May 5 2016

Doing and learning in Paris and London

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Joseph Downing croppedIn an illustration of how London and other cities can be used to extend students’ learning and social experiences, LSE100 Fellow and guest teacher Joseph Downing, who’ll be taking up a Marie Curie fellowship at the CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université in October, reports on field trips he has run in Paris and London

It is well established that pedagogically the best way to learn is by ‘doing’. During my earlier education and career in the natural sciences this was relatively simple – lab work made up a substantial part of our time. However, reflecting on how to bring this approach to the social sciences often raises issues of time and resources. This is especially acute when confronted with integrating a learning by doing component into a regular, exam and essay based degree unit. LSE has some wonderful examples of practical learning for students in tailor made programmes: LSE GROUPS and the Researching London course (SO221) both demonstrate the power that can be unleashed by giving students ownership of projects and really immersing them in the ‘doing’ of the subject and discipline.

In all honesty, the integration of some of these ideas into my Implementing Social Policy course (SA222) last year actually arose serendipitously. I was approached by a very engaged group of students who had taken my expertise in the urban arena of French politics and policy quite literally, and asked me to lead a ‘field trip’ to the suburbs of Paris to see the situation in a troubled estate and also talk to some of my contacts about how the French government was approaching these issues from a policy perspective. With a grant from LSE’s Annual Fund, the backing of the Social Policy Society and the generous nature of my contacts in France, who gave up a valuable Parisian Saturday in return for a train ride and a crêpe, it happened! On our bus ride from the train station to the Clichy-sous-Bois estate – the flash point of the 2005 riots which remain the largest civil unrest in peacetime Europe – I was filled with a mix of nervous apprenhension and excitement. But we spent a very interesting afternoon discussing the social issues of the estate and also the stumbling blocks that the state is struggling to overcome in redeveloping what is a very isolated place infrastructurally and complicated by being mainly in private ownership, unlike many other troublesome public housing estates. Students fed back really positively on how the experience of a new context had brought the subject to life for them in a way that they really appreciated, and their keenness and ability to connect the issues presented to us on the day with the literature and wider ideas in their courses was genuinely, and very pleasantly, surprising.

On my return, I was keen, given the promising work already underway at LSE and a number of universities to use London as a living, breathing, pedagogical resource, to integrate our ‘home city’ into my teaching landscape. Here, I wanted to turn the idea of using a learning by doing field trip into more than a special event and develop something that could sit alongside, and nourish, a conventional compulsory undergraduate unit. Colleagues of mine on LSE100 inspired me to move forward with the idea, and so this year I trialled it as part of SA222 with two classes of undergraduate students. This time, I organised a 1.5 mile ‘walking tour’ of six key sites in London’s Notting Hill that are vital in the evolution of social policy in the UK. Notting Hill, now known as one of London’s top residential and tourist spots, also spent a considerable part of the 20th century with a reputation as a prime example of urban decay and deprivation, and became one of the first areas for significant state SA222 March 2016 photo for blogintervention into the lives of the poor. Over the two hours we spent there we took in sites such as the infamous Rachman property empire – redeveloped originally as post-war council housing but mainly sold off in the 1980s under the right to buy scheme and then let back to Westminster Council at extortionate rates by buy to let investors – Trellick Tower (left) and the scene of the Notting Hill race riots, so important in the development of the UK’s anti-discimination policies. As we walked I encouraged students to connect what they saw to key aspects of the course and its readings, which they did very well, commenting that the trip had helped them to see social policy as something living and breathing and enabled them to reflect on how the micro and macro workings of complex policy processes affect real life situations.

The time and resource commitment required to plan and carry out these trips was minimal, and for me fully worthwhile in terms of benefits to the students. As such, I’ve discovered that learning by doing is much easier to integrate into our social science teaching than I thought, especially when we have such a valuable resource as London as a canvas.

For those who would like to read more about the benefits of and logistics planning for field trips, these two articles may be of interest: Field Trips as Short-Term Experiential Education, by Rik Scarce (1997, Teaching Sociology, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 219-226) and Organising Business Field Trips for Students in Higher Education, by Veronica Earle, Amanda Relph and Maria Thomas (2015, Excellent in Teaching and Learning Notes).

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May 5 2016

Invitation … LSE Teaching Awards Celebration

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We’ve made a gentle start to blog reads this term, but will be back to our usual pattern this afternoon, when we’re featuring a great post on fields trip by LSE100 Fellow Joseph Downing.

Meantime, here’s an invitation for all LSE staff and students to attend this year’s Teaching Awards Celebration – a fabulous opportunity to celebrate the many wonderful teachers, and inspiring teaching, at LSE.

LSE Teaching Awards Celebration

Wednesday 11 May 2016

18:00-20:00 (with refreshments available from 17:30)

The Venue, Saw Swee Hock basement

featuring The Funktionalists and winners of the LSE Teaching Promotion Awards, LSE Class Teacher Awards and LSESU Student-led Teaching Excellence Awards

Book your place at the LSE Teaching Awards Celebration 2016 Eventbrite page.


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Mar 31 2016

A fond farewell to Nick Byrne

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Nick Byrne for blogNick Byrne, Director of LSE’s Language Centre, retires today and to wish him well we are sharing a poem read by Olga Sobolev at his party last week.


To Nick …

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of the Russian lore—

While I was hard at working, suddenly there came a knocking,

As of someone gently rocking my routine of daily bore.

“’Tis some postman,” I muttered, “sliding letters through my door—

LSE made me an offer – Only this and nothing more?”


Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak September;

And each Language Centre member gathered on the seventh floor.

Nick was talking of his vision, student numbers, course provision,

Russian intake – only four. This is it?! And nothing more?!


A decade passed – the Centre, young

Gem of the LSE, amazing,

From roof-top floor was launched up-sprung,

And rose in pride and splendour blazing.

Where once, with low-rating score

In School prospectus, known before

As nice but frankly useless corner,

Some cheerful linguists dreamed of the honours

Enjoyed by the Government – today, along

These walls, astir with motion,

Flow undergraduates in throng,

And Deans are seen: from every ocean,

From every world’s end they come fast

To take the language course at last.

The reputation’s clad in granite;

The projects boom to over-span it,

And we are hurried to proceed

From CERCLES straight into LUCIDE.


And to the Languages is drooping

The Government’s crest – down to the ground:

The way a dowager is stooping

Before an Empress newly crowned.


We love thee, Centre of Nick’s making,

It’s gaining strength as never before,

And on the day when you retire

We toast your joy forever more!

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Mar 24 2016

LSE’s Education Covenant

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Paul Kelly from ExpertsJon Foster photo for blogA draft of LSE’s Education Covenant has just been published, with a call for responses and feedback. We asked its author, Pro Director Education Professor Paul Kelly, and the representative of its likely beneficiaries, LSESU Education Officer Jon Foster, to give us their takes on it.

Paul, where did the idea for a covenant come from? And what are you hoping it will achieve?

The Education Covenant is a foundational document that allows for genuine discussion between staff and students about what an LSE education is. That discussion has been underway for some time now, but this is the first formal statement we have made about what students can expect from their education at LSE. In sum, it establishes our commitment to providing a rounded and distinctive social science education that will enable our graduates to live well and to contribute to the shaping of a better world. In detail, it covers what we believe are the core aspects of that education: intellectually challenging teaching, inclusive learning environments, supportive academic advice, ‘beyond the degree’ opportunities to do research, learn languages and develop life skills, and membership of a School community that shares ideas for the evolution and celebration of education here. Not everyone will agree with every word of every pledge, which is why we’re welcoming feedback, but our hope is that the general direction of travel is sound and that staff and students will welcome the opportunity of keeping alive the discussion about what an education at LSE means and how we best deliver it.

Jon, are you confident that the Education Covenant’s content reflects students’ priorities?

We’ve done a lot of work this year on gathering student feedback to LSE’s educational offer, through a series of Re-Imagining Your Education events and a survey we ran at the end of Michaelmas Term. The findings of the consultation have absolutely impacted on what is in the Covenant. Issues like timely feedback, variety of assessment and a diversified curriculum are extremely important to students, and it is great to see the school making progress in these areas.

What I think is incredibly important is that the release of the Covenant isn’t the end of the process. The school’s emphasis on education this year has been extremely encouraging but students need to see the School deliver on these promises to implement real positive change across all departments.

Paul, do you want to respond to that?

Yes. We know there’s some inconsistency in quality, both across programmes and within departments, and in some of the School’s central services too. A great deal of work is underway to fix that: the recommendations of the Academic Adviser Review Group, which was featured here last week in an interview with Suki Ali who is leading it, are likely to start being implemented during next academic year; departments are in the process of reviewing the courses and programmes which have for several years received low satisfaction rates from students; and some of the School’s systems that have understandably been causing frustration are being rigorously redesigned and tested. The impact of these will not necessarily be fast or immediate, but there will be impact. And, regardless of the pace of change in these specific examples, we are committing in the Education Covenant to a certain level of quality in academic advice, teaching and much else that we know students expect and deserve.

Can you say a bit more about what students might understand by ‘diverse curricula’, Jon?

Over the last two years I think there has been increasing debate here at LSE and nationally regarding the nature of the curriculum and the impact it can have. This began last year with the ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign and has been continued this year in conversations we have had with students regarding the BME Attainment Gap. Many students have questioned the extent to which courses and programmes, and especially reading lists, draw on the established canon of largely white authors and academics and the extent to which the content and perspective of LSE’s curricula can perpetuate a ‘Eurocentric’ outlook. International students in particular referred to a difficulty in relating their personal experience to the way subjects are taught and made the point that they would be able to ‘take knowledge home’ more effectively if they had access to greater diversity in what they were studying.

This is an area in which we as Union have increased our work by recently launching the ‘Lobby your Lecturer – Liberate the Curriculum’ campaign. Whilst this is asking the School to look at reading lists in the first instance, it is also about encouraging a more wide-ranging conversation taking in discussions of assessment methods and unconscious bias. I think it is incredibly encouraging to see the School paying increasing attention to this area, and implore departments to interact with students and give it serious consideration in the reviews of courses and programmes that Paul has mentioned.

Finally, Paul, what is the process and timing for publication of a final version of the Education Covenant?

The draft was published last week, as you know, and we are currently welcoming comments and suggestions from students. We’re also involving academic staff, who contributed to some early thinking at the ‘An LSE education: what does it mean?’ session at last year’s Teaching Symposium and who will be making further contributions at this year’s Symposium in May. We’ll then be putting together a final version for the start of the 2016/17 academic year which will be available to the LSE community at large through various central and departmental communication channels. One important point, enshrined in the Education Covenant itself, is that we will be reviewing it annually. As I said at the start, we want the conversation about education at LSE to be dynamic and ongoing, and this will give us all an opportunity to make that happen.


LSE staff can send feedback about the LSE Education Covenant (Draft) to (with LSE Education Covenant in the subject line). Students can send their feedback, by 4 May, to




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Mar 18 2016

Academic advising at LSE: news from the School’s Review

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With academic advice and support emerging as priorities in both the LSE Education Strategy and the recommendations from LSESU’s recent survey, Dr Suki Ali answers some questions about the Academic Adviser Review she is leading for the School.

Can you give a little background to the Academic Adviser Review – why it was set up, what its aims are, for instance?

The School regularly reviews policies, procedures and practices in order to ensure that it can deliver an educational experience of the highest quality, and academic advice and support is key to this. Current provision was instigated in 2008, alongside the renaming of the ‘personal tutor’ as ‘academic adviser’. This change was in response to concerns with low student satisfaction on advice and feedback, and a common perception that a personal tutor was someone students would call on only if they had ‘personal problems’. However, since the 2008 review we have seen that there has been some divergence from the initial guidelines, that these may not capture the full range of duties and responsibilities of AAs, and also that there seems to be some variation in departmental practices. Our aim was to conduct a systematic review of practices within the School and also to look at other institutions, with a view to making a clear set of recommendations on what the role should cover, and to outline some boundaries and responsibilities for both faculty and students. The School’s new Education Strategy appears supportive of our early thoughts that the AA relationship could play a key role in fostering in students a greater sense of belonging to departments and the School.

Are there any key ‘themes’ emerging that are likely to be reflected in your recommendations and any guidance you produce? 

We do hope to give some clear guidelines on the role. To that effect, we are committed to review the role title and key responsibilities of AAs, and to establish minimum standards for all departments. So while we recognise that different departments may have different advising structures, the basic provision needs to be covered. There are a number of issues coming up and these are just a small selection:

  • Most students do want someone – an individual – who can offer them both personal advice and support, as well as be a source of academic advice and feedback. Students would like someone with whom they can develop a relationship, someone who will take an interest in, and engage with, all areas of their educational experience and, crucially, wider personal development. This person could be seen as a ‘mentor’.
  • Another theme relates to varieties of provision. We recognise that there still may be a need for variety in forms of advising or mentoring – for example at different stages of the degree, or between undergraduate and postgraduate provision, or across departments.
  • We are also seeing a lot of support for having academic advising recognised within the current structures of reward within the School. Of course, an alternative view that has some measure of support is that academic advising might be understood to be carried out best by those with particular training and/or aptitude for the role.
  • We need effective communications strategies so that students are given clear information on what they should expect of their AAs, and where to go if they are not getting this.

All of these themes are still under review and consideration, and we are mindful of the EDI issues should we consider advising as a ‘specialism’ to be undertaken by a few rather than all faculty.

Finally, what are the processes, and the timing, for feedback to the recommendations and, ultimately, implementation of them?

As I mentioned, we have been reviewing internal practices and also looking at other institutions for examples of good practice; we are currently canvassing departments for the views of HoDs and departmental tutors, and for examples of good practice. We are also using information from external surveys such as the NSS and the International Student Barometer, as well as feedback from internal student feedback processes, and student led research such as the recent LSESU report and ‘Re-Imagining Our Education’ focus group.

We have a staged plan to identify the changes needed, and the resources needed to implement them successfully. We will then develop an implementation plan to include, for example, ‘refresher training’ with staff, and induction with new staff.

We aim to develop mechanisms for reviewing departmental implementation of the School’s requirements for academic advisers, and to ensure that alternative models of advising are considered carefully and their effectiveness monitored.

We have a timeline that runs through these stages over the next three terms, and aim to complete the process in early 2017. The key commitment however, is to ensure the process is thorough, that it results in recommendations that can be implemented and monitored effectively, which in turn leads to a better educational experience for our students.





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