Learn of the main takeaways from the event!
Development studies is a broad field, taught in various departments across universities. Despite the broadness, there are many commonalities and thereby opportunities to learn from each other. How can we generate greater collaboration and mutual learning?
This was the point of departure for SweDev’s first-ever teachers’ workshop. The event was initiated from the idea that teachers in development studies possibly face similar challenges, but that there are few opportunities for them to meet and to learn across different institutions. The workshop identified four current issues that teachers stand before in the development studies field: dealing with different viewpoints across disciplines, adopting field studies amidst global crises, preparing students for future career paths in a global context, and approaching decolonial teaching.
Teachers from 11 Swedish universities and research institutions gathered to share experiences from these tricky topics, as well as discuss some of the opportunities that current issues also present us with. Two conclusions stood out at the end of the workshop. First, the development studies research environment at Swedish universities is broader and more diverse than expected, both in terms of disciplines and viewpoints. An extensive mapping was drawn during the first part of the workshop. Among the 11 teaching environments represented, more than 40 development-related masters’ and bachelors’ programmes start annually in Sweden. Second, the dispersed teachers’ community offers an interesting entry point for new perspectives and relationships to use in both teaching and research. The workshop proved to be an encouraging and inspiring step towards such broader collaboration and mutual learning. Below are the main takeaways from the discussion.
Development studies is being taught in widely varied environments – as a specific discipline, as part of other disciplines or through area studies. Such different viewpoints are also reflected in teaching. Teachers raised the challenges of giving students a critical perspective while not robbing them of hope as well as managing the balance between mainstream and alternative development ideas. It is nevertheless useful to see diversity and differences in the classroom as an opportunity for better education. Diversity in student groups, teachers’ teams, and literature lists can be important pathways to overcome potential differences. While such solutions may pose additional obstacles in terms of communication, resources, and funding – especially for students paying tuition fees – embracing diversity is an important aspect to accomplish teaching of higher quality.
Rethinking fieldwork amidst global crises
Development studies involves work and teaching about global issues across the world, many times in low-income countries. Climate change, conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic have forced these disciplines to consider difficult, yet critical dilemmas on travelling, social interactions and field knowledge. Rethinking such issues does not mean that fieldwork must be abandoned altogether. While the participants in the workshop stressed that fieldwork in some way is needed, there are supplementary ways of field contact. Suggestions included strengthening collaboration with researchers on-site, linking students in Sweden and abroad, and researching development at home. More experienced researchers and supervisors have the potential to guide students in this regard by exchanging contacts with foreign colleagues and drawing upon already established connections at other universities.
New skills in a new world
Working in a global context, all increasingly complex global crises also impact development studies as a teaching and research field. Workshop participants identified several skills that they thought students should be equipped with. These included academic, practical, digital and work skills, the ability to balance between critical analysis and solution orientation as well as understanding complex systems. The question of how to enable students to acquire these skills nevertheless remains. The participants suggested concrete pathways forward, including blended global classrooms in hybrid formats, teaching exchange across countries, remote fieldwork and using innovative tools such as video and blogs. Field method courses based in Sweden to learn practical skills and diversity in the classroom were also brought up in the discussion. Such solutions may be useful if we overcome obstacles in resources, capacity, and skills.
Co-producing knowledge and sharing resources
Decolonising development studies has increasingly been brought up in curricula and debates within and outside of researcher environments. Approaching decolonial development teaching is a dilemma: Can we decolonise development studies while development in itself is a colonial idea? How do we approach sustainability without limiting ourselves to the westernised notion of what it implies? To address decolonial teaching, there is a need to change perspectives about who teaches whom. This involves bringing in co-producers of knowledge and de-linking existing development paradigms. A concrete suggestion from teachers was to invite guest lecturers and experts from foreign countries and universities. Moreover, diversity involves broadening inclusion in the classroom as well as in literature lists. Tuition fees and lack of resources from female and non-Western scholars were mentioned as obstacles to achieving this. Digital classrooms as well as sharing useful resources among teachers provide potential to overcome some of these challenges. Lastly, opening for difficult topics such as racism and colonialism is important for moving on. Perhaps support among teachers across institutions could be useful also here.
The workshop in October showed that there is a lot to discuss and learn from each other. Cooperation across universities and disciplines is one way to overcome common challenges and broaden perspectives. SweDev will actively engage and be an engine for greater connection between teaching environments. To continue the conversations, SweDev plans to organise the second teachers’ workshop in April/May 2022.