Exploring Political Science's Signature Pedagogy

By Murphy, Mary C.; Reidy, Theresa | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Exploring Political Science's Signature Pedagogy


Murphy, Mary C., Reidy, Theresa, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

The international political science community has demonstrated a reluctance to engage with the discourse of education. Academics tend to be concerned chiefly with political science as an academic discipline and not with political science as a form of education. This article explores the similarities and differences in the signature pedagogy of political science across a number of countries. It outlines the emergence and resilience of the pedagogy, its impact on student learning and its future evolution.

Introduction

Shulman (2005a: 1) identifies signature pedagogies as "types of teaching that organize the fundamental ways in which future practitioners are educated for their profession". This recognises a link between what is taught in the classroom and what is required in the workplace. There are three dimensions to any single signature pedagogy--the surface structure, the deep structure and the implicit structure (see Shulman 2005a). Implicitly and collectively, these facets of the signature pedagogy define the culture of a discipline and profession.

The Signature Pedagogy of Political Science

There are many factors at play when discussing the signature teaching styles within political science. Sorokos (in Gregusova (ed), 2005) argues that the role of the political science teacher is to help students develop critical minds. The idea of critical thinking is one that is common across the humanities and social sciences. The critical thinking theme is also explored by Martin (in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2003). He argues that in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, students engage with a body of knowledge, rather than being trained in specific skills. In the course of this engagement, students acquire methods of understanding and become analytical in their approach to the material.

There is an important distinction to be made between the professions and academic disciplines. Political science is an academic discipline and it is not primarily geared towards training for a specific profession. There is no single career path for students of the discipline. Political science education equips students with a wide variety of transferable skills and most importantly, an enquiring and critical mind. Students can enter a wide variety of employments in diverse sectors. Political science may not be a professional area but Shulman's concept of disciplinary styles can provide important insights into the culture and pedagogy of political science. There are specific styles of teaching which are common across the discipline and there is an emerging emphasis on teaching styles that encourage critical thinking in the student. In the course of a political science education students are treated as independent learners and the styles of teaching reflect this.

According to Garrett: 'The developing nature of each subject suggests that the individual disciplines of the social sciences are growing apart' (1999:310). A difference is emerging between the more practical and skills based disciplines of economics and psychology and the discursive disciplines such as sociology and political science. As a consequence, the pedagogy of political science has in some cases remained relatively traditional and static in orientation. The signature teaching styles are those traditionally associated with the humanities and social sciences, a reliance on lectures, tutorials and private study tend to be the teaching and learning staple of the discipline. The large lecture is the dominant experience for many political science undergraduates across Europe. The mass lecture stands out in social science education. It is usually non-participatory and very definitely, teacher centred. The standard lecture in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is discussed in many works and the report is invariably unflattering (Martin in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall, 2003), (Goldsmith and Berndtson, 2002) and (Shulman, 2005b). …

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