Drs Stuart McAnulla and Victoria Honeyman, University of Leeds
This year’s annual Learning and Teaching Conference, jointly hosted by the PSA and BISA's Learning and Teaching Working Group and held in association with Oxford University Press, focused on the student journey. With the introduction of student fees, the National Student Survey, the Office for Students and the Teaching Enhancement Framework (TEF), academics are keen to ensure that they are continuing to provide the best possible learning experience for their students, often in trying and difficult circumstances. The first keynote speaker, Bela Arora (South Wales) discussed her inspirational teaching, explaining how she used external events and projects within her seminars, and outside of teaching hours, to allow her students to develop a range of exciting and useful skills. By utilising her own community connections, and encouraging her students to work with each other, she has been able to provide an extensive and impressive learning experience for her students, which her excellent keynote speech explained to the conference delegates.
Following the keynote speech, the conference panels began. The first panel began with a paper from Helen Williams (Nottingham) on the importance of feedback literacy and consistency across departments, not just so students are receiving a consistent message, but also so that they receive a message they can easily understand. The second paper from John Craig (Leeds Beckett) discussed the importance of lectures, a long-standing, but often criticised, form of teaching. The panel was concluded by Oana Burcu (Durham), who spoke on the subject of group work and assessment, based on her module which utilised extensive group work, suggesting that it was a key skill for students to engage with, and a structure which could be managed more easily than might be imagined.
The second panel focused on the modern challenges which academics face in delivering a relevant curriculum to students. Simon Choat (Kingston) spoken on his experience of decolonialising his curriculum and expanding the scope of his political theory module beyond the classic scholars. Claire Sutherland (Durham) discussed the challenges academics face from external forces, such as TEF and QA and how these can be dealt with effectively. Ben Little (UEA) concluded the panel by discussing his experience of connecting pedagogy with forms of active political campaigning – his students campaign to introduce stronger controls on nurdles.
The third panel concentrated on the teaching of political theory, with Spiros Makris (Macedonia) and Pete Woodcock (Huddersfield) discussing dilemmas concerning how the teaching of political theory speaks to issues such as citizenship and employability. The teaching of political theory can be considered too theoretical or philosophical to be viewed in practical terms, but Markis and Woodcock both argued in their papers, that the skills students acquired from learning, and analysing, political theory were key to their employability levels and should be encouraged and emphasised.
The final session of the day was the Jacqui Briggs Memorial Lecture, delivered by Heather Savigny (DeMontford) who spoke very movingly on her late friend, Professor Jacqui Briggs (Lincoln), a leading member of the Learning and Teaching community, emphasising how approachable and friendly Jacqui had been and what a huge contribution she had made to the discipline, both in terms of her professional output, but also in terms of her warm and welcoming personal attitude towards colleagues and friends. Savigny then moved on to discuss textbooks, something which Jacqui Briggs was a big supporter of (and an author of), how they can be produced and how they can positively contribute to both the discipline and the CV of an academic.
The first panel on day two centred on interdisciplinary and online learning. Cathy Coombs (Leeds) discussed her module, which was taught by academics across a range of schools to students from across a range of faculties to explore the interdisciplinary elements of power and conflict. By utilising an online learning environment, Coombs and her colleagues were able to cover a wide range of topics and varied material, which was very popular amongst their students. The second paper from Simon Rofe (SOAS) discussed online learning, drawing on his experience of leading a large online module, as well as a large MOOC.
The second panel discussed innovative practices in fostering employability skills, with applied papers from Simon Lightfoot (Leeds) and Lata Narayanaswamy (Leeds). Both papers discussed the importance of employability, and drawing ‘real world’ experience into the classroom, by using both innovative assessment, based on real life examples and connections with external organisations as a research partner for dissertation students.
The final panel of the day considered renewed approaches to supporting students through their studies, with papers from Hannah Duggan (London Met) and Mark Shanahan (Reading) discussing areas including mental health support and preparing assessed work. With a growing student population, and the varied academic backgrounds which students have, the support mechanisms which universities have are under renewed pressure, and the papers focused on how these challenges could be met. The conference concluding with a roundtable discussion on the often neglected topic of the role of pedagogy in research supervision, led by Tony Armstrong (Birmingham City). This discussed issues such as originality in doctoral research, and whether current practices are too narrow or limiting in what is considered to be acceptable new contributions to understanding. inter-disciplinarity and the role of supervisors were also discussed.
All the conference papers were inspiring and attendees all left with a reinvigorated approach to their own teaching, and a host of new ideas to bring back to their home universities, as well as with new contacts and friends.
: My PhD was a critical biography of the Labour MP Richard Crossman and was published in 2007 by I B Tauris. Since completing my PhD at the University of Leeds in 2005, I have taught on a wide range of modules. My primary research interest is British Politics, with a particular specialism in British foreign policy. I have written extensively on the foreign policy objectives of both the Conservative and Labour Parties. I am also Chair of the British International Studies Association Foreign Policy Specialist Group. I work extensively with the media, providing expert analysis for the BBC, Channel 5, Al Jazeera, France 24 Radio 5 Live, Radio 4 amongst others. I also work with members of the Associated Press. You can find her on twitter @vhoneymanleeds
Stuart McAnulla: Before coming to Leeds, I completed a PhD and taught at the University of Birmingham. I also worked for a year as a researcher at the University of Central England, where I also taught a public policy course. My particular interests are in: contemporary British politics; ideological and institutional change; political atheism; religion and politics. I am co-convenor of the Political Studies Association specialist group on Religion and Politics. I am also a member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life here at the University of Leeds