'Outstanding' politics lecturer wins one of country's top teaching prizes


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A politics lecturer who has helped rewrite the rule book of teaching international relations has been awarded one of the country’s top teaching prizes.

Ben Whitham, lecturer in International Politics at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), is the winner of the 2019 Bernard Crick Prize, awarded by the Political Studies Association for outstanding teaching in the field of political studies.

BEN WITHAM main

He was nominated for his work to decolonise and modernise the curriculum. Instead of starting with traditional theorists such as Thucydides and Morgenthau, students at DMU begin by discussing issues relevant to today’s political climate such as Trump, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.

The order of lectures was changed as well to bring discussions around feminist and post-colonial theories closer to the heart of the module rather than leaving them ‘tagged on’ at the end as most IR theory modules and textbooks do.

His approach has led to a more inclusive classroom for BAME students and a livelier, more engaged cohort.

He said: “Decolonising the curriculum is a major challenge to us all in UK universities. These changes are first steps, really, but it has been exciting to see the student response, and their engagement both with the new topics and literature covered, and the new assessment I have introduced.

“I am really pleased to have won the PSA's Sir Bernard Crick Prize for Outstanding Teaching in connection with these changes, but really owe this not only to my wonderful colleagues in the Department of Politics, People and Place, who nominated me for it, but also to the fantastic students at DMU, who have engaged with the changes with open minds, and who have inspired me as a teacher.”

Dr Whitham collected his prize on Tuesday night at the PSA Annual Conference in Nottingham.  Conference keynote speaker was DMU honorary doctorate the Rt Hon John Bercow MP.

Changes were informed by pedagogical research. Studies have found that encouraging students to talk about how political issues have impacted their own lives and experiences creates a more inclusive classroom especially for BAME students. Dr Whitham also included the work of more BAME academics and non-Western international thought in the reading list.

A successful side project from the politics group has been the Akala reading group, which Dr Whitham instigated but which is now run by students. The fortnightly reading group has attracted staff and students from all over the university, discussing topics and issues raised by Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.

The PSA created the prize in honour of Sir Bernard Crick (1929 - 2008), the influential political theorist, democratic socialist, and policy-maker who wrote the classic In Defence of Politics (1962) and after 1997 led the New Labour government’s introduction of citizenship education in British schools. Crick was committed to developing teaching excellence in the field of politics throughout his life.

Posted on Wednesday 17th April 2019

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