The concept of teaching, under which our working group operates includes a disciplinary orientation that pursues three primary goals:
- It enables students to compete with those from the very best universities worldwide when conducting academic research at postgraduate level.
- It equips graduates to compete for national and international job markets beyond academia.
- For future teachers, it imparts the crucial knowledge and skills to convey the understanding of political, social and economic systems, institutions and processes for high quality teaching in German secondary education, by providing them with the necessary analytical and didactic instruments.
Additionally, our working group goes beyond our primary areas of responsibility (Comparative Politics, Development Studies, Middle East/North Africa Studies) to incorporate different curricula in our undergraduate studies (Introduction to Studying Political Science, Introduction to Political Theory, Introduction to Comparative Politics) and in our postgraduate studies (e.g. development politics; international democracy promotion; theories and concepts of political rule: theories of political systems; structural and development characteristics of chosen regions; international relations and regional orders). Secondary goals include:
- To identify and to establish links to the theories, concepts and methods of related academic disciplines in order to ensure synergetic, non-arbitrary interdisciplinarity. The latter is not an end in itself, but requires rigorous reflection and preparation for a practical utilization.
- To closely connect academic teaching and research and to integrate the latest academic research debates into the curricula in a comprehensible way.
- To teach Political Science as a theory- and concept-based Social Science with empirical practicality.
This pursued concept is based on different national and international teaching experiences with students from all continents.
Whilst our degree programme for teachers (accreditation for secondary education) provides a thorough preparation for an interesting, challenging and especially clear employment route, our other courses – including our BA programme, as well as diverse MA programmes – offer numerous choices of specialization for equally numerous career paths. Ranging from academia, to political consulting or media employment, from work in public institutions and international organizations, over to careers in local, regional or national government and public administration – highly different opportunities await.
On the one hand, this provides a broad flexibility, on the other, it also entails a large pool of competition with graduates from other disciplines for the same kind of jobs. It is therefore advantageous to prepare early on for this competitive situation. If students immediately tailor their degrees according to their specific career goals, they maximize their comparative advantage on the job market after graduation. We are convinced that their respective comparative advantage derives primarily from the analytical competencies which our students sharpen here and which develop relevant transferable skills. They learn to access and analyse those social, economic and political subject matters for which our present societies require intelligent problem solvers. Those who excel at identifying, structuring and prioritizing relevant elements of any given question are likely to be the ones able to offer real world solutions through their intellectual penetration and results-oriented analysis. It is our job to train our students accordingly and we strive for producing the very best analysts and the very best human capital.
Pedagogy and Didactics (and how both connect)
Whilst the above may seem self-evident, it may also sound relatively abstract. This begs the question how we end up reaching these goals. Our modules and classes on offer are based on two principles:
- Only when students understand the logic behind their studies and find their pursued subject matters inspiring shall they be in a situation to unleash their full potential and perform as best as they can. Our teaching is geared towards making this happen.
- Since students will be entering the job market in the not too distant future, teaching content should be chosen accordingly. Realistic and practically orientated teaching content is especially important for graduates.
We are convinced that any didactical method remains fruitless unless it is organically imbedded in the above-mentioned pedagogical principles. Hence, we aim to offer a teaching portfolio which …
- … fascinates students, because it directly connects to their own lives and the real world out there.
- … inspires students to look for their own ways in order to tackle and solve real world problems using social-scientific approaches.
- … challenges students by fostering and improving their competencies and transferrable skills (e.g. the ability to tackle research questions with adequate methods and also to adapt these to different types of cases).
Whilst facts-based knowledge is certainly fundamental, we believe that the anchorage of the above-mentioned transferable skills in students’ hearts and minds is even more important. In the integrated pedagogy that makes up higher education, facts-based knowledge will only ever represent a by-product, rather than the main educational objective. The latter turns students into generalists who are capable of tackling a whole range of either policy-relevant problems or pure academic debates and solve both with their analytical know-how and to find solutions based on theoretical and conceptual pillars.
We seek to connect these principles with a multitude of different, practically orientated paths. This, for example, includes simulating real-world situations in class, tasking the students to confront them from different professional perspectives and finding ways forward in roles close to different fields of work. (More is to follow on this below.)
In our undergraduate teaching (BA-programme) our team offers a great selection of introductory classes. These range from “Introduction to the Study of Political Science” to “Introduction to Political Economy” and “Introduction to Political Theory”. Alongside our central lecture “Foundations of Comparative Politics”, we usually offer two introductory seminars (one focusing on developing countries in general, the other on the MENA region specifically). This means we give students the opportunity to already commence with a certain level of specialization within their otherwise generalist route.
Within the field of political theory, we have concentrated our teaching portfolio towards political rule in developing countries on the one hand, and theories of regime change on the other; the accompanying classes covering “Introduction to Comparative Politics” allow the students to specialize in the MENA region’s political systems or to engage with development studies more broadly.
We simultaneously ensure that at least a certain number of classes are run in English, since we wholeheartedly believe in today’s mandatory internationalization. It is our Institute’s policy to offer at least one English-spoken class per category, including in our undergraduate teaching portfolio.
Our graduate teaching portfolio systematically bets on connecting cutting-edge research with current affairs and the headlines. For example, our teaching fellow Asli Aksoy, MA, taught a class on Turkish and Middle Eastern civil society – her doctoral research topic. Then, Dr Aida Essaid, a US-Jordanian visiting scholar who currently works for the West-Asia/North-Africa-(WANA-)Forum in Amman, taught a class on the Arab-Israeli Conflict – using material and insights from her six-year research project at the University of Exeter. The seminars we offer are a mixture of specific subject matters on the one hand (such as “Development Cooperation” or “International Democracy Promotion”, “Current Approaches to Political Theory”, “What is Legitimate Rule?”, “Regime Change and Democratization”, etc), and regionally-focused ones on the other (“Civil Society in the Middle East”, “Political Economy of the Middle East”, “International Relations and Regional Order of the Middle East”).
The lion’s share of our team’s seminars and lectures in our MA-programme take place in English; classes in German represent the exception. Due to the increasing internationalization of our students’ profile we have also switched the language of our “Research Colloquium on Middle East and Comparative Politics” from German to English.
Moreover, we test experimental teaching methods which “activate” students by simulating situations that may be encountered in later employment. For instance, a task may involve imagining a diplomatic mission to a certain foreign country by a decision-maker (such as a minister) and assigning the student to prepare and conduct a written or spoken “country briefing”. Another example includes two previous classes from my area of operations: one on authoritarian rule and regimes and their survival strategies, the other on international democracy promotion. Participants from both classes then met for a daylong simulation of diplomatic negotiations which had the purpose of producing an agreement on questions of political reform between both sides – with either side seeking to secure their mutually conflicting priorities. (In this particular case, students had chosen the “United States” and “Egypt” as the two negotiating parties.)
Another highlight, enabled by successful acquisition of funding, consisted of a joint online seminar with Cairo University and the American University in Cairo on the topic of revolution in the Arab world. For a week, in Cairo, students from all three universities met each other as well as representatives from political parties and NGOs in order to gain a first-hand experience and empirical insight. Later, the students then formed trilateral working groups developing some conceptual and empirical foundations in their weekly online sessions which were simultaneously scheduled across all working groups and across all three universities. This required detailed planning and coordination among the groups. Presentations as well as the ensuing discussions were then held in a four-day compact phase in Germany, before a final phase provided the students with the opportunity to meet and discuss with practitioners from Western organizations (high-ranking representatives from political foundations, NATO, as well as the Director of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network). Following this, students then constructed policy recommendations for Western cooperation with the emerging markets and developing countries of this region. These recommendations were then communicated back to said representatives among which they were discussed again. Thus, the students were enabled to provide a real input into the work of decision makers with their voices having a direct impact.
Naturally, didactic methods differ not only in reaction to different themes, but also in reaction to student numbers. A lecture with over 200 students will require a different didactic method than a seminar with ten people or less. Our team is committed to strictly tailored didactic formats accordingly.
This also concerns the MA-degree Comparative and Middle East Politics and Societies (www.CMEPS.eu), which is run jointly with the American University in Cairo and is open for ten students per location every year. Already in its first two years, our institute in Tübingen reached a four-fold number of applications, and, demonstrated by graduates stemming from the US, India, the UK, Austria and other countries, a considerable internationalization of the student-body. The intercultural dividends that are part and parcel of such programmes are further enhanced in this particular degree, as it also includes the option to study at the respective partner institution (in Egypt or Germany) for one tuition-free semester. The preconditions are obviously: an unrestricted recognition of credit points, an accord on educational content and priorities, as well as the coordination between the coverage of different classes and their syllabi. Finally, supervision of MA-theses is conducted bilaterally/internationally. This is a process that includes a preparatory international colloquium which is just as mandatory in the curriculum as is the programme’s space for an internship.
Please check out our teaching portfolio, here.
Here you find a selection of noteworthy classes.