Lunchtime sessions on online teaching: Dr. Malaka Shwaikh, School of International Relations

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Back in September, a new series of informal lunchtime sessions supporting online teaching kicked off here in St Andrews. The Lunchtime Sessions, primarily led by academic staff, and centrally supported by the Centre for Educational Enhancement and Development, have been taking place every second Thursday during the semester. So far, the sessions have been popular, fun, and well-attended. Normally, we discuss a particular theme relevant to online teaching, opening with a brief, 10-minute presentation, normally by a member of academic staff, on an interesting aspect of the theme of the week. We then follow up with a relaxed, informal, and constructive round table discussion (with lunch!) where colleagues share their knowledge and ask questions on the week’s theme.

One of our most interesting lunchtime sessions earlier in the semester was led by Dr. Malaka Shwaikh from the School of International Relations on the theme of collaboration online.  She spoke to us about how she put together her classes, ‘Conflict Management, Settlement and Resolution‘ (IR3038) and ‘Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Intervention (IR3048), for students when we first began teaching online. Malaka worked collaboration into her online teaching right from the start.  As part of her work with the School’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS), she set up four sessions for students to meet and discuss topics on peace and conflict that they were studying in class with practitioners (either one or two visited each session). They included: Sara Abbas, a Sudanese and American feminist scholar, researcher, activist, and PhD student currently working in Germany; Yasmin Ahmed, from Somalia, and Sanction Advisor to the British Embassy in Somalia; Hasnaa Mokhtar, from Saudia Arabia; currently a PhD student in the U.S.; and Razan Saffour from Syria, who currently divides her time working between the U.K. and Turkey.

In the online meetings with students set up by Malaka, the invited speakers gave overviews of the practical dimensions to their peace work in a number of different political contexts, and often challenged the dominant narratives in peace studies literature by looking at situations of conflict through the intersectional lens of gender, race, and decolonisation. Students had the opportunity to engage with the speakers, and could ask questions (which could be anonymized) using chat messages, which were accessible to all speakers and students. For example, Sara Abbas talked in detail about the practical dimension to her work. Students were very interested in this (they don’t often get a chance to talk to practitioners about the practical aspects of their work) and asked about what it was like for Sara as a scholar committed to decolonialisation to work for the U.N.  Afterwards, students wrote up reflective blog posts on the St Andrews Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies blog, where they put academic (and non-academic) commentary aside, and simply thought carefully about the implications for peace studies of the discussions in class, and of the discussions with the speakers during the invited speakers sessions. As you can see from the blog posts now published here, student answers are strikingly varied, but following the online collaborative discussion with practitioners, all are clearly imbued with a rich practical understanding of the complexities of building peace that often challenges standard academic approaches to questions in this area.

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