Learning as a political exercise


Learning and training have become an important niche in a market in which universities compete on a global scale . A competition for students that increases with non-face-to-face training possibilities .

In this context, learning is at the center of the debate. The added value of universities will be in their ability to advance a model that makes teaching work essential. Deploying good and innovative learning practices is a strategic need for universities worldwide.

Therefore, it is good news that the Spanish university system is moving towards greater recognition of teaching in the academic career. The current legislation establishes that, in access to teaching positions, it is mandatory to accredit teaching quality .

Transmit knowledge, but how?

Cooperative methodologies are based on the commitment and motivation of the students , moving from the passivity of students who listen and absorb information and memorize it to experimentation with the contents. These methodologies go beyond the individual acquisition of skills, focusing on group work. Activating a cooperative spirit, they seek to turn learning into a collective process.

Cooperative practice is based on five principles :

  1. Positive interdependence : success lies in the participation and contribution of all people in a positive manner.
  2. The individual requirement : each person must be accountable to the members of the group.
  3. Face-to-face interaction : requires facilitating time for group work.
  4. Interpersonal and group work skills : with tools to structure and organize.
  5. Reflection : facilitating a constant evaluation of the group, the dynamics, the contents and the teacher.

The first two principles seek to make each person co-responsible, not only for their own progress but also for the results of the rest. In the same way, they create a logic whereby if someone fails, the entire group is harmed.

The last three seek to maximize individual and group potential, limiting threats (failures in commitment, delegationism, directing) and forcing the identification of conflict resolution mechanisms.

An experience in Political Science

The subject Fundamentals of Political Analysis of the Political Science degree at the UPV/EHU follows this logic. It relies on project-based learning . Specifically, in our subject , students are organized into groups of between four and six people. During the course they must analyze a political conflict.

To ensure interdependence, the task begins by drawing up a group contract. There they identify individual and group strengths and weaknesses. They also define their commitments, conflict resolution mechanisms and reasons for expulsion.

Next, they must individually read and summarize five documentary resources on the chosen case. They must share them to prepare a first report. In this document they identify the structural causes of the conflict and the actors present.

Afterwards, they must write a second report in which they analyze the identity and ideological component of this phenomenon. To do this, they must first develop a theoretical framework describing the characteristics of identities and ideologies.

They end with a third report in which they reorder all the findings and apply the content taught by the teacher. These contents are worked on individually and in groups through reflective practices. To do this, exercises are carried out applying the knowledge to videos, works of art or conceptual puzzles.

Continuous evaluation and careful analysis

The keys to this model are autonomy, self-regulation and self-direction of the students. Therefore, the teaching role is transformed. It’s not just about transmitting knowledge. Management tools must be provided , such as the group contract.

Learning staggering dynamics must be designed. Hence the scaffolding in three reports that allows progress on previous knowledge. And self-regulation strategies must be implemented. Thus, the model needs continuous evaluation. A careful analysis of possible errors in the autonomous acquisition of knowledge is key.

Greater student interest

The data show that this methodology increases student interest by almost 40 points more than the average for the degree (the final high and very high interest that students evaluate is around 70%-80%).

Furthermore, the testimonies show that this interest translates into motivation and commitment. They recognize that in this subject they attend class more (despite attendance not being monitored) and work more.

This methodology arouses growing interest, as we can see in the conferences held by the Spanish Ministry of Universities recently and in which reference is made to them in the ANECA model or in Universities such as that of the Basque Country .

Its usefulness is supported by recent studies and is also combinable with the SoTL ( Scholarship of Teaching of Learning ) model that considers the scientific analysis of learning as part of the teaching work.

Take center stage in your own learning

By feeling like an active subject of learning , students find greater motivation, interest and commitment. Autonomous work, the ability to self-direct and freedom in choosing the topic of work demonstrate this autonomy and agency, which is self-regulated through scaffolding in reports and continuous evaluation. The commitment that is at the basis of individual learning is sustained on this agency.

However, the interdependence on which the project is based means that learning is experienced as a collective process. This, in short, turns learning into a political process based on collaboration and group success.

Author Bio: Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga is Professor of Political Science – Principal Researcher of Parte Hartuz – Director of the doctoral program Society, Politics and Culture at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea