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PSA T and L Network conference reflection


Guest blog from Maia Almeida- Amir, PhD Student Newcastle University

In the week before welcoming students back to campus after a long summer, POLIS hosted the Political Studies Association Teaching and Learning Network conference. Over the two days we heard from colleagues teaching politics, IR, and social policy reflecting on their pedagogical practices, the challenges faced by students, and emergent research on navigating the ever-changing T&L environment.

At conferences, I always hope to get allocated an early presentation slot so I can relax and enjoy everyone else’s work (and skip over making introductions!). So, I was very glad to participate in the first panel, “the teaching of touchy subjects” where my research, which investigates engagement left-wing and social justice topics on YouTube found a comfortable fit. In this case, I was particularly glad to have presented early because of the prevalence of discussions about young peoples’ engagements with politics through social media.

Throughout the conference, the entanglements between the classroom environment and the social media worlds our students are immersed in were never far from our conversations. Among these conversations were pressing concerns about the polarising division of culture war narratives; the prevalence of mis- and dis-information about political issues on social media; the exposure of young people to malignant public figures (sadly, Andrew Tate came up a lot); the mental health effects of exposure to troubling topics on social media; and how all of this has particular impact on marginalised students and staff in the teaching and learning environment.

But within all this consternation: kernels of hope. First, because discussions of politics on social media are so tied up in sharing information about and experiences related to social justice topics, young people are able to independently develop their political vocabulary, their knowledge of global issues, and their own political point of view before coming to the classroom. While this can be fraught with filter-bubble polarisation, there is significant value in students increased awareness of key global issues.

Second (and relatedly), social media is a space where young people are developing analytical and critical thinking skills. When encountering a post or creator online, there’s a whole host of evaluations young people have learned to do to evaluate it’s reliability as a source (who posted it? What are their sources? Do we have mutuals? Does this perspective match other posts? Could this be an ad for something?) This willingness to critically evaluate information encountered on social media gives me a lot of hope for the next generation of critical readers.

Finally, it is unsurprising that young people are expert users of social media platforms. They have a practiced, everyday ease navigating these technologies that are key for communication between people, and accessing news and entertainment today. For many of my students, who hope to graduate into jobs like journalism and public relations, I’m reassured by their development of these key employability skills.

Like all good conferences, I leave with more questions than answers about the dis/connections between social media, the world of politics, and classroom encounters. But as it becomes increasingly impossible to separate the IRL from the online, it is clear that pedagogical practices must find ways of reckoning with this landscape shift. Social media is where the young people we work with live, and it’s clear that what happens on their screens is deeply meaningful. And that as educators we need to take the world of social media seriously and engage with it critically, in recognition of this key part of students’ lives.