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Designing and testing policy solutions: how we teach for success at CCCU.

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Designing and testing policy solutions: how we teach for success at CCCU.

Dr Susan Kenyon explains how a new method of teaching, adapted from Engineering education, enabled her Politics and International Relations students to achieve a 100% first-time pass rate, across three cohorts.   She describes how this method supports our students to become ‘industry-ready social scientists’, upon graduation. 

In Politics and International Relations at CCCU, you’ll have the opportunity to learn in lots of different ways.  This helps to ensure that you are developing the knowledge, understanding and skills that you need, for success at University – and beyond. 

As a team, we are dedicated to keeping up with the very latest research, not only in our subject areas, but also in our teaching methods – and we aren’t afraid to change our teaching, to make sure that the teaching that you receive is the very best that it can be. 

A teaching method that has had great success in recent years comes from Engineering.  I was the learning and teaching lead when we established our new School of Engineering here at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), where we structured our learning and teaching around an innovative teaching method, or ‘pedagogy’.  This pedagogy is called CDIO, which stands for Conceive-Design-Implement-OperateCDIO is designed with the key aim of creating ‘industry-ready engineers’: graduates who have the ability to practice engineering in the real world, upon graduation, with key professional skills including teamwork, communication and negotiation. 

I saw the potential to replicate this in Politics and International Relations teaching, to create ‘industry-ready social scientists’, who are ready to practice politics in the real world, upon graduation.  This inspired me to develop a new module, Transport: Politics and Society (TPS), which I teach using a CDIO-inspired, project-based approach. 

Just as CDIO teaches engineering science through engineering practice, so TPS teaches politics through political practice.  The module introduces students to the complexity of politics in the real world. 

Central to this is active, experiential learning, through ‘design–build–test’ projects.  We do this over ten weeks, in the following way. 

  • Conceive (weeks 1-4).  Students uncover the problem of transport-related social exclusion first-hand, by taking a walkabout around Canterbury city centre.  Teamwork begins at this first task: students explore in pairs, matched with someone who has different characteristics to themselves.  This helps to illuminate the experience of transport exclusion, but it also encourages students to accept, include and value different perspectives in their ‘workplace’: an invaluable, real-world, employability skill. 

After seeing the problem for themselves, students apply their observations to conceive the problem of too little mobility as it affects them, or their local community.  All further learning is focused on understanding the specific problem that they would like to resolve.  I select individual readings for each student, based on their transport problem.  Crucially, every student must report back on their reading, every week, to enable other students to learn about the problem of transport exclusion more deeply and theoretically.  This develops invaluable professional skills, including communication, confidence, note-taking and reliability; and teamworking builds learning community. 

  • Design (weeks 5-6).  At this stage, students design a solution to the problem of too little mobility in their community.  They select the decision maker that they need to influence to resolve their problem and present a 5-minute verbal briefing, designed to appeal to their specific decision maker.  This is the culmination of their learning about too little mobility and is 50% of their assessment. 

Based on government guidance for briefing Ministers and my consultations with civil servants and industry consultants, this authentic assessment is highly employability focused, developing skills relevant to all manner of industries, not just in the political sphere, but also business, consultancy, civil service, local government… 

Not only does this develop industry-ready graduates, who have built employability skills through this form of work-related experience, the assessment also shows graduates they belong in the workplace.  Graduates are more employable, because they are work-ready; and they are valued and included in the workplace, because they are more able to assimilate into the workplace community. 

  • Implement (weeks 7-10).  Of course, it is not possible for students to implement their transport solutions in real life!  The closest that we can get is to critically reflect upon the proposed solution, by introducing policy conflicts.  This, combined with consistent feedback on the proposed implementation of their solution, from myself and their peers, students consider what might happen if they implement their proposed solution.  First, they consider the potential negative effects of increasing mobility, considering who may be harmed by their proposal and the negative impact on other policies.  Second, they consider who may oppose the implementation of their solution and how they may overcome this opposition, through conflict or compromise, to influence implementation. 
  • Operate (assessment 2).  Finally, students operationalise their learning, by delivering their recommendations in the form of an options and recommendations paper, targeted to meet the needs of and to influence the decision-making process of their specific decision-maker.  Through the lens of their transport problem, political decisions are brought to life: the compromises; the consequences; the contradictions.  Who wins, when policy goals conflict?  Who decides – how do they decide – should we influence the decision maker and, if so, how do we do this? 

The approach has been very successful.  I’ve had a 100% first-time pass rate for 3 cohorts.  Students enjoy the module: attendance and engagement are high; satisfaction, measured in module evaluations, is universal.  All graduates who took my module are in graduate employment or further study. 

With three years’ experience, I now plan to adopt the pedagogy in my research methods teaching.  I am looking forward to evaluating the success – or otherwise! – and to reporting back next year. 

A longer version of this blog was originally published by the Political Studies Association.  Read the full blog here

Dr Susan Kenyon is a Principal Lecturer in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. 

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