• Richard Cincotta
    A wonderful synopsis of the challenges and payoffs of teaching such a course, from someone who has pioneered it. It would be great if you provide access to the syllabus for those interested.
  • Tom Deligiannis
    Thanks for this very interesting discussion. A few points jump out at me as I listened to this conversation.

    I would like to know the level of the courses that you taught, because there seem to be different challenges depending upon the audience and the extent of their backgrounds.

    As well, how much time you have for a course is also crucially important; full term courses provide the opportunity for deep exploration of background changes, while short courses (esp. for professionals) usually mean presenting the theoretical framework first and going from there. However, even with an entire MA program on environmental security, there are often so many issues to explore that I've felt frustrated that it was hard to get into sufficient depth on any one issue.

    Near the end of the talk Jennifer mentioned the challenges of teaching the stand-alone course to people with fixed (or traditional) views of the meaning of security. I understand this challenge, and in my experience I've overcome this issue by starting most courses on environmental security by looking at the trends of global environmental change and demographic change as a way of educating the students to the scale of the challenges facing humanity. Most have no background in this area, and it's a challenge for them, especially to have them internalize the basic science to understand the trends. Perhaps because most of my students have already come from a background in peace and conflict studies, or because their ideas are already predisposed towards normative ideas of peacemaking, it's not hard for them to grasp how the trends we discuss are undermining human security. Right after the global change "teach in" – since I try to get them to teach each other about the trends (works better with grad students) we talk about the meaning of security and debates about redefining security. By this time, they're quite comfortable with the intuitive possibilities that global change can threaten human security in many ways, so it's not a hard sell, and it's then easy to move into the next part of the course in examining the specific hypotheses about environment-security linkages.

    Part 2 to follow,

    Tom Deligiannis
  • Tom Deligiannis
    Another interesting point Jennifer made was on students "not wanting to hear what we don't know". It seems particularly typical of this field that we're hyper-sensitive about explaining the limits of what we know and that we have to justify the methodological approach that we take. It's not hard to understand this, given the methodological fights in the field in the 1990s. However, I wonder whether other fields of international relations or comparative politics as as self-conscious or cautious in highlighting what they don't know as are researchers working in this area? Don't get me wrong, this is probably a good thing, especially in a young discipline. And, it probably coincides with a more general quantitative turn in security studies in the US (a trend not as evident outside the US). But in terms of teaching, these debates about what we can prove and what don't know and about our methods, are very hard to get across to students. Frankly, in my experience, few seem very engaged by these debates. For several years I had weeks of discussion in my courses about methodological disputes in environment-conflict research. We even did some debates in class between opposing groups. In the end, the degree of depth and understanding of these issues reflected in the debates was somewhat superficial. I would like to think that this isn't a reflection on the students or their teacher (that's what I tell myself, at least). I think that it's difficult for students without an intricate background in this field to engage the issues of the limits of our knowledge without a sufficient depth in the research. I've considered dropping or at least paring down the amount of time spent on methodological disputes; the broad sources of disputes can still be discussed as a way of highlighting what we don't know, and this allows bringing in other research from other fields into the discussion, which results in a more satisfying experience, I think – at least at the undergrad level. These kinds of discussions are probably best dealt with in grad courses.

    Thanks again,

    Tom Deligiannis
  • http://www.rhodes.edu/academics/5645_13680.asp Jennifer Sciubba
    Great comments, Tom. Wanted to pass along my website where my syllabi are. Always in flux so suggestions welcome! Certainly the population one will probably change quite a bit by the next time I teach. In fact, it will likely include my forthcoming book (shameless promotion): The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security, Praeger Security International, forthcoming 2010.
    Website: http://www.rhodes.edu/academics/5645_13680.asp
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