Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies

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Teaching American Studies Network

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The Teaching American Studies Network, founded in 2020, organises events to support members in developing their teaching quality and in thinking about American Studies pedagogy.

View the results of our 2023 Member Survey

To join the network, please email Lydia Plath.

Steering Group

  • Lydia Plath (University of Warwick), lead
  • Kate Ballantyne (York St John University)
  • Hilary Emmett (University of East Anglia)
  • Miguel Hernandez (Aberystwyth University)
  • Sarah Thelen (University College Cork)
  • Andrew Watts (retired)

Recent publications by network members

Sarah Thelen, Assessment in the Age of AI

Exchange: A Signature Pedagogy for American Studies in the UK, Journal of American Studies 57:1 (2023)

Upcoming Events

April 2024: American Studies, Assessment, and AI (participatory workshop at the Digital BAAS Conference led by Sarah Thelen, University College Cork)

The rise of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) has dramatically changed the education and pedagogy landscape. Assessments have had to be revised – or replaced completely – and those that remain just aren’t quite the same as the question of potential AI “authorship” lurks behind every grammatically correct sentence. The proposed workshop is for anyone concerned about what these changes mean for assessment in their modules or for anyone interested in learning more about what, exactly, AI is and how it works.

This workshop will provide participants with a basic introduction to GenAI (what it is, how it works, its strengths and weaknesses, etc.) and discuss the ways it intersects with thinking on assessment and academic integrity. Participants will then have an opportunity to put ChatGPT (or their preferred GenAI tool) to work on assessments from their own modules or from provided examples. Using the GenAI responses to these assessments, we’ll discuss the ways that specific assessments need to be revised, whether they should be replaced entirely and what this means for the larger question of how to best teach American Studies.

Past Events

January 2024: Reading Group: Kevin Gannon, Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto

We met to discuss Kevin Gannon’s Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto.

Lead: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick)

In this book, Kevin Gannon “asks that the contemporary university’s manifold problems be approached as opportunities for critical engagement, arguing that when done effectively, teaching is by definition emancipatory and hopeful.”

We agreed we would recommend this book to anyone interested in developing their teaching practice. Topics we discussed included:

  • That it was particularly useful to read a book on pedagogy written by someone in the classroom, in our field;
  • That the book built on classic works like Friere and hooks with practical suggestions;
  • To what extent the issues raised in the book were relevant to the UK context;
  • How we can (or should) discuss our pedagogical approaches with our students.

June 2023: Digital Education and AI

As generative AI (e.g. ChatGPT) improves, it will inevitably change education at all levels – as, indeed, it already has! In this session, we discussed our own experiences with and understanding of generative AI and then Dr Sarah Thelen (University College Cork) presented some ways to rethink assessment in the face of the challenges posed by AI. Dr Thelen has published a very useful guide to Assessment in the Age of AI.

March 2023: Pedagogy in a Cost of Living Crisis

We met to discuss issues of poverty, class and inclusion, and how the cost of living crisis impacts our pedagogies.
Reading: NSS Student Cost of Living Report (September 2022)

Lead: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick)

Topics we discussed included:

  • How we seen the cost of living crisis manifest amongst our students;
  • How students are struggling because they’re worried about money, and how this is impacting our ability to teach in the classroom;
  • What (and how much) can we do as teachers and personal tutors, in light of these structural challenges for which we are (probably) not responsible at our universities;
  • How we can contextualise the current crisis in our teaching of histories and literatures of past economic crises.

April 2023: Teaching American Studies Network Event: Teaching American Studies in Britain

This session was held as a networking event at the 2023 BAAS Conference, to discuss a proposed edited collection about Teaching American Studies in Britain.

Leads: Dr Megan Hunt and Dr Lydia Plath

April 2023: Setting Boundaries: Managing Workloads and Expectations in American Studies HE

This session, held at the 2023 BAAS Conference, explored issues of wellbeing, workload, and managing expectations in academic careers. Whether PhD candidates just starting teaching, early career academics juggling multiple teaching posts, colleagues new to full time employment, or more established scholars dealing with the “other duties” required by their contracts, working in UK HE is challenging. The panel drew on their own experiences , discussing how to manage the expectations of students, colleagues, and managers, and offering tips and advice about how to establish boundaries (and stick to them).

Panel: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick); Dr Ellie Armon Azoulay (Newcastle); Dr Catherine Armstrong (Loughborough); Dr Kate Ballantyne (York St John); Aija Oksman (Edinburgh); Joe Street (Northumbria); Sarah Thelen (Cork)

November 2022-January 2023: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom Reading Group

This reading group discussed bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (Routledge, 1994).

Leads: Dr Michelle Coghlan (Manchester) and Dr Nick Grant (UEA)

September 2022: Wellbeing in the Learning and Teaching Space

We read and discussed Liz Brewster et al “‘Look after the staff and they would look after the students’ cultures of wellbeing and mental health in the university setting”, Journal of Further and Higher Education 46:4 (2022) We talked about the relationships between staff wellbeing, student pastoral care, and broader classroom experience.

Lead: Dr Catherine Armstrong (Loughborough)

April 2022: Pedagogical Publishing and Developing a Teaching-Focused Career

This session was held as a networking event at the 2022 BAAS Conference.

Panel: Megan Hunt (Edinburgh), Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick); Dr Hilary Emmett (East Anglia); Dr Zalfa Feghali (Leicester); Dr Chris Lloyd (Hertfordshire)

April 2022: Getting Hired in American Studies

This session was held at the BAAS Conference in 2022. We are aware that the current job market is deeply competitive, as both temporary and permanent posts are few and far between. However, when posts are advertised, we want American Studies scholars to be in the best position to apply, and secure, these posts. With this in mind, participants in this roundtable offered tips, advice, and suggestions about how to survive the job interview, and what interview panels are looking for, for both permanent and temporary academic posts.

Panel Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick); Megan Hunt (Edinburgh); Dr Nick Witham (UCL Institute of the Americas); Dr Christine Okoth (King’s); Dr Miguel Hernandez (Aberystwyth)

The questions we discussed were:

  • One of the most common questions asked in interviews is “Why did you apply for this post” – but it’s also one of the questions that candidates often answer poorly. What makes a good answer to this question?
  • All academic interviews, even those that are primarily teaching focused, will likely include a question about research. How can candidates stand out in the “tell us about your research” question?
  • All academic interviews will also ask about teaching. This might be a question about your teaching philosophy, or a “give us an example of” type question. How should candidates talk about teaching in an interview?
  • The other part of academic work, of course, is the more amorphous “admin”, “citizenship” or “service”. This is where the panel is often trying to get a sense of what kind of colleague you would be. Do you have any tips on how to answer these types of questions?
  • In an interview, you might also get asked about your commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion or your experience of such initiatives. How can candidates best respond to these types of questions?
  • the “curveball” question. I was on a panel recently where one of the questions we asked was “is there anything else you’d like to tell us that our questions haven’t already allowed for”, and this really threw some of the candidates! But it also allowed the strongest candidates to really shine. What “curveball” questions have you either asked or been asked, and how would you recommend candidates approach them?

April 2022: How to Talk Articulately about your Teaching Practice

This session, held at the 2022 BAAS conference, was aimed primarily at postgraduates and early career scholars. It was an interactive workshop designed to support those new to teaching or applying for (teaching-focused) academic posts. Attendees had an opportunity to practice talking about teaching in a professional context, as well as to receive advice about how to make someone else’s content their own and practical tips about inclusive teaching practice.

Workshop leaders: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick); Dr Hilary Emmett ( East Anglia); Dr Sarah Thelen (e Cork); Dr Jon Ward (King’s)

Powerpoint

January 2022: Teaching American Studies to International Students

This session was an interactive workshop designed to share best practice in teaching International Students.

Leads: Dr Candela Delgado Marin (King’s) and Gyorgy Toth (Stirling)

PowerPoint

Further Readings

September 2021: Inclusive Pedagogies in American Studies

We discussed the ideas, theories, and practices of “inclusive pedagogies”.

Lead: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick)

Readings:

Topics we discussed included:

  • The need to broaden what inclusion means: many of us are used to talking about race and gender, but we need to focus more on disability, class and age, as well as the importance of intersections;
  • We need to make a commitment to finding practical strategies that help to engage questions of inclusivity and accessibility in depth, beyond basic requirements;
  • The move to online teaching has required us to think about accessibility and flexibility more; including the use of digital tools (e.g. Mentimeter or Padlet) to foster informal discussions alongside the main seminar discussion;
  • Importance of establishing ground rules with students that are specific and clear, and to make a distinction between students feeling welcome and students feeling comfortable; to encourage students to harness their intellectual potential and power to challenge authority
  • Thinking seriously about when a problem originates in the classroom and when it part of a broader issue – what is and isn’t in our own power to fix and not being too hard on ourselves.
  • Question: Is challenging normativity compatible with building community?

April 2021: Developing a Signature Pedagogy for American Studies in the UK

What comes to mind if we ask “what does it mean to teach American Studies in the UK?” We teach (North) American content in our classes, modules and courses, but do we also conduct our teaching in ways specific to American Studies? This might be in how we approach our materials, how we work with our students and think about our classroom dynamics, how we engage with our multi- and inter-disciplinary forms, and/or how we impart our professional values. Shulman (2005) describes a “signature pedagogy” as “the forms of instruction that leap to mind when we first think about the preparation of members of particular professions” – not just what we teach, but *how* we teach it.

In this workshop at the 2021 Digital BAAS Annual Conference (6-11 April 2021), we discussed what we think are the signature elements of American Studies pedagogy in the UK.

Panel: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick), Dr Rebecca Stone (Warwick), Dr Gyorgy Toth (Stirling), Professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello (Salem State)

Powerpoint

Discussions following this session led to the publication of: Exchange: A Signature Pedagogy for American Studies in the UK, Journal of American Studies 57:1 (2023)

January 2021: Coping with Blended, Socially Distanced, and Online Teaching in American Studies

The Covid-19 pandemic changed our teaching practice in quite fundamental ways. Whether we are in socially-distanced classrooms, in front of computer screens, or some combination of both, we faced a range of pedagogical challenges. This discussion session was an opportunity to share tips and good practice, ask questions and seek advice, and think about possibilities for innovative teaching techniques, as well as provide support for the many of us who found the circumstances a struggle.

Speakers: Dr Stephanie Palmer & Dr Amy Rushton (Nottingham Trent), Dr Gyorgy Toth (Stirling), Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick)

July 2020: First Network Meeting (BAAS Digital Dialogues)

At the BAAS Digital Dialogues held in July 2020, we held a discussion about Teaching American Studies, at which the Network was founded.

Leads: Dr Lydia Plath (Warwick), Dr Tom Wright (Sussex)

July 2019: Teaching American Studies: The Inaugural Conference

This was the first conference of its kind about American Studies pedagogy in UK Higher Education. Building on the increasing numbers of teaching-focused panels at the annual BAAS conference, this immersive residential event provided a space for those interested in teaching American Studies at university level to have in-depth discussions of pedagogical approaches in our field. 

For further information, see the conference website.