Category Archives: For Students

The Politics of Game of Thrones

Daenerys-Targaryen-game-of-thrones-23107710-1600-1200With an average audience of 18.4 million viewers, Game of Thrones is among the most popular TV shows ever produced. Many are drawn to the show for its grand storytelling of love, betrayal, war and power. However, those who study politics see much more beyond the plot. In this session, we will explore the politics of the show by reviewing select video clips and quotes and asking thought provoking questions. How do the themes of Game of Thrones help to inform us about world events today?

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Is Arts Education Ripe for Disruption?

In my companion post (ahem) a few weeks ago, I mused  about the potential for higher education to be vulnerable to the kinds of disruptive innovations occurring in other industries, like newspapers, music, and movies.  This time, I’ll explore a bit more how I see disruptive innovation affecting Arts education, which some see as particularly vulnerable to disruption. Although it’s sometimes easy to miss, Arts education is much more than attending lectures, writing essays and acquiring transferable and marketable skills.  Indeed, as this recent survey indicates, Arts educators would be remiss not to respond to the demands of their ‘clients’ for a greater and more meaningful experience animated by passion, curiosity, and depth.

It’s this complexity that makes Arts education less, rather than more, vulnerable to ‘MOOC-ification’.  The study of Humanities and Social Sciences requires an immersive and sometimes life-changing configuration of influences.  The expression of complex ideas in simple language, the organization and prioritization of research, and the exploration of the human experience from a range of viewpoints requires a commitment much larger than a given delivery system.  Arts education is larger than the acquisition of skills, indeed, referring to the complex processes of critical and creative thought as ‘skill acquisition’ devalues it, and is in many ways beside the point.

None of this is to deny that the institutional mechanisms of Arts education haven’t done some damage to the cultivation of critical and creative thinking.  Large lecture-style classes, cookie-cutter tests and formulaic essay-writing are convenient for educators concerned with conveying mass credentials, and have played their part in the past in reducing costs.  To the extent that Arts education conforms to the industrial practices of other subjects, it remains vulnerable.  However, new means of conveyance cannot yet accomplish the kinds of personal, individualized experience that Arts education aspires to (see the Culture lab as an example of this changing philosophy).

 To the extent that Arts education conforms to the industrial practices of other subjects, it remains vulnerable.

Protest Signs
Political Science emerged from turbulent times.

In addition, it matters that learners experience different Arts subjects in a manner that allows comparisons of their content. Most Arts undergrads take a few different subjects each term, offering the opportunity for cross-fertilization and meta-learning that can’t be accomplished by taking each subject in isolation, or ‘mixing’ and ‘matching’.  For example, my subject of Political Science emerged from a time when the arrival of mass warfare, revolutionary movements, totalitarian governments, and economic dislocations prompted an interest in cultivating citizens capable of making critical judgements based on historical knowledge.  This contextual knowledge of the origins of one’s society was believed to be a social good as well as an individual good.

Can Arts education evolve to meet the challenge of new technologies and disruptive innovations?  There is alot of synergy between the distributed model of online learning, and the more concentrated model of the classroom.  These two learning settings can be complementary.  With individual practice, testing and writing done in a distributed or individual setting, blended learning means making more time for group discussion, interactive question and answer sessions, and customized coaching in a personal or group setting.  Technologies can aid this process by enabling more time for intensive learning experiences when they are most effective, leaving educators the ability to collaborate and customize courses of study to suit their learners.  This can shorten the time necessary to learn.  However, making the most of disruptive innovation for the Arts means rejecting the temptation to reduce and narrow the purposes of Arts education to a specific and transferable set of measurable criteria.  Self-development and intellectual growth do take time, and for many, these experiences should not be rushed. Blended learning, coupled with open educational resources, can also improve accessibility and bring experiences to new learners who may not otherwise have the opportunity, by reducing the price without compromising the value of the experience.

How to Follow the News: 10 Rules of Thumb

After following the news for many years and thinking about world events, I’ve been able to observe some things about news gathering. I’m an advocate of reasoned and dispassionate analysis based on information, but it can be hard to be impartial when so much of the news today is biased one way or another.  However, I don’t believe that reasoned thinking about international events is incompatible with advocacy.   The strongest and most defensible points of view are those that are supported with evidence and with thoughtful and informed reasoning.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to be informed when the media obscures the truth.  The rise of the internet has not made it any easier.  In fact, speculation and accusations are given even a wider audience when things go viral.  So, here is some advice, feel free to take it or leave it, and try to keep an open mind.

  1. There are angels and devils on both sides, but this doesn’t mean the claims and arguments of both sides are morally equivalent.

In the aftermath of rage over the killing of 3 Israeli teens, many Israelis protected Arabs attacked by crowds on public transit.  Many Palestinians have worked inside and outside Israel for peace and understanding between the two sides.   Ordinary people on both sides want the same things everyone wants:  a chance to live peacefully, make a living, and enjoy some freedom.  Nevertheless, the costs of the long conflict have not been borne by both sides equally, and this reflects the large power imbalance between the two sides. This imbalance should be a factor when deciding one’s view.   Here is an analysis that puts this conflict in context, and considers the ethical arguments.  Here is another.

2. Real life events are [almost] always more complicated than they seem.

Folly, lack of foresight, incompetence and brutality can produce unexpected outcomes for all sides.   Indeed, the last few months have seen an unprecedented array of crises emerging in a variety of global locales.  In a highly competitive market, so-called ‘hard reporting’ has been replaced with shallowness at best, and inflammatory styles of reporting at worst  One consequence is that there are few able to offer a strategic analysis of a event.   One must often wait, or dig deeper, to get a better understanding of the big picture.  Try to find out about what happened in the immediate weeks prior to the event, or read about the country and regions involved to get a sense of the context.

3. People and systems are distinct things.

Individuals, whether in a leadership position or not, develop cognitive frames over the course of their lives to understand the world and their position in it.  Both people and systems will actively protect those frames, but systems take much longer to change course, partly because they are supported by longer generational memories. Systems are more permanent, and every system demands allegiance, but be careful not to identify individuals as symbols for systems, they are not the same thing.  People behave differently in a group than they do as individuals.

4. Sometimes good people do bad things, and vice versa.

Beware of the ad hominem argument.  An examination of the actor is often insufficient to explain any given behaviour or action.  A given actor usually cannot be reduced to a single bad (or good) decision.

5. Opportunism is far more common than planned conspiracies.

It is almost never good strategy to organize and plan an attack on one’s own people in order to gain sympathy.   The risks of discovery are high, and the results can backfire.   For example,  some explanations of the Odessa event of May 2nd 2014, in which dozens were killed in street clashes between pro-federalist and nationalist forces in Ukraine, strain credulity by claiming ‘agent provocateurs’ were responsible.  Similarly, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu tried to paint a negative view of the opposition by stating that: “Hamas wants civilian casualties”.   Be skeptical of such oversimplified characterizations and convoluted theories. Recognize that different sides will opportunistically use images to elicit anger and sympathy for their cause.   Have anger, and have empathy.

6. People don’t like inconsistencies, but these are frequent and often deep in human events.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological state that happensPhilosoraptor when information is contradictory. Individuals often go to great lengths to overcome  the discomfort, including ignoring contradictory information, oversimplifying the facts, and narrowing the frame of reference.  Try to recognize these strategies in yourself and others. Try to become comfortable with contradiction, blurriness, messiness, and complexity.

7. Every report becomes part of a track record, don’t forget the past.

Don’t base your decision on a single report, study, or bit of information.  Compare today’s headlines with those of the past. Don’t forget when today’s reports conflict with those of yesterday. Follow stories that are given less attention, so you will know more about them.

8. All sides will try to appeal to emotions.  Beware of manipulation.

The internet and television news are eminently malleable, with out-of-context quotes, selective information, and even photo manipulation. Watch for terms like “appears to be” and for leading questions that raise doubt or provoke.   Think about what the media is choosing to focus on when preparing a story. Consider the effect of the format and phases of revealing a story.

9. Look deeply, look widely, and compare reports from a variety of sources.  Look for hard evidence, not eye witness accounts.

Personal interviews are a mainstay of video reporting.  They are ALL edited, and eye witnesses, even when sincere, are unreliable.

10. Beware of appeals to authority.

Even those with inside knowledge, high levels of education, and recognized credentials can sometimes lie.   People can also be mistaken in their facts and biased by their education.   Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other UN agencies have long established track records and can generally be trusted when other sources are more questionable.  However, they are also not infallible.

 

Student Showcase 2013

Political Science students at Okanagan College this past Fall term have worked very hard to prepare work on cutting-edge political topics and issues.  Students were challenged to analyze a political problem, consider various policy options, and come up with creative solutions.  Students prepared  blogs, analyzed images, presented their work in class, analyzed key actors, reviewed films, and prepared timelines, among many other things.  This showcase is a sampling of some of the best work done this term.  My thanks to all of my hard-working students.  I am blown away with the outstanding work that you do!

Aska Nakamura has put together a timeline of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island Dispute as part of her work in the class Global Politics here at Okanagan College in the Fall 2012 term.  Her timeline is detailed and she relates the dispute to some of the themes of the course, particularly the importance of national interest in creating the conditions for conflict.  For anyone looking for a comprehensive yet detailed history of the dispute, this timeline is a great resource.

Senkaku

 


Chris Munger prepared an image analysis of a pivotal event in the history of world politics: Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev’s famous ‘shoe banging’ incident.  What is interesting about Chris’s description is the way he relates this picture to the larger context of world politics as fundamentally conflictual and anarchical.  Chris has taken a well-known incident and used it to make a valuable point about world politics.

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This image, taken in 1960 of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Premier Nikita Khrushchev while at the United Nations General Assembly, was a short time before the alleged (and infamous) shoe-banging incident. Khrushchev supposedly waved around or banged his own shoe on the desk during the assembly itself. Details of the event are debated (as evident by the wealth of conflicting versions circulating on the internet), but the incident and this photograph of an obviously unreceptive statesman illustrate a key issue in global politics. This issue is the adversarial attitude of global politics. The effectiveness of this international institution will not be argued here, but it is true that the United Nations is the most inclusive international political institution in the world and among the most extensive. Any incident involving shoe-banging (or any version thereof) would hardly be respectful of the institution’s goal of respectful debate, and continued vetoes by permanent security council members stymie the efforts at cooperation that the UN should facilitate. The USSR is an historic example of this.

So what is the greater connection to global politics as a subject? Adversarial attitudes within the UN are easily explained by realist theory to be a natural result of power struggles between sovereign states. However, it could also be a symptom of the realist approach itself. The United Nations, as an idea, is far closer to constructivist thought, as it depends upon norms and histories of cooperation between states to function. When a realist mode of thought is applied, the system breaks down and means such as veto power are employed to prevent cooperation. Realpolitik is incompatible with cooperation toward universal gains, and this is seen again and again as states see issues as divisive or as diplomatic wars to be won. Despite the prevailing paradigm of a state regarding political theory, attitudes should be in line with the agreed to means to achieve goals. One can little doubt the United Nations would be far more effective if members subscribe to a political theory that supports its intent, and constructivism should be more widely acknowledged to achieve this, if nothing else.

Works Cited

Leffler, Warren K. Nikita Khrushchev 1960. 22 September 1960. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons, 2006. Web. 28 September 2012.

URLlink to source:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nikita_Khrushchev_1960.jpg


Kassidy Hoffman’s map of Canada’s forest cover uses information from the World Resources Institute’s website to visualize the progressive loss of forest cover in Canada.  She prepared this work for the course Canadian Environmental Policy. In her description, she emphasizes how Canada must balance the use of forests with forest protection, a difficult call when economic activity demands the use of natural resources to boost GDP.

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Source Link:http://www.wri.org/publication/pilot-analysis-global-ecosystems-forest-ecosystems#data

A Map of Forest Cover in Canada

This map shows the distribution of forests within Canada. The green colour scheme indicates whether the forest is dense or sparse. The areas that are less dense in Canada are mostly alpine areas. I chose to produce a map of forests in Canada in order to demonstrate the importance of preserving Canada’s forests. British Columbia and New Brunswick tend to be the most logged provinces in Canada. Forestry is a very important industry for Canada because it helps the Canadian economy. This coincides with the Staples Theory because lumber is a raw material that Canada highly depends on for economic wealth. This map shows all forested areas; this includes natural forests and replanted forests after logging and/or a natural disaster, such as fires has occurred. Canada’s forests are slowly depleting and eventually the forests in Canada will be nonexistent.

I made this map by using data sources off of the World Resources Institute website and converted it into ArcGIS and converted it into a map. I then manipulated the colour scheme and created a proper legend; I added all of the necessary map elements.

The production of this map is relevant to the course because the map helps to visualize the forestry issues in Canada. The map shows how only parts of Canada are forested; there are no forests in the prairies and in the north where there is too much snow and ice. Sustainable Forest Management is a way Canada looked at sustaining and developing forests in Canada. There have been a lot of conflicts with forestry policies and this map proves forests are essential to Canada and that they need to be protected. Forestry is a big part of environmental politics because Canada needs the lumber; however, it’s a question of how far is Canada going to go when it comes to destroying the forests and realizing it is too late to protect Canadian forests.

Student Showcase

Political Science students at Okanagan College this past Fall term have worked very hard to prepare work on cutting-edge political topics and issues.  Students were challenged to analyze a political problem, consider various policy options, and come up with creative solutions.  They prepared a blog, poster or paper to present their work.  This showcase is a sampling of some of the best work done this term.  My thanks to all of my hard-working students, it was a close competition among some outstanding submissions.  I am blown away with the outstanding work that you do!

Continue reading Student Showcase

Student Opportunities

Directional Signs SlideshowFor a great listing of Student Opportunities in the field of International Development, check out the Okanagan College International Development Careers page here.

  • The Canadian Consortium for Humanitarian Training offers training in disaster and humanitarian response training.   Interested applicants can apply directly on our webpage  or send their inquiries to the Program Manager, Melanie Coutu at melanie.coutu3@mcgill.ca
  • World Student Environmental Network hosts an annual conference. More information: http://www.wsen.org/
  • Looking for a job in the environmental field?  Check out ECO Canada (Environmental Careers Organization): http://www.eco.ca/