Learning in Public: Community Engagement in Political Science Education
Submitting InstitutionLondon Metropolitan University
Unit of AssessmentPolitics and International Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
This case study demonstrates clear and significant impact on placement
learning in a range of universities, according with the following
dimension of impact in REF 2014: `impacts within the higher education
sector, including on teaching or students, are included where they
extend significantly beyond the submitting HEI' (emphasis in the
original). The research focuses on Community Engagement in Political
Science Education, undertaken from 2007 by Associate Professor Steven
Curtis. Curtis researches and publishes new models of placement learning,
the learning and teaching uses of Web 2.0, and more effective approaches
to feedback. Curtis's work — involving developing new approaches to the
pedagogy of community engagement — enjoys both national and international
Curtis has delivered over 30 conference papers at national and
international conferences since 2007, including papers, panels and
workshops at the annual American Political Science Association Teaching
and Learning Conferences every year since 2010, International Studies
Association conferences, and collaborative pedagogical work with
colleagues in the US and continental Europe. Curtis's various projects and
interventions have focused in particular on:
- devising and evaluating new approaches to placement learning in the
discipline of Politics, in which very short placements are fully embedded
in the curriculum (by contrast to common practice on sandwich degrees and
stand-alone work-placement modules which typically involve `long'
placements, often with little connection to the subject matter of
- exploring use of blogs in students' academic writing development and
- developing modes of feedback based on dialogue between tutors and
students and among students themselves, especially through audio
recordings, Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, and virtual learning
Curtis' research into placement learning, both as part of the
HEFCE-funded Scholarship of Engagement for Politics project and
subsequently, discovered significant benefits from using very short
placements of between five and 18 days and from linking placements to the
content of specific modules, by contrast to the then dominant modes of
placement learning in Politics which emphasised lengthy placements,
usually of ten weeks or more, and which were often free-standing affairs
not directly related to any class-based learning. Curtis' research
explored research-based approaches to learning on placements and means of
assessing such learning.
Curtis also explores the educational use of blogs in politics and
international relations, with a particular focus not only on how they
enable both tutors and students to provide feedback and other comments on
students' first drafts of written work as well as improving their academic
writing, but also as a form of learning diary for students on placements.
Curtis has also discovered that outside experts and practitioners, such as
diplomats and journalists, often leave supportive comments on the
Curtis identifies similarities between blogging on publicly accessible
platforms and undertaking placements, especially the dimension which he
describes as `Learning in Public'. This incorporates some of the other
innovations he has been responsible for, including non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) providing training and role-play activities for
students and the use of educational visits and guest lecturers.
References to the research
1. Curtis, S. (2012a) `How Relevant Are Other Ways to Learn?' in C.
Gormley-Heenan and S. Lightfoot (eds.), Teaching Politics and
International Relations, Basingstoke: Palgrave.
2. Curtis, S. (2012b) `Politics Placements and Employability: A New
Approach', European Political Science 11 (2).
3. Curtis, S. and A Blair (2010a) `Experiencing Politics in Action:
Widening Participation in Placement Learning and Politics as a Vocation',
Journal of Political Science Education 6 (4).
4. Curtis, S. and A. Blair (eds.) (2010b) The Scholarship of
Engagement for Politics: Placement Learning, Citizenship and
Employability, Birmingham: C-SAP/Higher Education Academy.
5. Curtis, S., B. Axford, A. Blair, R. Huggins, C. Gibson and P.
Sherrington (2009a) `Placement Blogging: The Benefits and Limitations of
Online Journaling', ELiSS: Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences
6. Curtis, S., B. Axford, A. Blair, R. Huggins, C. Gibson and P.
Sherrington (2009b) `Making Short Politics Placements Work,' Politics
1. 2009 - 2012 `It's Good to Talk: Feedback, Dialogue and Learning', De
Montfort University, London Metropolitan and Warwick University, Higher
Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship Scheme project: £200,000.
2. 2009 - 2010 `Writing in Public: Exploring the Use of Web 2.0 in
Developing Students' Academic Writing', Learn Higher-funded
3. 2009 Funding from Write Now CETL to develop students' academic
writing through blogging and other techniques on an International
Relations theory module: £1000.
4. 2005 - 2008 `The Scholarship of Engagement for Politics', University
of Warwick, Coventry University, Oxford Brookes University, and London
Metropolitan University, HEFCE Fund for the Development of Teaching and
Learning, phase 5 project: £275,000.
Details of the impact
Curtis's research into developing new approaches to placement learning
has had significant impact on placement practices in at least eight other
universities in the UK, benefiting both undergraduate students and
academic staff (Huddersfield, Keele, Leeds, Nottingham Trent, Royal
Holloway, Salford, Sheffield Hallam and the University of East Anglia).
Curtis' research exemplifies public impact via (1) engagement with
colleagues at other HE institutions (see the five testimonials in section
5 below) and (2) relevant publications and conference papers. His article
`Learning in Public: Connecting Politics Students with Practitioners in
"the Edgeless University"', in the Political Studies Association's
magazine Political Insight (2010), was particularly important in
this respect because of its wide circulation among both HE colleagues and
Curtis' work with colleagues at the universities of Keele, Huddersfield
and Leeds in 2007-08 and Sheffield Hallam University in 2010, helped their
Politics departments develop new or revise existing placement learning
schemes better to suit their students' needs and curricular requirements.
The impact was highly noticeable at Huddersfield, where the relevant
placement tutor significantly revised the existing approach to placement
learning by reducing the length of placements from ten to three weeks and
by encouraging his students to blog about their experiences on the HEI's
virtual learning environment. This made the placement experience much more
popular with students and improved significantly their engagement with the
process. Lecturers at Leeds, Keele and Sheffield Hallam also altered their
placements, or their plans to introduce placement learning, as a result of
the application of the results of Curtis's research. Lecturers at Leeds
were primarily concerned about matters of social inclusion, as they saw
the value of short placements in terms of providing experiential learning
opportunities for students with part-time jobs and family commitments, as
had been demonstrated by Curtis's research and publications.
Curtis's publications and conference papers have also had an impact at
other HEIs, such as Salford and UEA. One of these publications (Curtis et
al. 2009b), published in a PSA journal with wide readership, influenced
how placement learning was introduced at Nottingham Trent University in
particular (see the reference section 5 below). In addition, as a result
of Curtis's published work and presentations, UEA adopted short
internships in Brussels in relation to an EU-focused undergraduate module.
Curtis organised a two-day conference in June 2008 on placement learning
and other innovative approaches to learning and teaching in politics,
attracting delegates from NGOs, local government and lecturers in the
Politics discipline. The experiences of a local government officer and an
NGO organiser can be found in the collection of papers which grew out of
the conference (Curtis and Blair 2010).
In recognition of the impact of his research and teaching in this area,
Curtis was appointed national Discipline Associate for Politics and
International Relations at the Higher Education Academy's (HEA) former
Subject Network for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics (C-SAP) (2010-11)
and he is currently (late-2013) Discipline Lead for Politics at the HEA.
In these roles he has organised workshops (e.g., on issues in teaching
European Studies), facilitated sessions in early career events for
colleagues new to teaching, and has visited departments to help them
develop their teaching practice.
Curtis is co-founder and co-chair of the British International Studies
Association's (BISA) Learning and Teaching Working Group (BLT), which aims
to promote the scholarship of learning and teaching in IR. In this
capacity he has convened panels at annual BISA conferences and organised
one-day workshops on IT-assisted learning and teaching, assessment and
feedback practices in Politics and International Relations, and teaching
research methods. He has been co-opted onto the Executive Committee and
the Learning and Teaching and Outreach Subcommittees of BISA and appointed
chair of BISA's Teaching and Learning Committee, helping to shape its
initiatives regarding the promotion and professionalization of teaching in
the discipline and promoting the study of the Global Politics units of the
A level in Government and Politics, including liaising with the chief
examiner of these units over plans to produce a textbook on the subject
for sixth form students.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Curtis was awarded the PSA's Bernard Crick Prize (New Entrant) for
Outstanding Teaching in 2010. The judging panel noted that Curtis' `wide
range of outstanding teaching activities, from placements to blogging to
research activities, is very impressive and make him a worthy winner of
the award ... His wide array of publications and dissemination activities
show that Steven's work has an impact beyond his own department and has
helped shaped good practice within the discipline'. In 2011, Curtis was
awarded a National Teaching Fellowship
These awards demonstrate impact of Curtis' research beyond his home HEI.
following testimonials demonstrate impact on placement practices in five
University of Huddersfield (Reader in Politics): "Research
undertaken by Steven Curtis has proven instrumental in enhancing the
quality of work placement programmes for Politics courses in higher
education institutions in the UK. Through his leadership in a number of
ground-breaking programmes, Curtis's research has provided evidentially
informed templates for the reform of the work placement programme at the
University of Huddersfield in terms of pedagogy and structure. In
particular, Curtis's research aided the reform of the length of the
programme at Huddersfield, and also provided clear examples which aided
development of greater emphasis on the development of employability and
personal development within our Politics work placements."
University of Leeds (Senior Lecturer in European Politics):
"Steven's work on placements has had an impact on our practice here at
Leeds. We have a long history of providing year-long placements, but we
have been able to use the information and discussions with Steve to shape
our practice in relation to the successful delivery of short placements
with, in particular, Leeds City Council. His publications & work on
blogging have also been influential in shaping our practice in this area,
both within the field of placements but also in the wider context of
student engagement i.e., using a blog to record student reviews of
research seminars is a key example."
Sheffield Hallam University (Principal Lecturer in Politics):
"Steven came up to Sheffield Hallam at the beginning of our revalidation
process. We did not have any experience of placements at this stage. The
meeting we had with Steven was extremely useful. He continued his support
via email during our revalidation process and offered concrete suggestions
as to how we could develop the structure and assessment of the politics
placement. Our placement module was commended in the validation meeting.
The placement module is now up and running and has been a success; much of
the success is down to the good design of the module, which can in large
part be attributed to Steven's input and continued support."
Keele University (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy): "In 2012/13, we
introduced a Work Experience module for second year undergraduate students
in the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy. Steven
Curtis helped at many stages of the initial planning for this module,
providing information and advice from his wide experience with similar
modules at other universities, which had a major influence on many aspects
of our own module design. Then once the module had begun, he led one of
the core module workshops, which students found very useful. Some of his
writings are required reading on the module."
Royal Holloway (Senior Lecturer in Politics): "Steven's research
has had a major impact upon teaching and learning in political
science/international relations in the UK and more widely. He has provided
important evidence-based research (from peer-reviewed academic articles to
practical user-guides) that has influenced the delivery of teaching and
learning in his discipline. Steven has also provided important leadership
for the growth of teaching and learning specialist groups in our
professional associations (BISA/PSA). In more concrete terms, Steven's
work has heavily influenced my own professional practice with regard to
political science placements/internships. His research into student
placements has had a direct impact on our own teaching provision at Royal
Holloway, University of London. In 2013-14, we will be starting up a
placement programme in politics along the lines recommended by Steven."
Further evidence of the impact of Curtis's publications on other HEIs (in
this case, Nottingham Trent) can be found in: Virginie Grzelczyk and Roy
Smith, `International Studies Placements at Home: Evaluating Innovative
Work-based Learning Opportunities', paper presented at the 2nd
British International Studies Association-International Studies
Association Joint International Conference, Edinburgh, 20-22 June 2012,