Michael Pugh, University of the West of Scotland
Context: My module UK Political History, c. 1945-2001 is delivered on the interdisciplinary BA (Hons) Social Science programme at University of the West of Scotland. There’s no history department at UWS, and I’m more of a historian by training than a political scientist. The challenge of encouraging students steeped in politics, sociology (and sometimes even in psychology) throughout their degree studies to analyse political events, policies, developments and issues from a historical perspective can be daunting, as is building their confidence to do so. On the other hand, the module shares thematic and conceptual concerns with more straightforwardly political science modules earlier in the degree, like the nature and extent of democracy in the UK, the Scottish question and foreign policy.
Activity: 50% of students’ module marks are allocated to an essay. It can also be submitted as a journal article and marked in terms of the same learning outcomes, depending on individual preference. (To date no one’s chosen the journal option, and that’s something I hope to find and say more about in a future post.) The essay questions and focus are chosen by the students and can relate to any issue or theme germane to the module. Students find this freedom exciting but also, understandably, quite scary. To support them in this task, and ensure quality control, they are asked to participate in a formative peer (with fellow students with lecturer as backstop) review workshop, where they submit a draft title and abstract which is subject to self review and peer review on the module Moodle site. Each student reviews their own work plus two other students’ under set criteria.
Reflection: Without the peer review workshop, it would be more difficult to allow students such relative free reign in identifying topics, titles and focus on a module undertaken by almost 40 students. Prior to the introduction of the workshop element in 2014, the time needed to discuss and ‘feedforward’ on students’ ideas was equivalent to supervising a dissertation chapter, whereas now my involvement is in most cases reduced to a few encouraging comments at the end of the peer review workshop, except in rarer cases where students lack focus or are less engaged.
In that context, the workshop can help to highlight students in difficulty, and allow me to more effectively target support. On the nether side, the peer review workshop’s administration can be somewhat counterintuitive, leading to frustration for students and lecturer alike. So I would not recommend trying this sort of thing without good technical support, or at least having a Moodle guide handy.