April 28, 2006

End of Course Student Evaluation

War and the World End of Course Evaluation

CriteriaStrongly agreeAgreeNo firm opinionDisagreeStrongly disagree
Clear Objectives98
Module succeeded in Objectives89
Interesting lectures125
Well delivered lectures881
Stimulating seminars125
Easy to participate7741
Feedback on essays1151
Library resources availability1484
Bookshop provision2591

Strongly Agree70 (45%)
Agree54 (35%)
No Firm Opinion23 (15%)
Disagree6 (3.9%)
Strongly Disagree0 (0%)

Qualitative Feedback

Fascinating subject material and range that was covered
I enjoyed the way I was encouraged to explore things that I found interesting
Excellent course materials
Really good, wide range of topics including contemporary issues (Iraq);
Interesting seminars and exercises – tutor was always interested in what we had to say, which made it easy to contribute and made me want to contribute (which doesn’t happen very often!)
Interesting exercises
Was really interesting, original and diverse: had a chance to look at unusual events not often studied
Course very enjoyable and well–taught
Inspired me to do the ‘war and society’ angle
Content was varied and challenging, some fresh [material] and some revisited with a new ‘take’ on it
Finished the course feeling I had many different opinions on it
Learnt about what the brief said I would; found the subjects most interesting
You could write essays about the subjects you found most interesting
Interesting, course delivered through a variety of media
Interesting, varied course
Wide range; a lot of choice
The points and issues raised in the seminars
Variety; long list of books made the seminars varied and helped with library book availability
Excellent seminars
Course very interesting and stimulating covering a wide range of topics, also teaching the social aspect [of war] which dispelled the thought that military history is boring

Sometimes felt lost as I did not have the background knowledge
Too much information in lectures sometimes
Some topics seemed slightly rushed
Can be overwhelming in scope
Early on, not enough library books [actioned] (2)

Weekly seminars
More access to the basics of complicated topics
A field trip
General overview at the start
Little more detail in background to specific seminar sheets
Essay section in handbook to be broken down into subtopics [note: actioned]
Put PowerPoint presentations on the web
More precise and prioritised reading lists (2)
Maybe fewer topics in greater depth
Just more books in the library – but understand the difficulty of this in the first year of a course and the books I have got have been really good
Recommend chapters in books

Essay feedback and encouragement has helped me not oly for this module byt for my first year in general
The teaching was thorough – and so much commitment
Vastly knowledgeable – able to provide information and insight on essentially any issue/fact of the course
Fantastic – by far the most enthusiastic tutor I have
Excellent essay feedback – tutor always took the time to go trough it thoroughly and were always available for help
Very knowledgeable tutor – knew everything we ever asked
Interesting, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, encouraging, detailed and constructive essay feedback
Lively, interesting, well–informed
Seminars varied
Lectures approached from new perspective (eg–non–West)
The lectures were extremely interesting and well–given
The music and video clips in the lectures were a great idea
The exercise [Conflict Resolution] was original and very interesting
Very good
Very good; lots of interaction – especially liked the role play at the end
Varied and interesting lectures; personal anecdotes added interest
Knowledgeable, informed teaching; helpful feedback
Good participation in seminars
Good seminars, informative lectures
Tutor approachable and interesting
Excellent tutor – good and helpful
Seminars very interesting and easy to get involved
Role play seminar was fun and made people think
Tutor really enthusiastic, really interesting: we could have our own input
Great essay feedback helped me to develop my essay style

Too fast in lectures (4)
Seminar materials not always accessible because of library
Lectures quick but got better (3)
Too much information during one lecture to take in and make notes about
Need to involve everyone in discussions
Maybe too much input in seminars
Hard to adjust for bi–weekly seminars when all others are weekly

Slow down in lectures and encourage quieter people to speak in seminars
Consider video, website and archive options within seminars if possible to enhance understanding
More detail on topics in the lectures on sheets [on–line supporting notes]
Conflict Resolution exercise could be based on actual situations
Tutor talk less in seminars maybe (2)
Weekly seminars and longer lectures (1.5 hours)

Personal Development Planning (highlights)
Time management
Broaden reading, more challenging books
Feel more confidant and learned a lot from this course (2)
More reading (3)
Now look at things from a new angle
Will apply my understanding to new approaches, non–Western ones
Need to prepare more
Take more notice of essay feedback
Have found many areas of history that I am now really keen to research and look into further
Did more reading for this than other modules

Tutor's Responses
I am glad that everyone enjoyed the course which is indeed challenging, contemporary and interesting. I am delighted that you were happy with the content and delivery of the course and I will try to slow down in lectures, whilst providing more comprehensive supporting materials so that everyone can concentrate on the ideas and not the detail.

I think I would have liked weekly seminars too (I am not sure about 1.5 hour lectures though!!), but the problem is the hours that I am paid to do by the university. Next year I will be willing to commit to additional hours in a different setting (see previous blog entry on the use of the Reinvention Studio). This will mean that there will be seminars every week, but three of them will be 'whole course' attendance and we will work together, or in small teams, in the Reinvention Studio on areas that you will not have to do preparatory reading for – all the materials, texts and sources will be provided on the day. The focus will be on interactivity, discussion and preparation.

The highlight of the course was, I hope, the Conflict Resolution Simulation Exercise and the feedback on this was great. See the page entitled 'Conflict Resolution Exercise' from the front webpage of the module War and the World. Everyone worked really hard and I thank you for your dedication.

A fieldtrip is planned for the first term next year to the battlefields of France and Flanders.

I like the idea of putting PowerPoint presentations and some supporting text on the web, perhaps along with podcasts too. I am looking into the technical side of this and so far ITS have approved the idea. I am also planning to video the lectures and clips of these will appear or be archived for people to revisit.

More books, more precise reading, more recommendations – yes, these will follow. I am in the process of making a closer match between what we hold at warwick and what I had originally suggested to read. I am ordering new books for the next year to fill in the gaps, but budgets are limited.

Thanks for all these suggestions and for pointing out my mistakes. Keep them coming. We can all learn and I will strive to improve this course, not least because I am so passionate about it. I can only apologise for taking up too much of the 'talking time' in seminars – I think that must be evidence of my enthusiasm – but apologies for that.

Getting good feedback means a great deal to me, and I would like to pay a final tribute to all who took part in the course. There is also a tinge of regret that this is the end of the module. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I am delighted that so many of you feel the same way as I do.

Bon Voyage – and good hunting.
Rob Johnson

April 27, 2006

Potential uses of the new Reinvention Studio

The idea is that students will study a variety of themes relating to war in history (in the twentieth century) as part of their ‘War and the World’ option, as they do at present. Between the lectures on these themes, which are still explored in seminar discussions, students will be encouraged to investigate how conflicts are represented, remembered and memorialised, and how various states and non-state actors have attempted to reconstruct communities and their infrastructure after conflicts. This will be done in the Reinvention Studio. There will be sessions, all emphasising the opportunity to take a different perspective, on:
•How combat is represented in text, literature and art (using a variety of source material)
•The contrasts between the imagined spaces of war (battle maps, air photos, official photographs, war films) and the real spaces of war (battlefields, devastated urban areas, military hospitals, prisoner of war camps)
•The memorialisation of war (ceremony, rituals, war cemeteries, monuments, art and literature)
•Popular war history and popular war memory (looking at veterans’ and survivors’ accounts, oral history techniques)

  • Military fashion and militarism
    The Studio will also be used for:
    •Depth studies of particular conflicts likely to be the destinations for students (Potentially these could be: Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, France-Algeria, Britain-Malaysia, Bosnia-Serbia-Croatia, Israel, Mozambique, Uganda using maps, textual and visual sources)
    •Planning meetings for destinations (mapping the locations for study, arranging finances, accommodation, transport, agencies’ liaison) and video diary training/editing.

Students Feedback on the Simulation

Rating by the students
Overall Rating: Excellent – 100%
Degree of challenge – 97% high or very high, 3% adequate
Degree of fun – 100% ‘good fun’ or ‘great fun’
Degree of learning – 60% 'very much'; 40% 'quite a bit'

Some further remarks and suggestions on developments by students:
What would you describe as the best things about the activity which should be repeated?
The ‘realism’
Having to think on your feet
Making me think through the situations and the issues
Getting insight into the processes of the real situations we have studied
Its originality
Its excitement, competitiveness and fun
Having to think about the points of view of two different countries on the verge of war
Having to respond to ‘news flashes’
Having to make difficult decisions
The Press Conferences were good
Learning the difficulties of negotiating
Discussion points were great
The fact that you were being filmed
The good mix of planning and immediate response situations
Devising plans of how to respond to events
Having to present your stance to others

What would say needs improving?
More time to research responses, or for the final press conference
More from the terrorists
Make prepared statement for the first round [in fact this was suggested]
Maybe run over two seminars
More time for camera work
More people involved [this is the group where two were absent without notification]
More details of the tasks beforehand
Possibly use real countries and situations (but maybe keep the room for manoeuvre by the fictional ones)
Nothing – it was great
peace conference on a subsequent day (to allow formulation of peace process)
What would you say needs to be axed?
Nothing (100%)

What other comments would you like to make?
Enlightening and very enjoyable
Really good fun – opened up my eyes to how difficult diplomacy must be
Great fun – so many points to consider to retain peace; really good exercise and very thought-provoking
When people dressed up, the situation seemed even more real
Thoroughly enjoyable
Was extremely interesting, great fun and the best seminar I’ve ever had at Warwick
Brilliant originality – best seminar I’ve attended
The updates were really good allowing situation to change and I had to think about a reaction to this
Want more time on this

April 24, 2006

Reflections on the Conflict Resolution Simulation Exercise

conflictresolveToday was the first day of the Conflict Resolution Simulation Exercise and, on the whole, it was a success.

Activity Briefing
Each seminar group is divided into:
One/Two – representatives of ‘Tajbekstan’
One/Two – representatives of ‘Kaskyrstan’
One – United Nations representative
One – United States representative/insurgent (depending on numbers)
Rest – International media (Reuters/AP), with a camera and video

The following scenario briefing was issued (along with individual, secret briefings)
Situation: General Outline
Insurgents of ethnic-Tajbekstan extraction have carried out guerrilla raids from mountains inside Kaskyrstan against regular forces of that country. On 5 January 2006, a logistics depot was attacked with rockets and small arms, whilst an airbase was mortared. The following day, as Kaskyr forces deployed the remote mountainous region, two bombs were detonated in the capital Bishkent, killing a Kaskyr politician, two bodyguards and 4 civilian bystanders. The Kaskyrs have condemned the attacks and ordered their ambassador to represent their views to the Tajbek government. The Tajbeks deny any involvement with the insurgents.

Historical background
The two states are both former Soviet republics but their antagonism is far deeper rooted. In the eighteenth century, the two peoples waged unremitting war across the areas they both claim as homelands. By the nineteenth century, both sides had clarified their territorial claims and fought two more bloody wars using imported Russian weapons. The Kaskyrs managed to envelop the last remaining field army of the Tajbeks and destroyed them at Kholdja. However, in this apparent moment of disaster, the Tajbeks appealed for Russian assistance and the Kaskyrs were defeated by a combined Russo-Tajbek force. Both states were then annexed by the Russian empire in 1885 and were turned into communist republics in 1918. In 1991, both were granted independence, and an insurgent force, the NFTY (Nazionale Fryntiyii Tajbek Yungtillii, National Liberation Front of Tajbekstan) began a war to wrest the strategic mountains of Kholdja from Kaskyrstan. A ceasefire was declared in 2001 when the NFTY leader, Khondamar, was killed by a Kaskyr airstrike.

Map (to follow)

The exercise therefore begins with students being given a briefing paper for their 'character' in advance. They have to formulate a 'strategy' and consider how to respond to others.

There are then a series of 'serials', that is, 'events' which complicate the situation. Students have to respond to these and give press briefings (which are filmed), respond to press questions, search for the means to establish peace/fulfil national agendas, write a communique and a webpage.

The exercise lasts two hours.

Feedback is beginning to come in, but my own impressions are:

  • the efforts the students went to far exceeded my expectations
  • it proved as challenging as I had hoped it would be
  • removing the boundaries (by giving total freedom of action), pushed students out of their confort zone, was disconcerting but effective – it was more realistic
  • it was fun
  • the video, maps, briefings and space worked well
  • it made everyone think – including me – about how you preserve/restore peace in an insurgency
  • the outcomes were verye realistic – from the loss of control felt by Separatists, the frustration of not obtaining desired concessions, the exasperation with terrorists, the pressure of domestic public opinion.

The areas that need to be adjusted are:

  • the exercise needs to be longer – no reason why it can't run for a whole week.
  • groups could be increased to 10–12 (some didn't turn up which is annoying)
  • we need some mechanism that allows for advanced bookings of rooms and equipment (LG can't let me do this: has to be students) – so make this part of the initial pre-easter briefing.
  • the Learning Grid is packed this time of year (revision): is there another space (with conference room, workstations and smart screen)? – NB the conference room was the best

Feedback so far
Some wanted clearer objectives at the start but I want to try and avoid proscribing the event. National objectives (to be published later) could incorporate some mission statements.

Overall rating so far
Excellent – 100%
Degree of challenge – 100% high or very high
Degree of fun – all good fun or great fun
Degree of learning – all 'very much' or 'quite a bit'

Some furtherl thoughts on developments:
Keep name badges
allocate spaces
additional serials not needed
peace conference on a subsequent day (to allow formulation of peace process); the whole exercise over three days.
international media to produce updates (on flip pad, as analysis, and – on the final day – as a web page)
webpages after the first day (and allow editing time for the video clips so they can be seen at the end of the exercise)
spare camera batteries

Students' suggestions to follow…

April 18, 2006

Region in Turmoil

Region in Turmoil: South Asian Conflicts Since 1947
Review of Region in Turmoil by University of Chicago Press

Johnson, Rob A Region in Turmoil: South Asian Conflicts since 1947. Distributed for Reaktion Books. 256 p. 5–1/2×8–1/5 2005 Series: (RB-CW) Reaktion Books – Contemporary Worlds
Paper CUSA1 $24.95 1–86189-257–8 Fall 2005
South Asia has been the setting for some of the century's most violent invasions, the Western world's bloodiest defeats, and a volatile geopolitical brew of religions, ethnicities, and nationalism that sends unsettling ripples through the global balance of power even today. Rob Johnson writes here the engrossing history of the individual conflicts that have engulfed the states of South Asia during the last half century.

A Region in Turmoil offers a new perspective on the area, drawing together the conflicts of South Asia and examining them in local and global contexts, from the end of the Western colonial empires through today's global efforts to combat terrorism. Johnson's incisive analysis breaks down the historical and political roots of the conflicts and departs from traditional Western-centric paradigms to reveal heretofore overlooked South Asian viewpoints on the conflicts and connections among the wars. He probes the causes, contexts, and conclusions of the conflicts, ranging from the enduring insurgency in Myanmar to the struggle of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the unrest in the Punjab and Assam states, the Bangladeshi war of independence, and the intractable struggles in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

The twenty-first century opened with South Asia front and center on a turbulent political stage: the region is not only the designated frontline for the "war on terror" but also home to the newest nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. A Region in Turmoil addresses this critical contemporary crisis with an invaluable analysis of the region and its complex history, making it essential reading for historians, policymakers, and anyone who reads the front page of the daily newspaper.

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