Strategies and Practices of Teaching International Studies by a PhD Student

Cornelia-Adriana Baciu - Recently awarded the BISA Prize for Excellence in Teaching International Studies by a Postgraduate 
 
 
 
“Science is responsible for the progress of the society” claimed the German journalist Carl von Ossietzky, laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935; and teaching can be responsible for the production of knowledge and science, I would add. In a rapidly changing international environment in the 21st century, teaching and academic research can have a stabilising impact on societies by enabling the creation of a body of knowledge and scientific outputs which can help us to understand, explain or predict crises or instability. But how can teaching at postgraduate level be positively intertwined with completing the PhD dissertation and writing journal articles and/or books?
 
During my PhD at Dublin City University I gained extensive teaching and evaluative experience in course design and syllabi formulation in International Security, Theories of International Relations, Research Methods and Comparative European Politics. In 2019, I lectured several sessions on Theories of International Relations (part of the module Military History and Strategic Studies) to the 32. Junior Command and Staff of the Irish Defence Forces at Maynooth University, Ireland. In addition, I was grading assistant for the BA lectures International Relations and Security and Comparative European Politics. The most comprehensive teaching experience I gained while being a semester-long lecturer and module coordinator for the course Introduction to Research Methods and Skills for the BA programme in’ Economics, Politics and Law’ at Dublin City University, which encompassed 146 Irish and international students and four tutorial groups, which were also under my coordination and supervision.
 
In this blog I present the evaluation and teaching strategies which I used, the approaches I applied to stimulate critical thinking, how I addressed the needs of a diverse population and the sharing of teaching practices with colleagues and the international community. 
 
 
Use of Innovative Evaluation and Teaching Strategies
 
Continuous Assessment as Evaluation Method.
 
For the courses which I taught I designed evaluation strategies which would develop students’ key competences in international dissemination of their future research and the generation of innovative outputs which inform the policy community and benefit the society. The course evaluation was distributed along several smaller and diverse assignments (continuous evaluation), instead of putting the weight on a major assignments (e.g. final exam). For example, for the course in research methods, the evaluation consisted of six different tasks, inter alia tutorial assignments and exercises, a group presentation and an essay. The group work stimulated students to develop techniques to negotiate in team situations, effectively communicate their analysis to peers and take collective responsibility. Through the essay assignments, students learned how to plan, draft and reference appropriately and develop annotated bibliography. Some of the students were encouraged to turn their essays in a blog submission. Overall, the continuous assessments constituted an innovative evaluation method, which was substantively beneficial for the development of students’ core competences and abilities in producing impactful research outputs.     
 
Online Teaching Materials
 
To enable students’ access to the reading materials for this course, all compulsory reading texts were scanned and made available on DCU’s internal system ‘Loop’ before the commencing of the semester. This was particularly helpful, as the number of the enrolled students for the lectures I thought ranged between 25 and 146, with high competition on materials available in the Library’s paperback resources. In addition, teaching materials such as the class presentations and hand-outs were uploaded on ‘Loop’ after each session, to enable access to part-time students or students who, e.g. due to attenuating circumstances, were not present during a particular sessions.  
 
 
Use of Multimedia Materials to Enhance Innovation and Policy-Relevance.
 
To encourage students to contribute to the development of innovative and policy-relevant scholarship and to develop a more coherent approach and greater understanding of the impact of the particular issue thought, multimedia resources were employed during the lectures, when relevant. The use of multimedia and educational technology in classrooms can complement traditional teaching methods and has scientifically proven advantages for improving students’ critical thinking and core skills. Visual multimedia can be helpful for students to make conceptual distinctions, to make links between different disciplines in their curricula and to apply knowledge to answer real-world questions.  
 
 
Stimulating Independent Learning and Critical Thinking
 
Class Discussions, Simulations and Counterfactual Reasoning.
 
To increase class participation and interactivity and enhance independent learning and critical thinking, class discussions were held at the beginning of each session. Students were instructed to get informed about key developments in international relations via different media and be prepared to discuss them in class. Circa 5 minutes discussions took place at the beginning of each session, which constituted a good warm-up and enabled students to debate important topics of international relevance. The students were asked to counterfactually think about future scenarios in the aftermath of specific developments, propose solutions to a current crisis or problem in international politics and link the developments with the concepts learned in class. 
 
Reading Forms Highlighting Key Elements of a Research Design.
 
To enhance the students’ ability to conceptualise clear, coherent and logical arguments, but also to stimulate them to engage with the reading material, they were asked to fill-in reading forms for each lecture session, identifying the research questions, methodology, data sources and findings of one article from the reading list. The forms were discussed briefly in class. 
In-Class Experiments were conducted in circumstances in which difficult concepts had to be explained to the students. For example, to increase students’ understanding of the Prisoners’ Dilemma and the evolution of cooperation (Axelrod 1984) between states, the following experiment was conducted: students were presented with an incentive of €20; if they agreed to cooperate it would have been distributed equally among the group; if one of them defected, he/she would keep all money; then they were asked to take out a piece of paper and write 'C' to cooperate and 'D' to defect. Usually, circa 25% of the participants defected, but cooperation was achieved when the experiment was repeated. 
 
 
Meeting the Needs of the Diverse Student Population
 
‘Brainstorm’ Initiatives.
 
Students enrolled in the lectures which I though usually had different social, demographic and cultural backgrounds. To meet the needs of the diverse student population, I conducted regular ‘Brainstorm’ activities asking open-end questions. Students were encouraged to write down questions and ideas related to the asked questions. The Brainstorm initiative provided a platform for students to participate and also fostered in-class networking and connection by increasing participation and social cohesion among the student community. Students’ spontaneous answers gave me an idea about the way they are thinking. By considering and incorporating these specific insights into the course curricula (e.g. in the examples which I used), the course content became more representative of the diverse student population and more engaging and appealing to them.   
 
After-Class Consultations.
 
To encourage students to let me know about their peculiarities and genuine challenges, at the end of each lecture, I invited them to talk to me about course-related issues or any difficulties they might encounter, directly after class or by making an appointment. Knowing more about students’ experiences allowed me to consider the specific matters when scheduling presentations or offer them bespoken deadline extensions.       
 
Sharing of Good Teaching Practice With Colleagues and International Community
 
Archiving Power-Point Presentations and Handouts.
 
To share good teaching practice with colleagues, both at Dublin City University and Maynooth University, the files of the power-point or Prezi presentations as well as the handouts and other additional materials for each session were archived in the online Loop/Moodle system and shared with colleagues who thought the courses in the upcoming semesters. 
Inviting Colleagues to Sit In and Peer Review. To enable exchange of teaching practices and methods, I pro-actively approached the topic of teaching during informal discussions with colleagues and invited them (usually a PhD student in final year) to sit in during one session of the lecture delivery. After the lecture, I asked them to provide feedback, which was very beneficial for improving my teaching. 
 
Use Online Platforms such as Prezi.
 
The benefit of online platforms such as Prezi in preparing the class presentations is that the material can be accessed from any computer (connected to internet) and it offers unique presentation designs. Via Prezi, I made the class presentations and materials publicly available and thus ready to be accessed by my colleagues and the international academic community. 
 
 
 
Author
 
Cornelia-Adriana Baciu is a final year PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations and Government of Ireland Fellow at Dublin City University. She was awarded the BISA Prize for Excellence in Teaching International Studies by a Postgraduate. Cornelia’s research focuses on international peace, European security, civil-military relations, strategy, institutional change in fragile states and research methods. She is the founding director of the transnational research network “European Security and Strategy”. In 2019, her co-edited book “Peace, Security and Defence Cooperation in Post-Brexit Europe. Risks and Opportunities” was published. 
 
 

North Caucasus Studies? Impediments for the Emergence of a Distinct Area of Study

A review of scholarship on the Russian North Caucasus reveals that there is a large though dispersed body of interdisciplinary work done on this region. While interest in the North Caucasus comes and goes, articles and monographs keep being published featuring original research on the North Caucasus, its native languages and cultures, political processes, history and other dimensions that cut across disciplinary lines. However, this body of work has yet to be organised by summative accounts or around dedicated conferences and institutions. In Europe and North America, there are neither journals nor research centres that specialise exclusively on the North Caucasus. In sum, the North Caucasus studies 'field' - if it can be called that way - is diffused. Research on this Russian region is typically hosted by two broader areas of study: Caucasus studies and, occasionally, Russian studies. In the United Kingdom, those that specialise in the North Caucasus are typically based in departments of Central and Eastern European Studies. I do not suggest that this situation necessarily hinders scholarship on the North Caucasus. However, it does hinder collaboration and contact among researchers working in the region [i].
 
In the following, I argue that there are four difficulties that at least partially explain the diffusion of North Caucasus studies in Europe and North America: the definition of the area, the relevance of the region, language barriers and security concerns.
 
First, the boundaries of the North Caucasus are hard to define. Where to locate the northern end of the Caucasus as a distinct area of cultural/political studies? Andrew Foxall mentions [ii] that this ambiguity is present even in Russia itself. Is the North Caucasus limited to the 'ethnic' republics of Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia-Alania? Or should it also include the neighbouring, Russian-majority districts? It could even be defined up to include all of southern Russia between the Black and Caspian seas. For a potential North Caucasus studies 'field', this lack of definition blurs the boundary between the specificity of the region as an area of study, and, for instance, Russian studies. However, this type of lack of a clear geographic definition has not impeded other regions to become areas of specialised study. For instance, Soviet Studies have evolved into broader areas to include former socialist countries and even China. The trajectory of the journal Europe-Asia Studies (formerly Soviet Studies) illustrates this trend. One could also argue that the region is not large enough to stand as its own 'field'. However, other regions with relatively small populations have dedicated journals and international associations dedicated to their study, such as the Baltic states (about 6 million) [iii].
 
Second, the policy relevance of the region has diminished markedly in the past ten years. Much of the early, post-1991 scholarship on the North Caucasus was connected to the conflict in Chechnya, and with the broader insurgency in the neighbouring republics. This early burst of interest could be seen as reflective of the larger trend in Central Asian studies in the 1990s when the newly independent, former-Soviet republics attracted researchers to conduct fieldwork in that region [iv]. For the North Caucasus, the end of the Chechen wars seems to have marked the end of the period when the region's political arrangement was in flux and open-ended. Consequently, interest in the region is not as widespread as before, when 'big' developments were taking place.
 
Third, area studies are typically associated with language-based scholarship. The native languages of the North Caucasus are considered to be some of the most difficult to learn, due to their relative isolation vis-à-vis other language families. This peculiarity has made the languages of the North Caucasus an object of interest in philology [v], but represents a barrier for other disciplines interested in language-based research on the region. However, due to long-term Russian domination, documents and inter-ethnic communication are both done in Russian, which facilitates some forms of research. This both enables certain forms of research but also contribute to the lack of specificity in North Caucasus studies, subsuming these further into Russian studies. Some universities in Europe have offered North Caucasus languages as part of their postgraduate programmes, but these remain a rarity.
 
Fourth, the security situation throughout the North Caucasus has been an impediment to fieldwork being conducted in the region. Even beyond the wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and Dagestan today, the other 'quieter' [vii] republics have seen their share of violence. However, the last few years have seen a drop in violence throughout the North Caucasus. Even some international travel guides such as Lonely Planet [viii] feature some of the North Caucasus republics (albeit they refrain from recommending travel to more unstable ones such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia). Consequently, fieldwork has been carried out in all of the republics, including Dagestan [ix]. Furthermore, there is a small but growing field of inquiry on how to conduct scholarly research in conflict zones, featuring cases such as civil-war era Cote d'Ivoire [x]. 
 
In sum, a lack of clear geographic determination, policy relevance, language scholarship and safety assurances for researchers doing fieldwork have been among the impediments for the emergence of the North Caucasus as a distinct region for area studies. While none of these is impossible to overcome, they have made access to the region more difficult. A possible solution to these obstacles could be a deeper, more institutionalised collaboration of Western universities with North Caucasus institutions in interdisciplinary research and training. 
 
 
References
 
i. The same cannot be said of Russia, or at least not entirely. Inside the Russian Federation, there are some study centres that specialise in the North Caucasus from an interdisciplinary perspective, or even in its sub-regions. Also, there are a number of journals entirely or partially dedicated to the study of the Russian Caucasus from various disciplines. However, these cases are few. Other Russian centres that address the region are mostly in the fields of linguistics and philology. 
ii. Foxall, Andrew (2015), Ethnic Relations in Post-Soviet Russia. Russians and non-Russians in the North Caucasus. London: Routledge, p. 8.
iii. This is, namely, the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, which does feature scholarship on the broader Baltic sea region too.
iv. See, for instance, Johnson, E. C. (1994), “Central Asian Studies in American Academia”, Islamic Studies, 33:2/3: pp. 393-396.
v. See, for instance, Jaimoukha, Amjad (2001), The Circassians: A Handbook. New York: Palgrave, pp. 17-18.
vii. The phrase 'quiet conflicts' was notably used to describe political conflict in Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia. See Kazenin, K. (2009), Тихие Конфликты на Северном Кавказе. Moscow: Regnum.
viii. Richmond, S., et al (2018), Russia Travel Guide. Lonely Planet, pp. 398-410.
ix. Ratelle, J.-F. (2013), Radical Islam and the Chechen War Spillover: A Political Ethnographic Reassessment of the Upsurge of Violence in the North Caucasus since 2009. Doctoral thesis, University of Ottawa, chapter 6.
x. Bonfoh, B., et al (2011), “Research in a war zone”, Nature, 474: 569–571 URL=https://www. nature.com/articles/474569a (accessed on 1/04/2019).
 
 
Ivan Ulises Kentros Klyszcz is a doctoral student at the University of Tartu, Estonia. His research interests are Russian foreign policy and the North Caucasus. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. @IvanUlisesKK
 
 
 

How powerful is ethno-religious populism in Indonesia and Malaysia?

Scott Edwards & Asmiati Malik
 
A political strategy of mobilising those feeling increasingly insecure due to a perceived side-lining of religion and ethnicity is occurring in Malaysia and Indonesia. Centred on opposition to ‘others’, it is giving rise to concerns over the strength of polarizing narratives in these fledgling democracies. 
 
The 212 rally in Indonesia highlighted the strength of religious narratives. Supported by several political parties, as well as the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the 2018 reunion attracted more attendees than last year. While the committee promised to be politically neutral, Jokowi’s coalition was not represented due to his criminalisation of Ulema”, and opposition Prabowo Subianto addressed the crowd. An oath of allegiance was given to FPI leader Habib Rizieq, “Great Imam of the Islamic Ummah of Indonesia”, who argued that it is forbidden by Islamic law to vote for a president supported by political parties condoning blasphemy – referring to Jokowi.
 
In Malaysia, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), experienced in using religion and ethnicity, are learning from their neighbours. Prior to last year’s election UMNO called for a ‘Malay tsunami’. They since had their own gathering to protest the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s plans to ratify the ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). Naming it Himpunan 812, the rally was supported by opponents of PH including UMNO and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and argued that PH undermine the values of Islam.
 
There are some symbolic linkages between 212 & 812. Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA), one of the 812 organisers, invited 212 leader Ustaz Bachtiar Nasir to speak via video call. Symbols such as the tauhid flags, uncommon in Malaysia, were seen to be inspired by 212. In Indonesia, those supporting the “change president 2019” hashtag tweeted that 212 and 812 are symbols of rising Islamic civilization. These linkages demonstrate the way in which momentum from both is used as inspiration for the other. 
 
But why is this narrative surrounding Islamic representation being mobilised?
 
812 is an effective distraction from the 1MDB affair for UMNO, and ethno-religious populism seems to be their last hope of rallying support now they have lost their ability to distribute patronage and no longer need to consider their non-Malay partners. It resonates with many Malay voters, who feel increasingly insecure, and there seems to be greater fluidity of party loyalty than in Indonesia  where less than 20% of people identify with a political party. 812, therefore, provides a strong focal point for shaping perceptions that the PH government is “anti-Islam” and “anti-Malay”.
 
212 is also being used by an opposition who are not only focused on religious sentiment, but also the economically marginalised in Jakarta. The eviction and financially burdening relocation of residents in Kampung Pulo is just one unpopular policy in a city where inequality is rising. As Ahok was perceived as close to rich elites, it was not particularly difficult to link economic marginalisation with ethnic and religious sentiments. 
 
In Indonesia, these narratives have seen mixed success. They allowed opposition elites, such as Anies Baswedan, to access strong positions in the Jakarta administration – giving them an advantage in the 2024 Presidential elections. Where it is less successful is in the current elections, and populist strategies are not as strong as they were during the gubernatorial election. A CSIS poll showed that many who describe themselves as 212 sympathisers are also Jokowi voters - generally moderate Muslims represented by organisations such as Nahdatul Ulama (NU). Jokowi selected former chairman of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate, who also took part in 212 and testified during Ahok’s trial. He has successfully gained support from former 212 alumni, causing a split, and counter-attacked accusations that he is not chosen by Ulema, managing to co-opt this narrative to appeal to more inclusivist Islamic supporters.
 
This mixed success is also reflected in Malaysia. UMNO won a significant portion of the Malay vote during the election and this narrative helped propel them to victory in the Cameron Highlands by-election. It is a tactic that PH is finding particularly difficult to counter, as Malay parties such as Bersatu are increasingly seen as too liberal due to the power-sharing within PH. They face difficulties in accommodating the interests of the non-Malay and allaying anxieties of the Malay electorate that remain wary of the coalition, meaning PH cannot co-opt these narratives. There are limitations, however. Despite continuing Malay support for UMNO, there was a strong swing to PH during the elections as they appeal to more moderate and inclusivist Muslims. This seems to have led to some degree of hedging on this strategy. Critics such as Khairy Jamaluddin said that the continuation of 812 was a mistake, and it is time to reduce the political temperature of the country. Zahid stepping down, and his replacement by technocrat and moderate Mohamad Hasan, may hark a change towards more programmatic appeals, though he has also stated UMNO is for those who will fight for and love their race.
 
Both democratising countries are facing challenges of how to deal with politics and narratives of race and religion in the age of social media. This was emphasised at the first Political Studies Association’s (PSA) political psychology conference held at the University of Birmingham by Helen Haste. Her keynote focused on the power of narratives in relation to populism, where she stressed that we need to understand the psychological effects that these narratives have – especially in influencing political choices and their relation to other dynamics.
 
Scott Edwards is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham who focuses on Malaysian and Indonesian politics and foreign policy. 
 
Asmiati Malik is a doctor research at the University of Birmingham
 
 
 

BISA@ 40 and beyond

A series of commentaries on the state of the

discipline to mark the 40th anniversary of

BISA's founding

 

British International Studies Association
 
Email: office@bisa.ac.uk
Charity No:1151260
Company no: 8422260
Registered office: C/O Francis Grey Chartered accountants, Ty Madog, 32 Queens Road, Aberystwyth UK