My teaching has been recognized by the SoSS UoM Leadership as having obtained an outstanding result – as I teach several of the “highest [rated courses] in the School.” To this end, in 2017 I was awarded the Political Studies Association National Sir Bernard Crick Award for Outstanding Teaching. I was also twice nominated as Most Inspirational Lecturer, by my students.
Here you will find: 1) a list of courses I teach on/ have taught on, 2) my teaching philosophy, and 2) a Case Study of creative teaching for Research Methods.
UG COURSES UoM
- POLI20901/2 How To Conduct Politics Research
- POLI30001 Politics of The Europe Union (2015/2016)
- SOAN10081 Engaging With Social Science
- POLI20094 Comparative Politics of East-Central Europe
- POLI30921/2 Comparative Protest Politics: When People Vote With Their Feet
PGR/ PGT COURSES UoM
- POLI70951 Comparative Democratization in EE & LA
- POLI70081: PhD Research Design (worked on re-design)
- POLI 70092: PhD Professional Development Course (Contribute Sessions on Fieldwork and Ethics)
- 2010-2011 ERE 1195H-S Social Mobilisation in Eastern Europe: The Making of Civil Society, CERES, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto.
- 2007-2014 Instructor, Comparative Government, POLS 200 & POLS 300, Seminar Classes, DPIR, University of Oxford, UK.
- 2007-2014 Instructor, Tutorials, College Instruction, University of Oxford, UK.
- 100- Introduction to Politics
- 201- Comparative Government
- 207- Russian Government and Politics
- 209- Politics in Latin America
- 228- The Politics of the European Union
- International Relations of the EU
- Politics and Economic Development
- Political Economy of EE Transition
- East European Comparative Politics
- Latin American Comparative Politics
- Global Finance of Development
Beyond learning the fundamentals of their discipline, the classroom should provide students with an open environment, where they can participate, learn new advanced analytical skills, challenge themselves to reach their full potential, and explore new ideas and perspectives. My Teaching Philosophy has four key components. 1) Open debate and discussion of the difficult questions, methods, theories in Politics are essential for student development, advancement and motivation. 2) Interactive and collaborative exercises, help develop a deeper understanding of complex theoretical, methodological and empirical issues. 3) While it is vital that students master the basics, especially essay writing and referencing, it is important that assignments also promote creative and critical thinking. 4) An open-door policy provides students – who were too shy, unable to ask clarification in class, or stuck with new and complex theoretical, methodological and empirical issues – with the opportunity to get the help they need.
Methods Of Teaching
I have employed several pedagogical strategies to achieve the aims listed above. First, I make sure that students have a stronghold on concepts and theory by breaking these down into smaller elements, explaining each conceptual aspect, as these act as building blocks for a deeper and more meaningful analysis of topics in Political Science. Second, I use real-world examples from current events. These aid students in making connections between the theory in readings and the world around them. Third, I engage students in discussion frequently (even in large lectures), and ask them to work through problems and activities with me in tandem (interactive exercises even in large lectures). I believe that supplementing ‘old school’ ‘talk until you drop’ lectures in this manner, leads to better learning and greater excitement for the course material.
Aside from acquiring a good grasp of the substantive material of the course, I believe that students greatly benefit from developing three types of skills at the university level: the first are analytical and critical thinking, the second are writing and communication skills, and the third are empirically grounded (evidence-based) substantive knowledge. I strive to strengthen students’ critical thinking and argumentation skills and have two broad objectives: to help my students understand how authors reach and defend their conclusions (research design, methodology, and empirics), and to be attentive to the potential biases and assumptions underlying what they have read. To foster better writing, I give extensive constructive feedback, detailing how students can improve. Third, students need to be able to learn how to distinguish between empirical facts and opinion or editorializing, they need to understand how politics in their country and abroad work, and they need to know where and how to find evidence and data to support this understanding. In class, I spend extensive amounts of time showing how data is used poorly by media, I provide students with links to data sources in the syllabus, and I ensure that supplementary data analysis classes are available (should students want to develop these skills). I encourage my students to meet with me to go over their papers, readings and other assignments. This practice enhances my students’ performance in all of their courses, as well as providing them with skills useful in their future careers.
A Case Study: Helping Students Master “Mundane” Methods
In my second year at the University of Manchester, I was tasked with taking over the convenorship of our second-year undergraduate research methods course. The Politics Project, as it was then called, was the centrepiece of Politics at Manchester research design and research methods training at the UG level. The aim of the course was to introduce students to the different steps involved in independent research in Politics, at the end of which they were expected to write a 5000-word research project. A large course (averaging 170 students), it was taught in large lecture and seminar format. The course’s content has always been very demanding and due to its overview nature (covering everything from Normative Theory projects, qualitative and quantitative research design, and methods of data collection and analysis), it is notoriously difficult to teach and manage (usually requiring a large team of TAs and Supervisors). The course was/is also compulsory for all Politics UG students and thus, in combination with its difficult content and design, it had for several years, lagged behind in student evaluations. After working over the summer of 2015 to make it more engaging, designing small interactive tasks for each tutorial, and significantly extending the number of office hours I would provide in Fall 2015, I am pleased to say that in my first year as convenor student evaluation of the course was higher than in previous years.
But, I was still not satisfied. I had inherited the course and there were still many aspects that could be changed. Thus, mid-way through the 2015-2016 academic year, upon my own initiative, I was tasked by the Politics Leadership Team to restructure the course entirely. This resulted in extensive course redesigning, developing new course material, and collaborating with colleagues from across the whole discipline. I was asked to once again convene the course, now titled more appropriately How to Conduct Politics Research.
The course is now a step-by-step interactive guide on how to conduct independent research in Politics. I teach half of the lectures myself (and am present at all other lectures) but am joined by (and manage) a 10-person strong teaching team (each responsible for one group supervision seminar) each representing a different sub-discipline in Politics. Crucialy, my redesign nearly tripled staff contact hours for our students and yet alleviate WAM (Work Allocation Model) point pressure on our Department. This is an incredible feat as pressure on teaching in many departments is high and I was able to come up with a design that actually took pressure off my department as a whole but provided our students with more high-quality contact time. An achievement I am very proud of.
I applied many aspects of my teaching philosophy to the large lecture context with great success. The lectures and seminars became more interactive. I employed (and encouraged my team to employ) in-class TurningPoint live quizzes, online Netivistdebates, frequent scheduled pauses for question and answers, but also numerous small exercises to help foster excitement about research.
One such example is the POLI 20901’s First Lecture Skittle and Cup Vote. In Lecture One of Fall 2016, I used the then impending US Presidential Election to spark excitement around independent research (this became an annual event adjusting to election cycles in different countries). I brought three large bags of Skittles to class, and placed two cups (one marked Democrat and the other Republican) on the first row desk. I put up a slide of Hilary Rodham Cliton and Donald Trump and then asked students to vote during the break by placing their ‘controversial’ skittle into a cup of their choice. After class I tallied up the votes and used the result to go through the steps of designing an independent research project highlighting possible explanatory hypotheses relating to voting behaviour (see Figure 1 and quoted text bellow).
…Beginning of exert of message sent to students for reference purposes…
The Election Results Are In!
In case you were wondering Hilary R. Clinton the Democrat won in our mock vote on Tuesday (see photographic evidence). The Democrat Hillary received 85% of the vote of those who voted. The Republican Trump received 12% of the vote of those who voted. And 3% voted for ‘other’ by placing their skittles on the table next to the two cups. But perhaps very apropos to our brief discussion of electoral turnout in democracies only 69 of you voted out of class of 153 eligible voters. Turnout was only 45%. This means that only 38% of eligible voters decided the election!
Hmm… I think I have an empirical puzzle on my hands: What drives Skittle & Cup voter turnout? Let us formulate a RQ: What explains low voter turnout in POLI 20901’s First Lecture Skittle and Cup Vote? While 55% (out of the eligible 153) of you did not vote, we can understand this in many ways.
What are the theoretical expectations found in politics literature? Or … put otherwise how does scholarly research approach this issue?
Well, voting literature has some hints: Some of you may have abstained for lack of choice, some of you may have abstained because you were not very interested in voting more generally (perhaps you even thought it was “not cool”), some of you may have abstained because your friends did not vote (social network tie factor), some of you may have abstained because you had to run to the loo and had no time to vote (actually this is similar to people who are at work and cannot take the time off/make time available to vote), some of you may have abstained because you thought the outcome was certain and your choice did not matter (what is the point anyway?!), some of you did not attend class (failed to register to vote as it were), some of you did not get a skittle (did not receive a ballot due to unknown factors – issues with registration or voter suppression), and some of you ate your skittle (perhaps an attempt to spoil your ballot in protest??!!).
Thus, while what drove low turn is still not known – we have several potential hypotheses/arguments as to what could have driven the outcome (hint – each reflects a theoretical expectation found in real politics literature).
Now to find some evidence/support/test our hypotheses/expectations in the literature…
- We can invite a small sample of students for interviews in office hours,
- We can run a focus group or two in the tutorials,
We ran rely on survey data in the form of an in-class quiz [wait for it… don’t miss next week’s lecture] … and so much more!
OR we can even be inspired by the events and ask a normative political theory question like:
- Does a low turnout undermine the legitimacy of the winning candidate?
- Did those who failed to vote also fail to do what they had a moral duty to do (O.K. maybe not in this ‘Cup & Skittle’ case, but we can ask if there a ‘duty to vote’ in real elections)?
- or even still … Should we be worried about the low turnout in elections? If so, why?
…End of exert of message sent to students for reference purposes…
The following week in class we tested some of these hypotheses by conducting a survey in class, and students where tasked with identifying other data collection methods to “test”/explore some of the above theories and answer the RQ posed.
In finding new ways to reiterate the lecture content in a more interactive and enjoyable manner I was able to help students learn and get more excited about the content even if it is very demanding.
I also introduced a series of interactive hands-on exercises into each seminar. These included:
- “First to 5 [Sources] Challenge” – In-class/live search small group competition (on the UoM Library, Google Scholar, and database websites) for online scholarly sources which can be used in literature reviews.
- “Survey Design is Qualitative Process” – Using online platforms such as Survey Monkey and Google Forms students created surveys, which were later filled in by peers and analysed online. We used the exercise to apply the lecture content on “good, bad, and ugly survey questions” and to show how easy it is to accidentally “lead” respondents and ask “unclear” questions open to respondent interpretation.
- “Don’t Fear Figures and Numbers” – Using the World Values Survey or ESS students conducted basic descriptive analysis of survey data in-class – they vote on the topic they want to explore, and we do the analysis live and collectively step-by-step.
- “Using Documents” – Students searched through government and IGO documents and reports online and employed content and discourse analysis in-class to assess them.
- “Textual Analysis” – In a two-hour session we analysed two speeches by Prime Minister Teresa May (one in UK and one at EU conference) to look at how audiences determine discourse. We first-hand coded the speech and compared results – demonstrating the interpretive nature of qualitative discourse analysis. Then we ran the speech through Nvivo to show how textual analysis software helps systematize qualitative data and facilitate coding/interpretation (regardless of epistemological priors/goals).
- “Media as Textual and Visual Data”- Students conducted media searches using LexisNexsis, analysed the front covers of global newspapers, and images that went viral on social media.
- “Interviews Ain’t Easy – Why Preparation Matters” To understand the complex and personal nature of interview methodology, students interviewed their Lecturers who played the role of an ‘expert’ on a chosen topic / Politician / Activist as part of learning how to conduct and analyse elite interviews.
These interactive exercises help students think through the decisions involved in research design and the practicalities of collecting and analysing different types of data. The interactive exercises also made learning methods less overwhelming (and provided for many laughs in class).
Helping students overcome anxiety often associated with research methods – is a central focus on my teaching. Because the content of the course is so demanding and because it covers complex methodology each week, I made a point to play ‘geeky’ music videos during the 5-10 min break halfway through the lecture. These videos were in later Lectures suggested by students themselves and I coordinated the nomination so that they connected to the thematic focus of each week’s lecture. Thus again, students were actively involved but were also able to connect to research design in a more relaxed manner.
Furthermore, because the Syllabus provides students with extra resources and guides, I put in two “tests” to check if students were reading the content. 1⁄4 way into the syllabus I asked students to send me a picture of the Mancunian band Oasis and then 1⁄2 way through the syllabus, Students were asked to send their tutor a picture of the Mancunian indie bands Stone Roses/ Smiths, grime artists or a local musicians of their choice. The Syllabus read “congratulations you have made ½ way through the course guide … now to show us that you ready for tutorials please send us a picture of…”. Each week at the end of lecture (and in the weekly Q&A Round-Up email), I would cite an Oasis quote and list the number of students who have read the syllabus. Keeping how “I knew this” a secret. Mid-way through the course I presented small awards to the students who were the first to read the syllabus/send us a picture. This again may sound silly, but it provided me with some important data (at least indicative) letting me know how many (or how few as it were) students were actually reading the Syllabus. It is vital that for this course students read the syllabus material because it is not possible for us to cover every detail of such a complicated course in class and thus, knowing that students have not read the syllabus and encouraging them to read it through creative means helps ensure the achievement of the course and program intended learning outcomes.
Lastly, in the past versions of the collectively taught course, students have complained about inconsistency between seminar groups and supervisors. Thus, I developed a detailed tutor handbook. All the readings, summaries, class activities, and discussion questions were all written out in detail. The group supervisors did not have do any extra work and had all the information they need (with links) at their disposal. This helped ensure that we provided consistent teaching experience for all of our students.
I am convinced that that my hard work in redesigning this course has paid off. Students tell us that they have tremendously enjoyed the course and that some consider it among their favourite courses! I must say that a mandatory methods course getting such praise is a rarity, and something I take great pride in. I know that the students have noticed my dedication to their learning and the course. This is exemplified in a recent e-mail I received from one student who wrote: “… I have never seen a convenor put so much effort into a course they were convening. I found your hard work very inspiring seeing that you really cared about how we are getting on with our projects makes me want to do my absolute best with this. So, thank you. I hope in the future I will be as good an academic as you are…” – I blush, but this feedback is also so humbling and rewarding but note that my whole teaching team deserve the praise – Martin Coward, Paul Tobin, Steven Hood, Silke Trommer, Juri Viehoff and Marta Cantijoch Cunill). This feedback only makes me want to continue creative methods teaching in the future. Our staff also agree that the course has been more effective in achieving the intended learning outcomes and note that we have seen a better quality of research projects than we have seen in the past.