Teaching Politics and International Relations

Guest Author: Dr. Simon Lightfoot

In the UK there is a joke about buses. You wait for ages and the three show up! Having waited ages for books on teaching and learning in Politics and IR to be published, two new volumes are published, both considering to what extent politics and IR are different from other academic subjects and also how to teach the subjects in an engaging way.

One key issue for politics and IR is that the subject matter is constantly changing as a result of events (wars, financial crisis, elections, change of leadership etc). How do we as teachers keep on top of these changes and perhaps more importantly how do we encourage our students? One way (as discussed by Stephen Thornton in the Gormley-Heenan and Lightfoot book and by Kohen in the Glover and Tagliarina book) is via new technologies. Twitter, RSS feeds and social media provide new ways for students to engage with an ever changing world. Our role as teachers is to ensure they use these resources in a critical manner. Other examples in the new book by Glover and Tagliarina show how films, graphic novels and cartoons can be used to engage students in political debates beyond the book. Given these technological developments, it is crucial that our practice in the classroom remains as engaging as possible, so thought needs to be given to how to teach small and large groups of students.

The other key issue in teaching politics and IR is the fact that we are dealing with opinions and values (both our own and the students). How should we as academics approach the issue of “bias”-declare our beliefs and values up front or aim for a pedagogic neutrality? Some beliefs or political positions may not be that straight forward –it might be easy to declare yourself as a democrat or a republican but what about when it comes to the issue of abortion? The use of language also becomes important –the famous adage about “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter”. The current situation in Gaza (November 18th 2012) is clearly a topic that must be discussed in politics and IR courses but how do you approach the discussion if your class has divided opinions? These issues and more are discussed (along with some possible tips) in the Gormley-Heenan and Lightfoot book, Teaching Politics and International Relations“.

Both books contain helpful tips for colleagues to reflect upon and both complement each other very well in terms of their content.

Dr. Simon Lightfoot is a Senior Lecturer in European Politics and POLIS Director of Student Education, in the University of Leeds. Before he came to Leeds since 2005, Dr. Lightfoot worked at Liverpool John Moores University. He has been a visiting fellow at the National Europe Centre, Australian National University and the Corvinus University of Budapest. He is co-organiser of the UACES Research Network “The Governance of Sustainability: Multiple Dimensions, Multiple Approaches” and the EADI Working Group ‘Development Aid of the Non-DAC Donors’.

He has an interest in learning and teaching issues. In 2009 he won the Political Studies Association’s Bernard Crick Prize for Outstanding Teaching and was awarded a full University Teaching Fellowship.

Leave a Reply

Stay Connected