism that the more I learn, the more I realise that I don’t know about things and that there is more to learn than I realised in the first place.

Second of all, a brief moment’s reflection will remind you that old hands are not always the best educators. Indeed, my understanding as been pushed forward very much more by colleagues new to the field, coming in and questioning assumptions and not feeling bound by ‘how it’s always been done’. The contribution colleagues found most useful for me was something I saw demonstrated to me just a few weeks ago by someone barely out of their PhD.

If there is one thing that does matter in advancing one’s practice, then it’s giving a damn about it all. If you do that and you think about what you to achieve, then none of it’s too difficult to work out for yourself or in discussion with a colleague.

Case in point: yesterday, one of the groups presented a module for a degree subject about which I know nothing. However, because the object of the module was clear (contextualising that subject in a wider field of other disciplines), it was possible to have a good discussion about the ways to achieve that.

None of that was driven by experience, but rather by our intrinsic interest in producing something that works as well as possible. As long as one appreciates the importance of clarity of purpose and of aligning activity with intended outcomes, then the rest follows.

When one is starting out, it’s easy to feel daunted by it all. That’s true of many areas of life, not just L&T. But as with most other areas, one comes to appreciate that there is no one right way of doing things, only ways that you feel comfortable doing. The flip side of that is that you don’t need to be ‘experienced’, just confident that what you’re doing makes sense. If it makes sense to you, then you have the platform from which to make it make sense to others, greybeards and all.

The Other Side of Presenting: Teaching Students to be Good Audience Members

Recently I sat in on a series of presentations given by non-native English speakers in a professional setting. The small audience of about fifteen people consisted of faculty, students, and a few working professionals.   The presenters were for the most part very engaging, speaking on a variety of important international issues, with a focus on the experiences of countries outside the USA. The audience skills of the participants, however, can be described at best as very poor, and at worst as downright embarrassing. Here is a short list of the behaviors the group exhibited that I found to be disrespectful of the speakers and their time:

Feel it all you like, just don’t show it. .gif via Wikipedia Commons
  • Openly engaging with their phone or device and not paying attention
  • Falling asleep
  • Facial expressions exhibiting extreme boredom, often combined with excessive yawning and sighing
  • Interrupting the speaker to ask non-clarifying questions when the speaker asked that such questions be held to the Q&A, and refusing to let the speaker return to their prepared remarks until they had an answer.
  • Asking questions on points that the speaker had just addressed that clearly indicated the questioner had not been paying any attention.
  • Asking questions that were rudely phrased or in some other way directly insulted the speaker. Examples would be asking the speaker in a patronizing tone if they had ever considered x (where x is some very obvious point that any expert on the subject would of course have considered), or indicating that the speaker’s home country could improve on some area if only they emulated the USA.
  • Using complex sentence structure and meandering through a question without forethought when addressing a non-native speaker with limited English skills.
  • Dominating the Q&A without letting other audience members talk or conversely, dead silence when the Q&A began.
  • Interrupting the speaker to add personal thoughts and examples in a way that suggested that they considered themselves an expert on the material and that it was their job to instruct the rest of the group on the topic.

It occurred to me after these sessions that in all of the ongoing discussion of increasing skill-based training in the college classroom, that this crucial skill—how to behave professionally when listening to a presentation—is rarely mentioned, much less taught. And yet, students and working professionals will, on the whole, spend much more of their time listening to presentations than giving them. Oral communication training, therefore, should probably do a better job of taking this into account.

So how might we do this?

First, we have to share the norms of audience membership with our students, who may not have had good models. Simple talking with students about expected behaviors– staying off their phones, paying attention, not monopolizing the Q&A–, helps them learn the norms of professional behavior and can aid them in recognizing where they themselves excel and fall short.

The next step would be through incentivizing norms of good audience citizenship. Part of the course grade can be devoted to ‘professional conduct’, where students earn 100% just for showing up on time, paying attention, obeying classroom norms, etc. For student presentations, part of their grade can be on their participation quality while being in the audience. In that case, they are rewarded for coming prepared, taking notes, and asking relevant, thoughtfully worded questions.

Finally, an active learning exercise would work well for teaching this skill. For example, ask students to produce a summary and good question at the end of a presentation, as doing so will require them to pay close attention. Or make a game show of one of your lectures, where students get to buzz each other if they exhibit ‘bad behaviors’ and award points to each other for ‘good behaviors’. You could pass around index cards with various behaviors on them for students to model, give them five minutes to do so during a short lesson, and then see which behaviors they can identify. Examples could be ‘play on your phone during this lesson’, ‘pretend to fall asleep’ or ‘interrupt the instructor to ask an unrelated question about the syllabus’. This can be done throughout the semester as a way to keep good audience behaviors salient in students’ minds.

The key is simply keeping in mind that our students do not necessarily intrinsically know how to be respectful participants in a presentation. To the extent that we see developing oral communication skills as part of our teaching task (itself a potentially questionable claim), we should consider the importance of training our students to work on this crucial side of the skill as well.

The golden rule of exams

NCEA_exam_papersI finished up classes with my teaching cover yesterday: circumstance now means that I’m likely to be marking their final exam too, so part of the time was given over to what they should expect.

As well as the usual stuff – how the paper is structured, what they have to answer, how questions do(n’t) relate to specific weeks in class – we also talked about more general technique, not least because this is a first year group.

The key point I asked them to focus on was what I consider to be the golden rule of all exams: answer the question.

It’s easy to forget how much this matters, both for students and assessors.

For students, exam situations are stressful and the more considered planning goes out of the window: a familiar word is spotted in a question and the student latches on to it, churning out everything they know about that word.

For assessors, that’s a big problem, because in effect it’s just the transmission-reproduction model of teaching. In such situations, it’s very hard indeed to evaluate the students’ ability to think and reflect on a question.

That’s why I repeatedly tell my students that I would not only prefer a shorter, less detailed answer that directly answered the question to a longer, more detailed one that didn’t, I would also mark the former more higher.

It’s also why the exam questions I tend to produce don’t map simply on to specific classes. This means students have to review all of their notes and work from class, because they can’t be sure what’s going to appear, or how they are going to have to use it. The relative novelty of the questions themselves (in terms of their formulation) also encourages students to read them more closely.

In so doing, we might hope to foster an environment where reflective practice is encouraged.

I’ll tell you in a few weeks’ time whether that worked or not.

Forcing Fair Participation in the College Classroom

Today we have a post by a guest contributor, Ryan Welch, a PhD candidate in the political science department at Florida State University.

HorshackTeachers and students  believe student participation in the classroom important for maximizing learning in the classroom.[1]  I define participation as verbal engagement [2] by the student with others in the class (instructor and other students) of the learning material.[3]  Participation has many educational benefits for students that often translate into life skills.

Although both students and teachers find participation important in the classroom, teachers struggle to get adequate student participation.  I know very early into teaching a class which 4 or 5 students (of 50 or so) will dominate discussion.  If left unchecked, that leaves a vast majority of students missing out on the benefits associated with participation.  Why don’t these students participate?  What can we do as instructors to motivate participation?

A number of students tell me that they wish to participate, but lack confidence in speaking in front of the group.  Research overwhelmingly comports these anecdotes.  So I attempt to increase participation by asking questions about the material.  Of course those few students mentioned above will volunteer their answers, but I also want to engage others.  Calling on non-volunteers presents problems of fairness.  No matter how hard we try, the decisions for which students to call upon will be biased.  In order to create a fair participation atmosphere we must randomly call upon students.

In order to create a more random selection process, I adopted my advisor’s poker chip strategy.  I assigned each student a number sequentially based on the alphabetic order of my class roll.  I numbered the poker chips and put them in a plastic container.  At times during the class period, I pulled a chip from the container, observed the number on the chip, and found the corresponding student on my roll.  That student must answer the question, or lose participation points.

This semester I tried a different method.  The process of drawing a chip, matching a number with a name, and then calling a student takes a non-trivial amount of time.  Enough time to break up the natural flow of class conversation; especially if a student does not know the answer, and I must call another student.  In order to rectify this issue, but continue calling students randomly, I tried something new this semester.  Instead of using poker chips, I used the R software package to create a random list of student names by drawing their names from a uniform distribution with replacement. With this list, I can seamlessly call on students without breaking up the flow of the class conversation.

But no method is perfect.  The most apparent drawback of this method is I am not able to learn the students’ names as easily.  Using the poker chips, I matched a number to a name on a printed roll with pictures.  Every time I called a student, I reinforced who that student was with a visual cue.  I did not realize how helpful that was for learning names until this semester in which I consult a list of names without pictures.  Knowing student names fosters a supportive environment that encourages participation  (which is the point of this whole venture).  The importance of knowing names has me brainstorming how to incorporate name-learning while still using the random list.

Student participation in the classroom leads to a number of learning and professional benefits.  So much so, that I find it reasonable to force participation. But forced participation should be done as fairly as possible, so I’ll use the list again.  If you want to try it out yourself, include the R code below to generate the random lists.  If you decide to give it a go, any comments and questions are welcome.

R Code

#set working directory

#load foreign package in order to write out the .csv file

#create a vector of student names
student.names <- c(“Student A”, ” Student B “, ” Student C “, ” Student D”)

#create vector of 100 randomly selected names with replacement
random.list <- sample(student.names, 100, replace=T) 

#create a .csv file in the directory folder which you can access and print or save to a tablet
write.csv(random.list, “student_list.csv”)


[1] For a comprehensive review of participation in college classrooms see Rocca, Kelly A. 2010. “Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review.” Communication Education 59 (2): 185-213.

[2] The most common verbal engagement includes comments, questions, or answering questions presented by the instructor.

[3] Learning material is usually reading assignments, but may also include other media such as audio and video clips.

“You can’t even see the join…” *

For the next few weeks I’m covering for a colleague on sick leave. It’s a module/course I’ve taught before, so I’m comfortable with the material and the subject matter. What I’m less comfortable with is how to make a connection with the students.

In all our writing, we’re making the assumption that you know what’s coming, at least at the basic level that your line manager tells you at the start of the year or semester what you’ve got lined up to deliver: if they don’t, then your timetabling system must be even more messed up then everyone else’s.

But there’s always some element of uncertainty: illness is the obvious case. Students still need their content delivered, assessment still needs grading.

The problem is an obvious one: if you walk in when most of the module/course has been delivered, how can you know what’s been said and (more importantly, I think) how it’s been said?

In my case, I have the powerpoints from all the weeks and I know pretty well my colleague’s views on the big questions, but I still can’t really know about the fit of it all. Even with the support of the seminar leader – who very helpfully talked with me both before and after the first lecture – I’m still feeling my way around in the dark.

A large part of it is asking questions: did you cover this? are you comfortable with these sorts of ideas? can you see how this links to something you’ve done earlier? Even just some nodding or shaking of heads (which is what I got) gives a steer. Likewise, trying to be (even more) friendly and accessible.

If I were feeling more bold – and, to be clear, I’m not in that sort of mood these days – I might have asked someone to stand up and explain something they’d already learnt back to me, so I could gauge their level and the kind of language that they use. But as I say, I’m not that way inclined at this point.

There’s another thing I’m going to try, though.

I’m experimenting with podcasts for a general audience, on the same subject matter as this class. It’s very early days, but essentially I want to produce a series of 5 minute ‘casts that are framed by simple questions that people ask of it all.

My idea is simply to encourage some interaction with the students by asking them what questions they would like answered: they might be a bit too technical for what I’m planning, but it would stimulate my thinking, as well as giving me more of an ‘in’ into how they understand (or don’t understand, more pertinently) the topic.

Whether that works, I’ll have to report back, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear/read them.


* – old joke, watch the clip.

Theoretical Theatre: An innovative teaching method for EU Studies: Guest post from Viviane Gravey

This guest post by Viviane Gravey (UEA) was first published on Ideas on Europe.

The European Union has an image problem. The “permissive consensus”[1] (aka non-informed consent) that supported European integration up to the early 1990s is long gone, and the image of “the European construction” as a guarantee of peace is no longer sufficient. Even the last European Commission thought a “new narrative for Europe” was required. Of course, not all of the EU’s legitimacy problems are about its image or European citizens’ lack of information. As important (if not more) is a political debate on whether national sovereignty should be shared, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of shifting power to a supranational level.

As researchers studying European policy and politics, we all make different choices about where we draw the line between raising awareness of what the EU is and what it does and taking a stand on European politics. The possibility of a referendum on British membership of the EU will make this discussion, on whether to get involved and how to do so, all the more crucial. In this post, I suggest that a first and necessary step in engaging the wider public with Europe is to think about how we teach the European Union – and how we can do it better. As a student of EU environmental policies, I have long been keen to draw insights from environmental policy studies for wider EU studies discussions.[2] In this post I go a step further, reflecting on how an innovative teaching practice,  “theoretical theatre”, developed in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia could be adapted to teaching EU studies.

A growing need for better EU studies teaching

What makes the EU complex to teach? Part of the answer comes from the EU political system itself. In many European countries like the UK or France, where citizens are accustomed to a confrontational type of politics, the large number of veto players at EU level and the permeating culture of consensus is decidedly alien. Media coverage of the EU does not always help. EU citizens are often presented with a decidedly skewed account of EU policy-makingand very rarely with informative explanations of what people in Brussels – MEPs, Commissioners, ministers – actually do. Another key difficulty for teaching the EU is the need for teachers to find a balance between the history of European integration, the creation of EU policies, and the opposing theories explaining both. Teachers must find this balance while also trying to engage students in current debates on and in Europe.

How to (better) teach the EU is a topic of growing interest among EU scholars – as evidenced by the 1st European Conference on Teaching and Learning Politics, International Relations and European Studies, by the UACES Student Forum seminar in November 2014 or by the section on Teaching and Learning in a recent Journal of Contemporary European Research issue.  These forums are increasingly discussing innovative teaching approaches, such as greater use of simulations or harnessing the Internet for teaching purposes (see for example the Active Learning in Political Science blog).

Teaching theories, a key hurdle?

Out of the many difficulties encountered when teaching the EU, I suggest one of the key problems is to understand the great variety of theories mobilised to study the EU. This is an especially acute challenge when teaching students with no political science background. Applying theories for the first time – taking a step back and managing to explain the same event or issue with different “lenses” – can be pretty daunting.

A few years ago, researchers in UEA’s 3S research group developed an engaging teaching approach that breaks the ice and introduces students to the use of social science theories: the theoretical theatre. In this approach, a group of lecturers each impersonate a different theory/theorist and engage in a lively debate offering different explanations of an event, or solutions to a problem.

The theoretical theatre approach was first developed to expose students to different theories on sustainable consumption. The theories covered in this sustainable consumption theatre were Rational Choice Theory, Social Psychology, Social Practice Theory and Systems of Provision Theory. Each theory was impersonated by an academic who debated the best way to move toward more sustainable consumption from the perspective of their chosen theoretical perspective[3].

For the last two years, I have helped (with my blog co-editors) bringing together another session in a module on environmental politics and policy. In our theoretical theatre, contenders debate the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass and the development of access to land rights in the UK from the perspective of Stephen Lukes’ three “faces of power”. Instead of impersonating a theory, we chose to impersonate a theorist, with “Stephen Lukes” going head to head with “Peter Bachrach” and “Robert Dahl” in a performance with an arguably smaller comedic element (although we did use 3D glasses).

Both modules got very positive feedback from the students – which may partly be because the students get to see their lecturers dress rather originally to “get into character”. The different directions in which we’ve taken these modules demonstrate the flexibility of the concept – and is a sign of its adaptability to other fields.

An EU theoretical theatre?

I argue EU studies could benefit from such a theatrical treatment. EU studies is a broad umbrella term for what is a very pluridisciplinary field of study that includes law, political science, history and economics – but the theoretical theatre approach should be flexible enough to be applied to a variety of fields.

What would an EU theoretical theatre look like? In order to be easily understood, it would need to be clearly focused on a specific period in time and issue, with at least 2 (ideally 3 or 4) divergent theoretical readings.

The theatre could serve many different purposes: it could be an introduction to competing readings of an historical period (e.g. the empty chair crisis of 1965 or the 2004 enlargement), to debates on the reasons and modality of a given process (growth in power of the European Parliament) or to a key contemporary issue such as the euro crisis.

For example, a theoretical theatre could be organised around the issue of the EU’s democratic deficit and the role the European Parliament could play in addressing that deficit. Such a discussion might include the four following broadly sketched “theoretical readings”:


Pluridisciplinarity in teaching?

In a complex academic job market, teaching skills are becoming very important for early career researchers. The pluridisciplinarity and diversity of EU studies makes it a perfect field to experiment. The approach I presented here, the theoretical theatre, is only one of many examples of innovative teaching methods being used right now across the UK (and beyond). These methods (theoretical theatre included) may also lead to more pluridisciplinarity in teaching, not just in research.


[1]Down, I. & Wilson, C., (2008) “From ‘Permissive Consensus’ to ‘Constraining Dissensus’: A Polarizing Union?”Acta Politica43, 26–49

[2] For example, I co-organised a panel on “Debating EU Governance: Insights from Environmental Policy Studies” at the 2014 UACES Student Forum conference

[3] The Theoretical Theatre performance is available here.