Call for Papers – PSAI annual conference 2017

The teaching and learning specialist group are organising a panel for this year’s PSAI annual conference in Dublin.


See  for the call for papers.

Call for Papers

We invite panel and paper proposals from all areas of the discipline, with particular emphasis on, but not necessarily confined to the politics of the island of Ireland.


We welcome papers on all aspects of teaching and learning in the discipline. If you are interested please send your short (300 word) abstract to by June 8th.

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Teaching European Political Systems in China

In 1986, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies became the first Western academic institution to establish a formal presence in China, when it opened a campus in Nanjing, in collaboration with Nanjing University. Since then, and increasingly since 2004 (when the University of Nottingham became the first university to establish a full branch campus in the country in Ningbo), these Sino-Foreign collaborative universities have begun to proliferate throughout the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong.

Wenzhou-Kean University, the branch campus of Kean University (a mid-sized public university located in Union County, New Jersey), has been existence since September 2012, and has been the university that I have been lecturing courses on Political Science at since September 2014. While WKU does not have a degree program in Political Science (or a closely related field), students at the university are required to take classes in a social science subject as part of their “general education” requirements, the standard structure of American undergraduate programs which requires students to complete courses in a broad range of academic disciplines. If one is to ignore the language barrier, teaching Political Science in such an environment presents unique challenges which are not often faced by my colleagues and counterparts in Irish universities. For one thing, I often have to be careful what I discuss with students in class: even though WKU offers full academic freedom, topics such as the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, the status of Taiwan, and Tibetan separatism and the Dalai Lama (amongst others) are culturally and politically sensitive subjects which have the potential to offend student sensibilities (at the least). For another, as was already stated, none of my students are studying towards a Political Science undergraduate degree, and as such, many of them struggle to grasp the relevance of these courses to their immediate studies or to their future careers. Most importantly of all, however, is the basic knowledge gap the average student has regarding Western, and particularly European, history and political systems, which necessitates some creativity and flexibility on the part of the lecturer to ensure that they can develop this understanding.

This last sentence should not be taken to mean that the students at WKU are unintelligent or are underachievers; on the contrary, the students at this university are some of the smartest, most diligent students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. However, given the often Euro-centric and Western-centric nature of political science, it is sometimes easy to forget that events and figures that are seen by Europeans as being of eminent importance, may not carry the same (if any) cultural or historical resonance in China. In a recent class, for instance, when trying to teach students about the balance of power in early- to mid-19th century Europe, I was surprised to find that almost none of them had heard of Otto van Bismarck, and several of them had never even heard of Napoleon Bonaparte. This is even more of an issue in Comparative Politics classes; while students will have some understanding of the United States system of government, fewer will have a knowledge of the parliamentary and semi-presidential systems of government more commonly found in Europe. Fewer still will have an awareness and an understanding of the complexities of voting systems, and their significance in terms of shaping and informing electoral outcomes. And while students have some awareness of the variations between individual political figures in the United States such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, they are not as clear about the differences between the more ‘niche’ political party types that can be found in Europe, such as Social Democrats, Liberal centrists, Greens, and the Radical Right and Radical Left. As such, when they begin taking Comparative Politics classes, they are truly starting from the very beginning.

Given the breadth of basic information that students need to learn in order to be able to successfully progress in this class, a traditional ‘lecture and reading’ approach can often leave students with a very thin understanding of the material. Additionally, given the nature of Chinese politics, the array of party platforms and positions that can be found in European parliaments (as opposed to the more familiar American system) is often somewhat abstract to the students at WKU, and as a result, may fail to resonate. In order to bring these differences to light, in the autumn 2016 semester I designed a simulation exercise which sought to replicate a general election in China, if China had the political system of a European country with a uni-cameral parliamentary system and a proportional system of voting. Students were split up into groups of four or five, and were asked to form a political party using a given archetype (Green, Populist Radical Right, Conservative, etc.) As part of this, they had to design a manifesto, and had to prepare an appropriate series of electoral campaign videos, posters, and so on. Additionally, they had to present their manifesto publicly, debate and defend it, and hold an election. Finally, once the results were tallied, students were required to work amongst themselves to form a workable coalition government, if needed. In this manner, the simulation attempted to bring to life the complexities of a European political system in a manner that is recognizable to Chinese students.

Results of the simulation were quite interesting; in each class where the simulation was performed, Conservative parties formed electoral pacts with the Radical Right archetype, although the successes of this strategy were quite mixed. The Green parties and centrist Liberal parties generally tended to do quite well, while traditional Social Democratic parties underperformed (in some ways mirroring the travails currently being suffered by Social Democratic parties throughout Europe). In terms of the “governments” that students formed, no party was able to win a full majority in any of the three classes, and three coalition governments were formed; a Conservative-Green coalition in the first class, a Liberal-Green-Radical Left coalition in the second class, and a Radical Right-Conservative-Liberal coalition in the third class. Students were debriefed at the end of the exercise, and were given some analysis about the future feasibility and cohesion of these coalitions, as well as the prospects for the parties who would now form the opposition in the would-be parliament.

Initial data from this exercise has been promising; student evaluations taken shortly after the conclusion of the simulation indicated that there was a small but statistically significant improvement in terms of the students’ enthusiasm towards the study of politics and political science. In the coming months, I will be gathering and analyzing further data to evaluate the effectiveness of this pedagogical approach. While it is too early to make strong statements about the effectiveness of this role-play simulation itself, the challenges of teaching politics and of teaching European political history in China suggest that an active-learning approach may just be the way to unpack abstract concepts and ideas, and to help relatively unfamiliar students to gain an understanding of the nature of politics in Europe.


Michael Toomey is currently a Lecturer of Political Science at Wenzhou-Kean University in Wenzhou, China. He received his Ph.D from Rutgers University in 2015 for his disseration on The Normative Disconnect: Normative Power, EU Enlargement, and Democratization in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

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Flipping Feedback with a Multi-Stage Assignment

The ‘flipping feedback’ pilot in Maynooth University sought to address the challenge of making feedback an active learning tool in a 1st year social politics module. The challenge being addressed was to get students to actively engage with feedback early in learning formation and to ‘feed forward’  to teaching staff about the type of feedback they would value and how they were responding to feedback received,  thus making the learning a Flipping Feedback MU-4-MaryMurphy-2dialogical process.  This case study aimed to flip feedback so it becomes feedforward happening earlier and at multiple stages of the assignment.    This involved three stages in an assignment process with feedback on all three stages, beginning, drafting and end stage.

A 2000 word ‘political institutions’ assignment was set by the lecturer.

In the first stage students were asked to provide a brief outline of their proposed structure and six sources accurately referenced. They were also asked to complete a template feed forward sheet which asked them what feedback they would like on stage one of their assignment. They received direct personal feedback via moodle (online) and a 9 minute group video feedback.

The assigned grade was worth 10% of the module grade.

In the second stage students were required to submit a penultimate draft of the assignment and a second  template feed forward sheet which asked how they had engaged with first feedback and what feedback they would like on stage two of their assignment.  They received direct personal feedback vis moodle (online) and a second 9 minute group video feedback.

The assigned grade was worth 30% of the module grade.

Typical feedback requests from students are quoted below, these gave us extensive insight into the concerns of the students,

‘should I have focused more on anything that I have written? Did I leave out any vital pieces of information? Was the structure of my essay correct? Was I too informal?

‘I would value feedback on the structure of the essay. How long should the paragraphs be? Should paragraphs be subdivided? Is there sufficient development of ideas’

In the third stage students were required to submit a final draft of the assignment and a third template feed forward sheet which asked how they had engaged with first feedback and what feedback they would like on stage three of their assignment.  They received direct personal feedback vis moodle (online). The assigned grade was worth 10% of the module grade.

Students also completed a 2 page ‘Flippin Feedback Evaluation Survey’ in the last week of the semester.

Student feedback was sought via three template feedback sheets and one evaluation form. The high-level summary of student feedback was very positive about flippin feedback approaches, and overall there was strong signs of student engagement/interest with topic.   There was little resistance from students in engaging with multi-state assignment or completing the reflection templates. Aside from some minor teething problems (associated with forgetting to copy and paste feedback template) we found little problems with technology usage on student side.  Several students reflected they had never done an outline before so found this stage really useful.  There was perhaps less quality engagement with the last the stage, students in evaluations suggested the final stage should carry more marks than the penultimate stage.

While students found it valuable, staff appreciated the learning opportunities for students but found the workload too intense and would recommend operating the model as a two stage assignment using  ‘feed forward’ templates to encourage students to reflect on their assignment and to enable a more focused dialogue with teaching staff.

A short video explaining the project can be found at

Dr Mary P Murphy and Philip Finn  Maynooth University Department of Sociology 

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Increasing deep divisions in the world. What can be done? Materials for teaching and assessing deliberation, by Prof.Jürg Steiner

We experience increasingly deep social and political divisions in the world, for example in the United States and the European Union, not to speak of war torn countries like Syria and Ukraine. Are there ways to build bridges across such deep divisions? Our research group attempted to answer this question with a project in Colombia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Brazil.[1] Since politicians are often interested to keep up such divisions in order to keep their power basis, we did our research with ordinary citizens, for whom we were more hopeful that they are able and willing to build bridges to the other side. Thus, our research takes a participatory approach searching solutions from the bottom up rather than from the top down. We organized discussion groups in all three countries with participants from both sides of the respective deep divisions. In Colombia, we brought together ex-guerrillas and ex-paramilitaries, in Bosnia-Herzegovina Serbs and Bosniaks in the city of Srebrenica, and in the Brazilian slums (favelas) police officers and local residents including teenagers. In all groups, the topic for discussion was how to arrive at a better culture of peace.

It is already a positive result that most of the contacted people were willing, to sit together at the same table with persons from the opposite side. This was particularly remarkable in Colombia, where a short while ago ex-guerrillas and ex-paramilitaries were still shooting at each other in the jungles. In Srebrenica, where in 1995 the horrible massacres had taken place, it was also not a given that Serbs and Bosniaks were willing to talk with each other. In the favelas of Brazil, there is often horrendous fighting between police and locals with deaths at both sides, so that here, too, it was not certain that we could bring together people from both sides. As expected, there were ugly scenes in some of the groups. In one of the Colombian groups, for example, an ex-paramilitary severely offended the guerrilla side, when he exclaimed, “we used to cleanse the guerrillas from thieves, from cattle thieves, from rapists.” With his statement, the ex-paramilitary was demeaning the guerrillas in general and the ex-guerrillas in the group in particular. What he said was detrimental to a discussion on the peace process. There were, however, also many friendly exchanges between the two sides. In one group, an ex-guerrilla offered an olive branch to the other side with the following positive statement: “For me, basically and most importantly, in order for us to reach agreement we need to be able to talk in a civilized way, just like human beings. That there be negotiation in order to reach an agreement.” To this olive branch, the ex-paramilitaries responded in kind.

This positive exchange between the two sides in Colombia has much to do with what we understand in political science as deliberation. Its core is that politics is not exclusively seen as brute power game but also as serious debate about the merits of arguments. The philosopher Jürgen Habermas has formulated the core of the deliberative model in a classical way as “the unforced force of the better argument.” Good deliberation presupposes that not only politicians but also ordinary citizens actively participate in discussing political issues and this in an unconstrained way as free and equal agents. Arguments have to be well justified in terms of the common good. It is also important that one listens with respect to the arguments of others and takes them seriously. Finally, one should be truthful in all what one says. In its ideal form, the deliberative model hardly ever exists in reality, but it can serve as a normative regulatory idea.

Deliberation is particularly important in deeply divided situations, if democratic instability and political violence shall be avoided. At the same time, it is extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to have any deliberation at all in such situations. Our research shows that there is hope to attain some level of deliberation in such difficult situations. We could even find cases where it was possible, thanks to good deliberation, to reach agreements across the deep divisions. In a group in a Brazilian favela, a teenager proposed that she and her teenage friends meet police officers during their coffee breaks to discuss common problems, a proposal that was warmly welcomed by the police officers. In Srebrenica, Serbs and Bosniaks agreed that stray dogs are a great problem and that a dog shelter should be built. Such agreements on small everyday matters are, of cause, not yet a solution for the deep divisions but at least steps in the right direction.

What we do with our research material may in the end be even more effective to overcome the deep divisions. We plan to introduce the tapes and the transcripts of the discussion groups to the schools of the respective countries using the following website: In small groups, students should listen to the tapes and read the transcripts and discuss among themselves and under the guidance of their teacher what went well and what went badly in the discussions. In this way, they will learn to deliberate across deep divisions. The deliberate model of democracy will not be taught as an abstract philosophical idea from above but on the basis of concrete discussions with which students can identify. We believe that deliberation can be learnt like any other skill, especially if it is learned early on.

[1] Jürg Steiner, Maria Clara Jaramillo, Rousiley C. M. Maia, Simona Mameli, Deliberation across Deeply Divided Societies, Transformative Moments, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Professor Jürg Steiner, is Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and Professor Emeritus at the University of Bern).

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Teaching and Assessment strategies to promote critical thinking

Presentation by Dr Jacqueline Hayden, Department of Political Science, TCD to a PSAI Teaching and Learning round table on the teaching  and assessment strategies used in a small group teaching and learning seminar where students self-select the issues they wish to focus on throughout the academic year.  Premised on the idea of inculcating interdisciplinary thinking, it promotes student ownership of their own learning process and prioritises teaching methodologies which develop lifelong transferrable skills.PO4690_Teaching and Learning

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Conference: Teaching Politics in our Universities

Conference : Teaching politics in our Universities: Inspiring, inciting and enlightening

On September 18th 2015, the PSAI teaching and learning specialist group held a one-day conference on “Teaching politics in our universities : inspiring, inciting and enlightening”. It brought together students, academics, the media, politicians, educationalists and managers to discuss the significance of education in, for and about politics in our institutions of higher education.

The conference started with a keynote speech by Professor John Craig on “Linking academic study and practice“.

It also hosted a panel discussion on “Why teaching and learning politics is important for society” that included Senator Fiach MacConghail (Director Abbey Theatre), Lorraine McIlrath (Community Knowledge Initiative, NUIG), Noel Whelan (Barrister and media commentator) and Michelle O’Donnell Keating (Women for election and DCU).

Innovative approaches to teaching and learning in politics were also showcased :

The conference was jointly funded by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and the PSAI.

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Teaching and the 2011 General Election

The upcoming general election offers rich potential for teaching/leading research on the topic of Irish (electoral) politics with undergraduate and postgraduate students!

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Service learning in the postgraduate classroom – UCC

Information on an initative to incorporate service learning into a module on political participation and mobilisation can be found here . And here is a photo showing some of those who took part:

My vote, my voice

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About this site

The specialist group plan to use this website to share information on teaching and learning good practice, to showcase innovative approaches and to highlight research in this area. All posts, comments, articles, photos, videos etc are welcome.

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Welcome to the new webpage for the Teaching and Learning specialist grouping of the Political Studies Association of Ireland! Keep checking in for new exciting developments and materials…

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