An induction taster session for politics students

A couple of weeks ago we had our induction week for students on the new politics degree at Suffolk.

Induction weeks, which most UK universities organise, are usually there to help ease the students’ transition to university and to brief them on all the things they need to know before teaching formally starts. This is usually filled with a series of sessions on things such as how to access library resources and who the key tutors and points of contact are.

THere’s usually little time for subject specific content but for this year’s induction week I was asked to put together a politics ‘taster session’ to give students a feel for the sort of thing they’ll get up to.

For this year’s session I got the students to think about whether UK elections are ‘fair’. During the session, students work in pairs to go through three exercises on a handout.

The first two exercises present students with some information on the 2017 general election results and long-term trends in electoral dispropotionality (with grateful thanks to Stuart Wilks-Heeg at the University of Liverpool for the data). The students are asked to look at this information and interpret it. This largely confirmed what the students already knew, that UK elections are disproportional, but here they were able to use the evidence put in front of them to illustrate this case.

The third exercise is much more geared towards getting the students to evaluate reflect upon arguments made by others. In it, the students were asked to look at the various arguments made for and against the UK’s first past the post electoral system. Here the emphasis is on critical analysis, and a couple of students admitted they hadn’t previously considered some of the arguments which were put to them.

Getting the students to work in pairs helps to develop their team working skills, while also providing a nice ice-breaker so they can get to know other students at the start of term.

In this way the main focus of the session was to get students used to how we will be expecting them to approach their learning during their degree. Teaching the students about the results of the 2017 general election or how the UK’s electoral system works isn’t really the main objective here. Rather it’s all about developing the skills of interpretation, evaluation and critical analysis.

The handout can be accessed here and I’m happy for people to make use of it in their teaching if they find it useful. For those that are into that sort of thing, all the background data and materials can be found on GitHub.