Innovation in Teaching Politics Award for Keele's Dr Matthew Wyman

Posted on 29 November 2016

Dr Matthew Wyman of Keele University picked up the prestigious Innovation in Teaching Politics Award at the Political Studies Association (PSA)’s Annual Awards Ceremony in Westminster this week. 

Now in its 15th year, the PSA Awards pays tribute to those that have made outstanding contributions to the conduct and study of politics in the past year. ‘The Practice of Politics’ module at Keele University stood out for its radically different approach to teaching and assessment through the use of reflective portfolios, which allow space for subjectivity and reflection as well as practicing technical skills.

The module, co-created with Sarah Longwell from Keele Careers Service, addresses some important themes:

- The ‘drifting finalist’: detailed career development education, including analysis of personal strengths, and reflection on personal values, motivations and priorities; exploration of the graduate labour market across a range of politics-related careers, what they involve and how to get into them; essential transition skills of networking and enhancing employability, the job application, the CV, the interview and assessment centre.

- Development of practical political skills: exploration of political communication and political rhetoric, the nature of political leadership, campaigning and, most importantly of all, people skills, that is the development of interpersonal trust, assertiveness and negotiation, building successful teams and organisations, dealing with cynicism, and dealing with really difficult people.

The PSA judging panel said: “This module is a commendable case of teaching innovation that has received positive student feedback whilst also inspiring politics academics in developing similar modules at other universities.”

Dr Wyman is Senior Teaching Fellow in Politics and Director of Learning and Teaching in the School of Politics, Philosophy, International Relations and Environment at Keele University. He has worked at Keele since 1994 in a variety of roles, as an academic, developing learning and teaching, and in student support. His background is in teaching and researching Russian politics.

On receiving the award he said: "It's a great shame that helping students navigate that really tricky transition between university and the world of work is still considered a teaching innovation. Students are encouraged to attend university partly in order to give them access to the world of graduate employment, but the reality is that at the end of their degrees most graduates are still adrift, lacking awareness of what's out there, the basic transition skills they need to get good jobs, awareness of what they are good at, and most importantly they've often not really reflected about their goals and commitments. Trying to work on these areas with students has been a fascinating teaching challenge.”

“One thing that has become increasingly clear is how alien reflective learning is to our students. They have been educated in a system which frequently bans the use of the word 'I', and forces them to present ideas with a sort of false objectivity, as if what they write isn't really their work. Getting them to think about their skills, personal values and goals can be really transformational. There are numerous examples of enthusiasm from participants, including one student who told us that our session on people skills had dramatically improved his relationship with his girlfriend! Another student told us that ‘‘The Practice of Politics’ was by far the most practical and useful course I take. The real life aspect is something generally ignored by other modules.'”

The module has inspired similar modules at universities both in the UK and internationally. It was described in a recent article in the PSA journal Politics as ‘empowerment-based employability learning’. Dr Wyman and Dr Edwin Bacon (Birkbeck, University of London) are currently writing a book, Employability for Politics and International Relations, to be published by Oxford University Press.

The award was presented to Dr Wyman by Ziyad Marar, Global Publishinig Director at SAGE, and the master of ceremonies was Jon Snow (Channel 4 News). Other award winners include the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (Politician of the Year), Grayson Perry (Contribution to the Arts and Culture), Michael Ignatieff (International Recognition Award) and Ruth Davidson (Best Use of Social Media).