What’s it like studying at INLOGOV?

Drs. Max Lempriere, Abena Dadze-Arthur and Karin Bottom

It is perhaps a little cliché to say that there’s never been a better time to study public management, whether in the context of local government or otherwise. The fact that local government has undergone significant reform over the years – a process that shows little sign of abating – is well known. Indeed, the political world is shifting before our eyes into something new, some would say exciting and certainly worthy of study. Clichés abound, life as a student of public management and local governance certainly won’t be dull.

Avoiding cliché then, perhaps its more apt to say that there’s never been a better time to study at The University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV). The University’s reputation is well recognized; it was 2013-2014 University of the Year, sits 13th in the 2017 Guardian University Guide and is among the top 100 best Universities in the world. As the UK’s leading centre for the study of local government and strategic public management, INLOGOV is well placed to make sense of what looks to many to be a chaotic system. Our research directly informs contemporary debates and legislative activity and the work we do with local authorities across the world is highly respected.

What is it like to study here, though? We offer a number of courses, taught by some of the leading authorities in the field, all of which are specifically designed to further your career in public administration, wherever in the world you choose to work. Whether you’re interested in a Masters degree, Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate and can commit full time or part time, we offer courses in Public Management, Public Service Commissioning and Social Research. It doesn’t even matter if you’re unable to physically come to the Birmingham campus; whilst INLOGOV offers courses in the form of a traditional brick-and-mortar degree, whereby students attend classes on campus, it also offers an internationally acclaimed Masters of Public Administration (MPA) online degree, whereby students do all their classroom activities outside the traditional classroom, at a distance from the University of Birmingham, and supported by technology-based tools.

For those looking for a more focused, research driven learning experience you can choose instead to undertake doctoral research, whether as part of an integrated learning package with a focus on public policy or a traditional research-driven doctorate (offered both on campus and through distance learning). Have a look at our website for an outline of our research interests.

In both the on-campus and distance learning courses, our students are very mixed in terms of their age, where they come from, and their experience of the public sector.  Typically, in INLOGOV’s master courses, students with backgrounds as mid-career public servants are rubbing shoulders with course participants who just graduated from their undergraduate studies.  For example, a fifty-eight-year-old minister in Jamaica’s government took our Masters in Public Administration a 25 year old who recently completed his undergraduate studies in social care in China.  This makes for a fantastic learning community, where the pedagogical focus remains on the learners and how they connect their varied experiences of public management to the theoretical concepts explored during the course.

In both our on-campus and online courses, we use high-quality learning resources, which also feature animated videos and interactive diagrams and theoretical models.  Mindful of the international nature of the student group who register for our masters programmes, we always add new literature on international public management and governance in the reading lists; we include a variety of contemporary case studies and examples of public management from around the world; we ask students to watch a series of short, BBC-documentary-style videos featuring practitioners and researchers from across the globe who discuss their particular experiences of public management and governance in their respective home countries; and we use an array of photo images to portray global diversity in public service delivery.

Although we use the same high-quality and interactive learning resources for on-campus and distance learning courses, there are of course important differences in terms of the learning environment, which meet different student needs.  Campus-based classes require students to attend classes in person and at specific times.  Online classes are free from the constraints of space, pace and time, and give students the flexibility to do their work in their own time and at their own pace, but require students to be very self-motivated, disciplined and comfortable with working independently.

Wherever you choose to take your degree – and students take it far and wide, whether as public servants, journalists, consultants, academics and so on – a degree from INLOGOV will serve you well.

For more information on the courses we offer and to find out about upcoming open days (whether virtual or on campus) please visit http://www.inlogov.bham.ac.uk. Alternatively, to keep up to date with the latest research and discussions from the department check out our blog at www.inlogov.com or follow us on LinkedIn and [email protected]

 

lempriereMax is an INLOGOV Associate and has a PhD in political science from the University of Birmingham. He has taught for a number of years on many aspects of politics, public administration, research methods and academic skills. Prior to that he read political economy at the University of Birmingham and Stockholm University. His research interests include institutional theory, environmental politics, local government innovation and policy entrepreneurship.

abenaAbena has taught on a variety of INLOGOV courses on various aspects of public management and governance to a) international distance learners, who complete the programme wholly online; b) in-house local government participants, and c) ‘on-campus’ students comprising a mix of full-time and part-time-registered practitioner students Abena’s research mainly focuses on non-western and post-western public management approaches that are rooted in local subject positions, indigenous norms and values, locally embedded representational and performative practices, and mirror local history, culture, and religious or philosophical traditions, while promoting public engagement, accountability and effective public services.

bottom-karin-20151113Karin is INLOGOV’s Director of Teaching and Learning and directs INLOGOV’s MSc in Public Management and lectures on modules concerned with 1) party politics; democracy and  public management; 2) research methods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In tech we trust: A teacher’s perspective on INLOGOV’s e-learning (r)evolution

Dr. Abena F. Dadze-Arthur

 

INLOGOV’s first online Masters

It was a historic moment for INLOGOV – even by the standards of the Institute’s long and eventful history. For the first time ever, INLOGOV was to design and deliver an online International Masters in Public Administration (MPA). The new MPA was to be delivered wholly online with students doing all their classroom activities outside the traditional classroom, at a distance from their school or college, and supported by interactive technology tools. The programme was to be targeted at adult learners across the world, specifically those already working in the public sector, who wish to study part-time while maintaining their career paths. It marked INLOGOV’s accession to the new club of educational institutes partaking in an evolution of a rather revolutionary nature, which is interchangeably termed e-learning, distance learning or online education.

A worldwide (r)evolution

Indeed, in offering the new MPA, along with two other online postgraduate programmes, the University of Birmingham joined the ranks of other prestigious tertiary educational institutes that have embraced the challenge of delivering e-learning courses. After all, the business case is compelling. Online programmes are rapidly becoming not only an inevitable but also rather lucrative part of mainstream education. The worldwide market for e-learning already reached $35.6 billion in 2011, and generated estimated revenues of some $51.5 billion in 2016, boasting growth rates of 17.3% in Asia, 16.9% in Eastern Europe, 15.2% in Africa and 14.6% in Latin America.

International organisations, such as UNESCO and the International Council for Open and Distance Education, conclude that the revolutionary explosion of e-learning is down to two key factors: First, and perhaps most obviously, the technological advances of the Internet and web-based technologies offer learners and teachers a considerable range of affordable tools and resources. These enable novel approaches to networked learning, change the ways in which knowledge is being imparted and open up new means of engagement. Second, online education allows professionals all over the world to upskill and pursue further qualifications while continuing to work in their jobs. Moreover, working professionals from Africa and Asia are now able to overcome the inadequacies and asymmetries of local educational provisions by enrolling in e-courses delivered by internationally renowned universities.

But who teaches the teachers?

Indeed, a whole new way of learning that is free from the constraints of time, space and pace – but also a whole new way of providing education! Helpfully, from the learner’s perspective, there is a lot of information out there about the ways in which this type of education differs from traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ programmes, and what to consider when registering for e-courses. However, from the teacher’s perspective, surprisingly little has been published about designing and creating online education, and finding practical solutions for pedagogical and technical challenges. Tasked with authoring and tutoring the very first module of INLOGOV’s online MPA, my co-convener and I felt like two fishes out of water. Although, as university teachers and researchers at INLOGOV, we have had much experience of designing and delivering public management programmes for mid-career public servants on a ‘face-to-face’ basis (both in the classroom ‘on-campus’ and ‘in-house’ for sponsoring client organisations in the public and voluntary sectors), the new online MPA seemed a daunting endeavour. Preparing and providing an ‘online’ distance-learning module for a more diverse international group of practitioners, drawn from a wider range of public service contexts and experiences, certainly raised new and partly unexpected challenges for us that called for fresh approaches. Since then we have delivered the module twice – and learned something about how ‘to do’ online education.

‘Doing’ online education from a teacher’s perspective

Working in partnership with the international education and publishing group Deltak-Wiley, we realized early on the need to research and write much of the MPA programme anew. Our existing PowerPoints, although helpful in visually highlighting or synthesizing complex arguments presented in a classroom lecture, were unsuited and reductionist for this mode of teaching. Hence, we spent weeks producing fully scripted learning materials of a high quality and publishable standard, which also featured animated videos and interactive diagrams, timelines and theoretical models that could be expanded or collapsed at the click of a mouse.

Mindful of the international nature of the student group for whom the programme is intended, we recognized the need to ‘internationalise’ our curriculum. This was achieved by several means: we added new literature on international public management and governance in the reading lists; we included a variety of contemporary examples of public management from around the world; we produced a series of short, BBC-documentary-style videos featuring practitioners and researchers from across the globe who discussed their particular experiences of public management and governance in their respective home countries; and we used an array of photo images to portray global diversity in public service delivery.

Encouraging critical reflection in relation to the students’ own experiences of working in public management posed another challenge that required fresh thinking. We tackled this issue by including weekly formative assignments, which asked the participants to share and discuss issues and examples from their own country contexts in ‘Discussion Forums’. These forums enabled us to get course participants critically to engage in the activities, rather than simply to absorb ideas from the text, animated videos, or short film clips. In addition, it firmly placed the students at the heart of learning, thus achieving learner-centricity.

Not having the classroom interaction meant that we needed to find different ways by which the students could develop rapport with, and respect for, one another and so learn from each other. We solved this challenge by making the ‘Discussion Forums’ interactive. In order to attract a good grade, our online students were not only expected to ‘post’ their contributions (by particular deadlines) on the ‘Discussion Forums’, but they also had to respond to the ‘posts’ of at least two others (by further deadlines). For the formal assessment of these postings, we chose to use two criteria: a) ‘intellectual contribution’ to the discussion, and b) ‘contribution to the learning community’ focusing particularly on responsiveness to colleagues’ ‘posts’. We thereby incentivized the learners carefully to read each other’s contributions and offer thoughtful and thought-provoking feedback, constructive advice and mutual support – all of which led to the development of a strong learning-community. We also built in two synchronous sessions, which are specified times when students and instructors hold virtual ‘meetings’ online in real-time. However, what can be done so easily in a face-to-face classroom environment proved rather difficult online. Following initial difficulties in identifying meeting dates and times that suited every student in three different continents and time zones, we encountered even more serious problems during the meetings with both the audio (delays and echoes) and the webcams (requiring too much bandwidth). Clearly, online instructors are not the only ones who still need to mature – the technology does too!

The most important lesson

With our first cohort of students soon due to graduate from INLOGOV’s online MPA, we are expecting systematic feedback and more lessons on what worked, or not, about our online teaching from the participants’ perspective. Not to mention that, as we mature as online teachers and are given the opportunity to tweak and adjust our online classes, and deliver them to new and different student cohorts, our insight and understanding as e-learning providers is bound to increase. However, since I first set out, armed with skepticism and furrowed brows, to join the e-learning (r)evolution, the biggest lesson I personally have learned is how rewarding and of high educational quality an online course can be.

 

If you are interested in more details about our authoring and tutoring of the first module of INLOGOV’s online Masters in Public Administration (MPA), please download our chapter by clicking here.

 

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Following a ten-year professional career as a public policy specialist working for various governments across the world, Dr Abena F. Dadze-Arthur switched to an academic career in public administration, and is currently a lecturer at INLOGOV. Abena teaches courses on various aspects of public management and governance. Her research mainly focuses on non-western and post-western public management approaches.