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Dr Edwin Bacon

Dr Bacon designed and teaches a level 4 module called Practice of Politics. His work earned a Birkbeck Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012. The module focusses on the engagement with politics, with particular emphasis on developing the students’ skills and exploring values. None of the assessments are “traditional” essays; students complete different forms of formal and informal written communication such a position papers and blog posts.

Module assessments:

  1. Contribute to a public blog on politics (e.g. The Guardian Politics Blog) to accustom learners to the idea of taking part in a public, online conversation. Students then put the link to their comment onto the class forum in Moodle. Dr Bacon reports that students who are initially reticent often grow in confidence as a result of this exercise. He includes extensive guidelines (e.g. the need to avoid libel) in Moodle, and students can make their comments anonymously to the public blogs. Students also have the option of editing a public wiki (e.g. Wikipedia) although only one student has done that so far.
  2. Critique of a political speech. In discussing ways of preparing students for this task, Dr Bacon praises the power of bad examples!  He finds that showing learners videos of weak political speeches is a very effective way of starting the process of deconstruction. Showing ‘worst practice’ generates discussion.
  3. Policy Brief – students write a short policy brief on a topic negotiated with the class.
  4. Peer assessment - Dr Bacon uses this approach partly to emphasise the importance of group work but also to get students’ commitment to the topics. Students give their colleagues within their group a score out of 5 for their contributions. This happens three times in the module.
  5. Portfolio. Students keep a journal throughout the module. This is a way of encouraging them to stay engaged with the module. In week 1 they complete a personal skills and values audit, which goes into their portfolio. Then, each week, they add a paragraph of their personal reflections on that week’s class. After 4-5 weeks, students show their work to Dr Bacon for formative assessment. During class, he shows anonymous excerpts from the journals and discusses the strength and weaknesses with the students. Students also submit a short CV and covering letter for a mock political job.

Originally, all five elements were weighted equally at 20%. To obtain a better spread of marks, Dr Bacon has recently changed the peer assessment to be worth 10% and the portfolio is now worth 30%.

Other innovatory aspects of this module include:

  • An emphasis on group work and negotiation with others – a key political skill. Dr Bacon says that there is comparatively little lecturing and much of the curriculum is negotiated with students. For example, Dr Bacon asks them to generate solutions to the problem of what topic to debate in class. This is politics in practice.
  • Each class meeting includes a guest speaker for the final hour. Dr Bacon helps students develop an approach to formulating questions for the speaker; he also encourages a student to chair the session. Students often network with the speaker after the session and feedback from previous years indicates that some students have  engaged with politics as a direct result of the speakers’ input, sometimes engaging with the speaker outside of class.
  • After the first run of the module, Dr Bacon decided to invest more time in understanding student background so that their diverse experiences may be brought into the module. So students are asked to post an introduction to themselves to a Moodle forum in the week prior to the beginning of the module.
  • In the final class, students revisit the skills and values they identified in week 1 and write a letter to themselves describing how they have changed as a political actor. Dr Bacon posts the letters to them 6 months later. Students may have had ideas and plans but then didn't take action, so it’s useful for them to get a reminder and for the module outcomes to be embedded in a way which lasts beyond the module itself.