Teaching in an Era of Flux: The classroom is now the Twitter antidote — a space for deeper learning

Six Canadian academics reflect on the challenges of teaching in a world of fast-paced news and distrust of sources.

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April 29, 2019

I’m teaching Canadian foreign policy for the first time since 2014 this winter term. As I’ve been reacquainting myself with Canadian foreign policy I’ve been struck by the pace of international diplomacy that often seems to take place via Twitter. It also appears that institutions and practices we often took for granted are under siege. How will I teach Canadian foreign policy given all this flux?

Ultimately, I’ve drawn three interrelated conclusions. First, it’s ok to have questions of my own about the field and about the world in which we live. Surely we want to encourage an openness to ideas in our students and so I’m fine with modelling that through my own questions. My questions include: are we in a period of flux that is fundamentally different from other perceived times of rapid change, such as the end of WWII or the end of the Cold War? Are we living in particularly dangerous times and if so, how does that shape our understanding of Canada in the world? I also want to know: where is the hope? I understand that it is our job as political scientists to engage in critical thinking, but where in the critique is the hope?

Second, content is only part of the equation. Content matters because it signals to our students what we believe to be the important issues and voices of our field. I want to ensure the course outline includes a range of scholars including feminists, critical and Indigenous scholars and I will present those voices alongside more mainstream scholarship.

Third, just as important as content is the way we design our assignments and the way we conduct our classes. What learning experiences do we want to create for our students? For me, I want to encourage my students to look beyond a tweet, to see the ways in which issues have histories and depth. I want to encourage my students to think carefully and respectfully about their own perspectives and the perspectives of others. My hope is that my classroom is a space for dialogue and discourse, a place for questions and reflection. These pedagogical objectives are not new. They are consistent throughout my years of teaching.

And so how will I be teaching Canadian foreign policy in a time of flux? I’ll teach with an openness to questions, an inclusive set of readings and a space for dialogue.

Also in the series

How to teach international affairs in an era of flux:

Six Canadian academics reflect on the challenges of teaching in a world of fast-paced news and distrust of sources.