Call for Proposals

The next New England Faculty Development Conference will be held on November 8 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. The deadline for proposals is August 17. Full details are here. The NEFDC is totally teaching-oriented and interactive workshops are encouraged.

As the new Director of Faculty Development at my university, and managing editor of this blog, please get in touch if you would like to publicize a teaching-related conference or event.

A Tale of Two Conferences

With apologies to Charles Dickens.

I recently presented at nearly back-to-back conferences that were not, strictly speaking, devoted to my areas of expertise. While I think it’s always good to go beyond one’s comfort zone, the experience again illustrated a principle upon which Simon and I have occasionally commented: academic conferences often don’t reflect workplace realities. To wit:

The first conference, of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA), was held in Washington, DC. Until you found out it wasn’t. I had immediately noticed from the call for proposals, unlike my wife/colleague, that the conference site was actually a 30-minute drive south, in Maryland. Public transit, including from the airport, took 90 minutes. While the hotel itself was gorgeous, its location represented additional expense and inconvenience for attendees, especially for those with limited or no financial support from their home institutions.

But the greater problem, in my opinion: it was the usual routine of presenting obscure research, completely unrelated to teaching, to mostly empty rooms. Hardly anyone who attended the conference has or will have a career that is entirely research-focused. In other words, the conference was organized to serve an audience that doesn’t exist.

The second conference, Eastern Regional Campus Compact, was a bit better in this regard, as one might expect from an organization whose mission is community engagement. But it still demonstrated the disconnect between conference format and audience. My contribution was an interactive workshop on teaching techniques, which drew a crowd of about fifty people, with some spilling out into the corridor — a clear sign of interest. The other sessions I attended, organized as traditional panels, attracted a half dozen or fewer people.

As I mention in the post at the link shown above, the economics of these kinds of conferences are backwards and not sustainable.

Getting into blogging

The magic of blogging

Hilariously, on a day when I find myself suddenly confronting my self-imposing deadline for posting here, I find that both time and inspiration are in short supply.

Fortunately, this weekend saw a meeting of the UACES graduate forum, talking about how to get into, and make use of, social media.

Rather than re-hash the various content, I’ll direct you to the #UACESdta hashtag for inputs from various people who know (and me) on things to think about and deal with.

Reassuringly, the main message was a positive one, stressing the value of connecting to new and diverse audiences, generating ideas and debate, and the personal value of writing more regularly.

At the same time, the costs of ‘doing’ social media have to be recognised: I’ve certainly encountered some of those, but I’m going to be seeing if I can get some guest posts together on this.

And as I sign off, from the floor of the train carriage heading into an event, I’ll note that opportunity costs cut both ways.

Reminder: International Teaching and Learning Conference proposals due Monday

Just a reminder that the joint International Teaching and Learning Conference proposal deadline is this Monday, 19 November. The conference  will be held in Brighton, United Kingdom, 17-19 June and will focus on teaching politics in an era of populism. It is jointly sponsored by APSA, PSA, BISA, and ECPR. All kinds of proposals are welcome, including panels, papers, individuals for roundtables, lightning talks, workshops, and any other innovative pedagogical approach you want to propose.  For more information, head to the PSA conference website. 

(Trans)formative Assessment in Teaching

Today I’m attending ISA’s inaugural Innovative Pedagogy Conference in St. Louis.  Victor and I are doing a workshop on using games and simulations to teach political violence, showcasing activities like Survive or Die!, Prisoner’s DilemmaModel Diplomacy, identity exercise, and others.  But I’m most interested in reflecting on the session offered by Matthew Krain and Kent Kille of the College of Wooster on Assessment and Effectiveness in Active Teaching in International Studies. Their framework for formative assessment (that can, in fact, be transformative) is very helpful as an overall approach to teaching.

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Teaching Election Results

The 2018 midterm elections are over in the US, and it was a night of mixed results.  The Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives, winning at least 27 seats previously held by the Republican Party, while the GOP increased their majority in the Senate, toppling North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and my own state of Missouri’s Claire McCaskill.  

While clearly not as momentous an election as 2016, or the Brexit referendum, or many other elections, the midterms were still an important point to take stock of the impact of Trumpism on American politics, and whether Democrats who were somewhat over-confident in the fall of 2016 could manage to overcome pro-Trump sentiment, a strong economy, congressional district gerrymandering, voter suppression efforts, and the other structural reasons why succeeding at the polls can be difficult. 

Teaching the results of American elections is a frustrating enterprise.

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The Society for the Abolition of Boring Conference Panels

It’s that time of year when I find myself submitting papers and panels to conferences.

But because it’s not the time of year for conferences, I’ve not been thinking too much about what I dislike about how those conferences work.

Often on these pages we write about the shortcomings of conference panel formats: the long presentations, the reading-out of papers, the lack of time for Q&A, the ‘question’ that isn’t.

But this year, I’m resolved to actually try and pull my finger out and try to do something different.

With that in mind, and with the looming announcement of call for papers for my ‘home’ conference at UACES, I’m going to try a couple of things.

The first is a flipped format.

My panellists – as and when I find them – will record 15 minute presentations prior to the conference and upload them to YouTube. We’ll indicate this in the programme, using a hashtag to help find them.

Then, in the actual session, I’ll limit colleagues to a 3 minute presentation of the core message, so those few who’ve not seen the YouTube presentation know what’s going on, and so that we can have considerably more than an hour to discuss the content.

The second panel will be highly interactive, where each presenter starts off with 3 minutes, then the audience vote on whether to give them subsequent blocks of 3 minutes, up to a maximum of 12 minutes. I think we can do that via an app, so no-one has to feel they’re inhibited to ask the speaker to stop.

The logic of the first panel is to maximise the time for face-to-face discussion, which seems to be particularly useful for colleagues to develop their ideas and their papers. It also encourages them to prepare more before the conference itself.

The logic of the second is to incentivise presenters to foreground core messages and to ensure that audiences are engaged, rather than using their time to regurgitate their paper without thought to the format.

In both cases, I hope it will produce a more engaging environment for colleagues attending the session, not least as I intend to secure a small air-horn to drown out anyone who can’t ask a concise question, phrased as a question.

To be honest, I hope no idea if either format will work, but I want to try, because carrying on as we have isn’t a solution. We all know we can do better, so consider this a first step in trying to do better.

If it works, then I’ll see if I can get others to adopt the format, or to try out other formats. Maybe I can persuade those organising conferences to push the use of these different approaches, perhaps with a conference prize for the best online presentation or the like.

The only thing I need now is a small band of volunteers to help try this out.

Some of you might be getting an email, but others of you might just want to contact me via the comments section below: I’m thinking the second format might be particularly good for an L&T panel.

Joint PSA/APSA/ECPR/BISA Pedagogy Conference on Teaching Politics in an Era of Populism

While I am very much looking forward to the ISA Innovative Pedagogy Conference, I’m also excited to share the call for proposals for this new pedagogy conference on Teaching Politics in an Era of Populism, a joint effort by the Political Studies Association, American Political Science Association, European Consortium for Political Research, and British International Studies Association. I am on the planning committee and very excited about bringing together a wide cross-section of scholars to debate these issues.

The conference will be held in Brighton, UK on 17-19 June, 2019.  We are accepting a wide range of proposals, including: individual papers, panels, workshops, 10 minute pedagogical TED-style talks, roundtables (submit as an individual, not a group), and ‘open source’, which is an invitation to be as innovative as you like in what you propose.  Submissions are due November 5th.  You can find more information on the conference web site.

From the call:

“This conference aims to provide a forum in which political science educators from different countries and contexts can come together to explore these challenges and share their experiences and teaching practices. We welcome contributions which explore the challenges faced in national, international, or comparative contexts. We also welcome different approaches to understanding populism and the challenges that it may present to political science educators in different contexts.”

  • Can or should political science education be ‘politically neutral’? Should we nurture values of democracy, equality, and citizenship and, if so, how?
  • How can we support students in developing knowledge, understanding and skills relating to the complex nature of politics, society and government? What role might different approaches to teaching such as simulations, civic engagement and other pedagogies play?
  • What are the challenges of constructing a curriculum and developing learning resources in a period of rapid and sometime dramatic political change?
  • How can we collaborate across different national and educational contexts to support critical learning in political science and international relations? What best practices are there for collaboration in both pedagogical research and cross-cultural classroom experiences?
  • Are there practices or pedagogies from other disciplines that can be adopted or adapted to address these issues?

ISA Innovative Pedagogy Conference

Registration is now open for the first annual International Studies Association Innovative Pedagogy Conference (ISA-IPC), which will be held on Thursday, November 15, 2018, in St. Louis, MO, in conjunction with the ISA Midwest meeting. This new ISA initiative marks the beginning of a series of programs to be held in conjunction with regional conferences around the United States, and beyond. The one-day event will foster a highly interactive environment to explore new ideas in pedagogy and assessment—and offers rich opportunities for professional development, networking, and classroom skills. There will be three types of sessions at the ISA-IPC: workshops, graduate teaching assistant training, and plenary meetings.

  • Workshops will be directed by leading voices on pedagogy, assessment, and professional development. Participants will attend four workshops during the day, chosen from a rich menu, to share innovations and ideas about different themes in international studies pedagogy. Among the workshop themes for 2018 are: Simulations & Games for Teaching Violence and Peace; Publishing Your Innovative Teaching Work; Research Literacy; International Studies Curriculum Design; Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs; and Global Service Learning. These interactive short sessions will provide hands-on experience and materials for ready application, along with opportunities for professional networking and sharing of ideas.
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant Training session offer a hands-on learning opportunities for advanced graduate students who are instructing their own classes at their universities. Training will focus on running effective active teaching exercises, dealing with challenging situations in the classroom, assessment, and turning teaching opportunities into professional success. A certificate of participation will be provided for all attendees.
  • Plenary sessions will focus on best practices in innovative teaching and promote opportunities for collaboration and exchange. From the opening session to an evening networking reception, participants will share ideas with like-minded colleagues. A keynote presentation by ISA President Patrick James will foster further dialogue on best practices in active teaching and learning.

1st Mini-TLC at APSA and the Future of Conferences

In line with Simon’s last post, something of a continued meditation on conferences and academic disciplinary associations in the USA, relative to last weekend’s one-day TLC, which was embedded within the APSA annual meeting:

Bridge to nowhere

Conferences reflect perverse incentives that do not reflect the realities of the academic labor market. Only a small minority of people who obtain PhDs, regardless of field, end up working as tenured professors at elite research universities teaching one or two, or zero, courses per semester. Yet to have even a chance of being hired or tenured by any institution, regardless of its position in the reputational pecking order, one is supposed to present (at conferences) and publish (in journals) research. The research is almost always irrelevant to anyone outside the discipline and much of the time also irrelevant to those within it.

These norms allow academic conferences to prey financially on graduate students, who are led to believe that they must attend, to both present research and to interview. In an age of digital communication tools and decreasing numbers of tenure-track positions, neither search committees nor disciplinary associations should be encouraging graduate students to pay out of pocket to attend conferences, the costs of which can exceed $1,000 per event.

But therein lies the rub: the more people who register for and attend a conference, the more profitable the conference is to the disciplinary association that has organized it. Whether a conference enables graduate students, their advisers, or other faculty to become more effective at what most academics spend most of their time doing — teaching — is not a concern. To claim otherwise is to ignore the economics of the system.

Conference attendance by full-time faculty is subsidized by their employers in the form of professional development support. Yet the way in which most conferences are structured means that opportunities are lacking for enhancing the teaching skills used on a daily basis in the workplace. Given the declining fortunes of many colleges and universities in the USA, this subsidization is likely to decrease, and decrease substantially, at some point in the near future — or maybe it’s occurring already.