Sharing good practice in teaching Area Studies (14 Nov 05)

Date: 14 November, 2005
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Event report

student in library

Past event summary

When examined from the point of view of the student, it is apparent that Area Studies courses offer many opportunities and challenges for both students and their teachers. In this workshop, five teachers of Area Studies explored ways in which they have developed courses and pedagogies that enhance the experiences of their students in acquiring knowledge and developing appropriate skills in their chosen area study.

Programme for 14 November 2005
Time Session
10.30 - 11.00 Registration and coffee
11.00 - 11.30 Interdisciplinary curriculum design: A case study of the Wagner Plan
Andrew Mearman, Economics, University of the West of England (formerly Wagner College, New York )
11.30 - 12.00 Working in the USA
Joanna Price, American Studies, Liverpool John Moores University
12.00 - 12.30 New directions in Asian Studies
Maurizio Marinelli, Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Bristol
12.30 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.00 Area Studies and the Year Abroad: A needs based approach
Stanley Black, Spanish, University of Ulster
14.00 - 14.30 Investigating the pedagogical challenges and opportunities of field trip modules in Area Studies
Jude Davies, Alasdair Sparks and John Bentley American Studies, University of Winchester
14.30 - 15.00 Plenary


Interdisciplinary curriculum design: A case study of the Wagner Plan

Andrew Mearman, Economics, University of the West of England (formerly Wagner College, New York )

This paper discusses the Wagner Plan, a curriculum design practised at Wagner College , New York. This paper draws on my own experiences in teaching in that Plan. The Wagner Plan is a three-level programme of study taught within a traditional American liberal arts framework. In the first two years, the programme is explicitly interdisciplinary. This interdiscplinarity is achieved primarily through the creation of learning communities, pairs of related courses from different disciplines. There are various modes of learning community, involving different degrees of integration of the courses. In my own experience, the learning community involved changing the subject matter of the course, constructing related and in some cases joint assignments, and some team-teaching. In the first year, the learning community also involves the creation of an interdisciplinary third module which bridges the two disciplinary modules. The programme seems successful in increasing understanding within and between modules, as well as achieving the broader social goals of the college.

Working in the USA

Joanna Price, American Studies, Liverpool John Moores University

In this paper, I propose to discuss the module 'Working in the USA' which I run as part of the American Studies programme at Liverpool John Moores University. 'Working in the USA' is a hybrid module which aims to develop students' ability both to reflect on the skills they have acquired through finding work in the United States and working and living there, and also to make informed cultural observations about the U.S. and their own position in relation to it. Students are assessed on their reflection on skills, and their analyses of American culture. The module lends itself to a variety of forms of assessment such as presentations, journals and exhibitions.

The module is distinct from a student exchange in its aims and the learning experiences it offers, and it has proved a popular and affordable alternative to it. Over the three years the module has run, it has had an increasing impact on the programme as a whole. It enables students to spend time in the States; it increases their motivation to study American culture through our programme; and it enables them to develop, reflect on and articulate their possession of a range of skills. It has also re-focused the programme team's conceptualisation of the skills that the programme instils. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the design, delivery and effects of this module.

New directions in Asian Studies

Maurizio Marinelli, Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Bristol

This paper focuses on my professional experience as a member of the Expanding East Asian Studies 2003-2004 Columbia University Teaching Collaborative project (from now on Ex-EAS). Ex-EAS is a collaborative project supported by the Freeman Foundation. It was lunched at Columbia University in 2002 under the direction of Prof. Carol Gluck, and the supervision of Heidi Johnson. Building on intellectual, pedagogical, and outreach achievements in the study of East Asia, Ex-EAS seeks to provide:

  • Innovative courses and teaching materials that incorporate the study of East Asia in broad thematic, transnational, and interdisciplinary contexts;
  • Models for incorporating East Asia into different courses in the curriculum;
  • Expanded networks for sharing curricular resources among educators at all types of institutions and for the widest possible student audiences.

In my presentation I will illustrate my contribution to the Ex-EAS and explain how this specific endeavour forced me to rethink critically my previous experience as researcher and instructor of East Asia-related disciplines.

Area Studies and the Year Abroad: A needs based approach

Stanley Black, Spanish, University of Ulster

This paper will focus on my experience of teaching Spanish area studies to second year students on our BA Hons Applied Languages and related language programmes which involve a compulsory year abroad. The aim is to gear the teaching and the project work of the students towards active research, leading to presentations, on the places they intend to spend their intercalary year in and the activities they will be required to undertake. Integrating Area Studies with such preparatory work means that an extended induction to the experience of living abroad can be accommodated within the curriculum. By adapting the teaching and assessment to a model of student needs, defined in advance by the students themselves, the learning process is enhanced at the same time as the potentially traumatic transition to placement is smoothed.

Investigating the pedagogical challenges and opportunities of field trip modules in Area Studies

Jude Davies, Alasdair Sparks and John Bentley, American Studies, University of Winchester
Download: PowerPoint presentation (10Mb)

Field trips (typically of between 2 and 4 weeks) are increasingly being developed as a supplement or alternative to semester-length exchanges or year-long study abroad programmes. Typically the aim is to provide the opportunity for first-hand experience of the relevant overseas culture in a concentrated period of time, at a low cost and with the minimum of disruption to students' lives. It therefore has a part to play in the widening participation agenda, particularly for mature students, while also becoming increasingly attractive in a climate of increasing student debt.

In terms of curriculum development, the field trip module offers significant opportunities for inter-disciplinary learning and pedagogical innovation. For instance, in response to recent work on space and place which crosses the disciplinary boundaries between social geography, history, and cultural studies, a field trip can offer a novel pedagogy based on preparation, experiential learning and reflection.

However, it is important to verify that such a module can achieve the aims it sets for itself. There are risks, notably that the experience is too short, too concentrated and potentially becomes merely a holiday with an essay at the end of it. To meet these challenges and secure the proper outcome, appropriate assessments must be established and the experience of students must be carefully structured into a set of progressive tasks achieved in the field and upon return.

The Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies is funding a Pedagogic research project, based on this course.

Event report: Good practice in teaching Area Studies: enhancing the student experience

by John Canning

All contributions gave me suggestions on how to enhance current practice, particularly the enhancement of self-reflection on the part of students.

- Workshop attendee

Andrew Mearman, an Economist from the University of the West of England shared his experience of working at Wagner College , Staten Island NY. At this small liberal arts college students must take 18 out of 36 classes in General Education to graduate with the remaining courses being in the students' chosen major and minor subjects. As part of its commitment to interdisciplinary study, the college introduced the Wagner Plan. The plan centres on the explicit integration of two courses in difference disciplines, supported by a reflective tutorial to create a' 'learning community' (LC). One LC called 'Spanish in New York City' partners an intermediate Spanish language course with an introductory literature course, where students look at the immigration of Spanish speakers into New York and interview people in Spanish. Dr Mearman taught the Economics component of the LC, 'Politics and the markets: The political economy of the American Dream.' The LC included reading literature such as the Great Gatsby and work placements at local charities packaging food and undertaking clerical duties (fees at Wagner are $27,000 per year, so this is a very new experience for most students). They also engage with questions about liberalism, free markets, libertarian government, free markets, individualism etc. Dr Mearman and his politics 'partner' sometimes taught as a team and they gave their lectures in a different order to what they would usually do in their own disciplinary contexts. Qualitative evaluation data suggests that the students develop deeper understandings of aspects such as pluralism and students in LCs gain higher grades overall than their counterparts taking the single discipline versions of the same courses.

Joanna Price from Liverpool John Moores University presented her paper on the module 'Working in the USA'. The module gives an opportunity for students to work in the USA during the summer between their second and third years. In the first semester of level 2 Dr Price runs sessions on finding work in the USA and students are assessed on a portfolio which includes a resume, a letter of application, a journal, a report and an individually negotiated assignment. All American Studies at LJM are joint honours and many gain employment which connects their experience of the USA with the other subject in their degree programme (for example through working in museums, TV studios and on media projects. As UK students require a J1 visa to work in the USA , this aspect of the application process has to be handled a legal sponsor company such as BUNAC. Although not compulsory, the opportunity is very popular with students making the work placement an important aspect of the identity of both the American Studies programme and the students.

Maurizio Marinelli, Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Bristol , also drew on his experience of teaching in the USA. He was involved with the Expanding East Asian Studies Collaborative Project ( (Ex-EAS) based at Columbia University. One of the aims of the project was to provide new course materials that could be used by non-specialists in East Asian Studies. Dr Marinelli taught on a 'Non-Western civilization' course that formed part of the College Core Curriculum at SUNY Fredonia. The idea of the 'Western/ non-Western civilization' demonstrates the way in which the US conceives of itself as an extension of Europe. The location of the college in rural New York State meant that student experiences of East Asian cultures were very different to those that one may expect in New York City or Toronto. An emphasis was placed on East Asia in the world, rather than East Asia and the world. Dr Marinelli emphasised that although the courses are interdisciplinary, it is important to define oneself in disciplinary terms.

Stanley Back, University of Ulster gave his presentation on preparing students studying Spanish for residence abroad. As only the final year counts towards a degree at Ulster , students are awarded a Diploma in Area Studies (DAS) to accredit the year abroad. 65% of the marks come from a full years study in an overseas institution and 35% from a student log. As part of their preparation for residence abroad, students attend a number of preparation sessions with input from students who have returned, the International Office and the Counselling Service. A year 2 semester 2 course focuses on Spanish regions and students are assessed on the region of Spain that they expect to spend their year abroad in. This assessment includes a presentation and regional profile in Spanish. Difficulties of students spending time with other English-speaking students whilst in Spain, a less pastoral-orientated university system and student failing courses, have been addressed by setting assignments to interview Spanish Erasmus students studying Ulster as part of their preparation. Students also construct a dossier of issues that they consider important and undertake research into these.

Very good ideas
that I hope to incorporate... thank you for
organising this

- Workshop attendee

The final presentation by John Bentley, University of Winchester , focused on a 12-day fieldtrip of the contrasting experiences of Las Vegas and the Mojave Desert. Originally a geography field course, this optional trip is limited to 16 American Studies students, with priority to Single Honours students. The field trip was set up in American Studies as a response to the decline in suitable exchanges and the particular barriers faced by 'non-traditional' students. It is also counter-intuitive as most students' prior experiences of the USA are Florida and New York City. The trip covers a large distance which enables students to understand the significance of distance in the USA. Students also read literature in its geographical context, for example Stienbeck's Grapes of Wrath on Route 66. The emphasis is on the ordinary and everyday rather than the tourist experiences. Little time is spent in museums or galleries, but students discuss the physical acts of everyday life such as shopping in Wal-Mart and travelling. Assessment includes fieldnotes, a photograph assignment and an academic essay requiring students to relate their experience of the trip to their understandings of the USA. A project based on this fieldtrip is currently being currently under LLAS's Pedagogic Research Fund.

In the plenary session, participants were particularly struck by the student-centredness of all the courses discussed by the speakers. It was also noted the innovate practice discussed during the day area depended on teaching staff going beyond the call of duty without any financial or time compensation. However, it was largely felt that the academic and personal rewards practitioners and their students gained outweighed these disadvantages.