Teaching and learning

We advocate an enquiry-based approach to learning, which means that we encourage you to become an independent and self-motivated learner. Through the programme of study we offer, we will develop the qualities that employers value in today's university graduates - qualities that will set you apart in your future career.

To help you develop the above-mentioned skills, we adopt a range of teaching methods. They may include:

  • Lectures - listening to experts sharing their knowledge and discoveries in challenging and provocative ways. Students are expected to 'read-around' the subject matter of their lectures, adding to their understanding and developing their critical faculties and analytical skills.
  • Seminars - where you present and discuss your ideas and knowledge in smaller groups and debate interpretations and opinions with other students.
  • Tutorials - are your opportunity to discuss your work with your tutor, usually in small groups.
  • Workshops - are problem solving sessions facilitated by a member of academic staff; these sessions usually involve students working in groups.

Our lecturers and tutors will ensure you have all the resources you need to make the transition from A levels to the more rigorous demands of a degree.

Innovative practice

In POLSIS, we are always looking to devise interesting modules that can enhance learning.  Over the last few years we have introduced the following new modules:

  • Politics as a Vocation - inspired by Max Weber's famous lecture of the same name; introduces a wide range of political roles and occupations. The module explores potential political careers by exposure to important research within academic political science.
  • Parties, Voters and Elections - examines how parties are organised, financed and regulated. The module contains a focus on the variety in party systems that exist around the globe, trying to explain why they vary, as well as the causes of change in party systems.
  • International Political Economy - asks the big questions about the global political economy, such as 'Is the future Made in China?' and 'Is it true that crime doesn't pay?' (on the 'illicit economy').
  • European Union Foreign and Security Policy - analyses the EU as an international actor; explores various issue areas of the Union's external relations.
  • Law, Politics and the International System: Mediating Power beyond the State - an advanced introduction to the role of law in contemporary international relations. This module is organised around case study analysis of topics, including human rights, the use of force, international criminal justice, and 'self-determination'. 
  • Comparative Foreign Policy - introduces the tools of foreign policy analysis; goes on to apply them to different case studies of both European and non-European foreign policies.
  • Sociology of 'Race' and Ethnicity: A Global Perspective - approaches the concepts of 'race' and ethnicity from a sociological perspective through historical contextualization. Unlike other modules of its kind, this module is neither British-centric nor does it have a scope which is restricted to the twentieth century.

Innovation extends from the content of our modules to our teaching methods themselves, including our methods of assessment.  The following are all examples of recent innovations in our practice:

  • Use of course-related blogs: intended to allow students to follow developments in current affairs, about which there may be few 'published' sources of information.
  • Seminars based around 'small team exercises': students participate in these under a tutor's direction; they represent an innovative application of peer-assisted learning.
  • Our assessment methods now range far beyond the traditional format of essay-and-exam – though this does remain important to what we do.  For example, new formats include the simulation exercise, the production of a documentary in small group, the briefing paper, and the literature summary.

Enquiry-based learning

Enquiry-based Learning (or EBL) can be described as learning that arises through a structured process of enquiry within a supportive environment, and which is designed to promote collaborative and active engagement with problems and issues.

The student is placed very much at the centre of the learning process, and presented with greater independence in decisions relating to his or her learning (hence the term ‘learner independence’). A key role of the tutor is to facilitate and support the learning process to provide students with opportunities to work collaboratively in order to pool their collective knowledge and understanding, as they work together to create new knowledge for  particular purposes.

Employability

Our graduates are well prepared for the world of work whether they chose to work in the public, private or third sector.

POLSIS is committed to working closely with employers and students to ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop the skills that are in demand and that are essential to the professional development of graduates.

Our curriculum as well as our learning and teaching enable students to graduate with the following skill sets that employers and alumni tell us are essential.

The strengths that we focus on in the Department are derived from those identified by Universities UK, and there are seven of particular relevance to POLSIS students.

The 'lucky seven' aspects of employability

  1. Self-management - Readiness to accept responsibility, flexibility, resilience, self-starting, appropriate assertiveness, time management, readiness to improve own performance based on feedback, reflective learning.
  2. Teamworking - Respecting others, co-operating, negotiating/persuading, contributing to discussions, and awareness of interdependence with others.
  3. Problem solving - Analysing facts and situations and applying creative thinking to develop appropriate solutions.
  4. Communication and literacy - Application of literacy, ability to produce clear, structured written work and oral literacy – including listening and questioning.
  5. Information literacy - Basic IT skills, including familiarity with word processing, spreadsheets, file management and use of internet search engines.
  6. Initiative and originality - Frequently mentioned by both employers and universities is entrepreneurship/enterprise: broadly, an ability to demonstrate an innovative approach, creativity, collaboration and risk taking.
  7. Underpinning all these attributes, the key foundation, must be a positive attitude: a 'can-do' approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make these happen.

Our approach to employability is both flexible and developmental.

  • We review our skills provision annually to ensure that we are able to respond to changing demands in the employment sector.
  • We encourage our student to be aware of the need to develop their employability skills.
  • We facilitate student-employer engagement opportunities to improve student employee and career learning, and better market the attributes of our graduates to future students and future employers.
  • We have a range of curriculum enhancement activities with which students can get involved to enhance their graduate attributes, including the POLSIS Annual Student Conference.

POLSIS Graduates are innovative, independent individuals who are reflexive in their approach, professional in their attitude and positive in their engagement with others.

Research in learning and teaching

In order to understand how best to facilitate learning, and to ensure that learning in POLSIS is an experience students 'never forget', many of our staff members are involved in research into pedagogical theory and practice.

Scholarship on learning and teaching, published in leading disciplinary journals such as Politics, International Studies Perspectives and pedagogy journals including Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, enables academics to engage with theoretical approaches to learning activities and to explore issues and concerns in learning and teaching.

Assessment is for Learning: Feed forward feedback

This project is a student-centred, student-led investigation of the current mechanisms of formal and informal feedback given to undergraduate and taught postgraduate students in the Department of Political Science and International Studies.

The project aims to investigate:

  • whether current feedback mechanisms are meeting the needs of the students
  • whether current feedback mechanisms are facilitating deep learning and effective learning strategies
  • whether current feedback mechanisms can usefully be revised to better meet the needs of student learners

This is a pilot project that, if successful, can be rolled out across the School of Government and Society and then to the College of Social Sciences. The project will also inform similar projects planned for implementation at the University of Cardiff and the University of Ulster.

Principal Investigators: Emma Foster

Degrees and courses