Brighton beach at sunset

Critically (Re)Writing Narratives #IntTLC19

This week I had the pleasure of collaborating with colleagues from around the world at the joint ECPR, APSA, and BISA International Teaching  and Learning Conference 2019 in Brighton, UK ( This year’s theme was “Teaching Politics in an Era of Populism.”

As promised, this blog post contains reference materials from my co-facilitated workshop on the critically (re)writing narratives active-learning assignment. Your patience with my posting is appreciated. As we mentioned, we plan to turn this work into an article, so please only use these materials for teaching purposes:

Critically (Re)Writing Narratives Support

Thank you first and foremost to my co-facilitator, Alex Kreidenweis, whose University of Connecticut International Relations course first inspired us to develop this assignment. Secondly, thank you to all of our fellow educators who participated in the session. I recognize that it’s not often you get put back in the position of an undergraduate. However, your great senses or humor and willingness to have a little fun made this workshop a joy to lead. I will forever remember the activist cats and mice, and the on-point political cat puns that came from your spirited, creative retelling of “Larry the Downing Street cat throws diplomatic shade under Trump’s limo” ( It’s my hope that your students will find this activity just as enjoyable and useful if you choose to include it in the critical literacy section of the next course you teach. Most of all, I hope it helps you communicate core expectations while building classroom community.

Beyond this workshop, I was honored to chair one of the conference’s first panels. It was wonderful to see the variety of approaches to active learning that are helping IR students engage with the global politics in meaningful, academically rigorous, and simultaneously career-relevant ways. The highlight of the conference for me was a paper delivered in that panel by a team from the University of Exeter, a faculty member and three of his impressively poised students speaking together about their course journey. The honest, constructive feedback offered by these students was valued more than I expect that they knew. A thought worth sharing  came from one of these students in the Q&A. He reminded us, in his own words, how important it is to speak with our students about learning objectives and how our activities help attain and/or assess them. He emphasized that students appreciate this clear communication, and it helps keep them motivated to work hard in the course. *If any administrators from Exeter happen to see this post, please be sure to keep this course running. It’s an amazing, innovative course that I am confident has challenged these students intellectually and will help them get jobs after graduation.

Finally, the round-table that I most enjoyed was the discussion about supporting first-year student success. (I’m sure none of my colleagues who know me well will be surprised that I gravitated toward this topic.) What I took away from this was a strong sense of gratitude for the variety of professionals who support students holistically at my institution, and others like it. For example, I have learned so much and been able to help my students grow more than I could have alone through my work with colleagues specializing in career development, community service, residential life, outdoor leadership development, and beyond. In this round-table discussion, I reflected on how special these opportunities for collaboration have been for me. The support I was able to provide for my learning community students, for example, was something that many faculty in the room couldn’t imaging providing because they don’t have that kind of diversely-trained team around them. 

Cheers to you from Brighton, UK. I look forward to returning to Connecticut soon and using what I learned from the conference to prepare for my fall First-Year Writing course, “The Politics of Writing and Writing about Politics.”

POLS 2998.016 “Political Issues: Genocide and Narrative Politics”

Intersession 2016: M-F 4:00-7:00pm

POLS 2998.016

Political Issues:

Genocide and Narrative Politics

Shawna M. Lesseur


“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to  humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

YouTube “The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talks

The Short List

Which would you like to win?

A Novel Group of Huskies

UConn Reads published the Short List for our 2016 community reading project. Three excellent titles, and a tough decision ahead for the committee that selects the winner!

On the list:

I’ve heard great things about Americanah – have you read or heard anything about the titles that made our short list?

Happy Reading!


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Liu Cixin – Recommended Read

A Novel Group of Huskies

Photo of professor stephen dysonProfessor Stephen Dyson (Political Science, UConn) recently published the book Otherwordly Politics: The International Relations of Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica. He comes to our book club with an additional science fiction recommendation for readers, Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy.

“You’re bugs!”

It’s not the message we’re hoping for as we scan the cosmos for signs of intelligent life. But it’s what we get in Liu Cixin’s “Three-Body” trilogy, an epic of mind-bending ideas and innovative strategic thought from China’s most popular science fiction author. (

Take a look at Professor Dyson’s book review and let us know what you think!

Happy Reading!


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The Boys in the Boat: A Tale of College Engagement

A Novel Group of Huskies

Sunrise Over Horsebarn Hill

As I finish the early chapters of The Boys in the Boat, what most poignantly and immediately strikes me is what an ideal novel this is for an Alumni reading group. This is because at the heart of the tale of Olympic competition, life during the Great Depression, and impending war glows a personal narrative highlighting the transformative power of engagement in college.

For Joe Rantz, becoming a west coast UW Husky meant joining a long tradition of scholarship and innovation, much like own, that could help him forge a new path for his life. This college experience also served as a simultaneous engagement with and insulation from major world events, and one that necessitated his reliance on a new family, his college community.  His story is especially harrowing and internationally dramatic; however, it is fundamentally one with which I believe many college graduates resonate…

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July Votes Needed

What do you think about the book options? Have you heard anything great about one of the texts?

A Novel Group of Huskies

We’re about halfway through discussion of our June book and already preparing for our July selection, which means it’s time for another reader vote.

Vote today for our next book! Your choices on the poll include:

  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

In July we’re going to have some fun with non-fiction/historical fiction selections. Which one are you most interested in reading?

Happy Reading!


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It’s Voting Time for the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge

A Novel Group of Huskies

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins  Dead Wake by Erik Larson

To kick-off our Summer Reading Challenge we are opening the polls for a reader vote. The book choices for June are:

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (A Novel Group of Huskies reader recommendation!)
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
We have some fantastic options to choose from for this first book selection, so be sure to cast your vote today!
Happy Reading (or voting)!

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Slow Food to Slow Reading

I added in some (non-academic/professional) slow reading this year, and it has been a great choice. It’s a bit of constructive “human time” in what can be very busy daily life. I would definitely suggest it, especially if you don’t really have the time to add it into your schedule.

A Novel Group of Huskies

There’s a new movement afoot in the world of book enthusiasts called slow reading.

Last fall the Wall Street Journal published an article about slow reading and the benefits of setting aside time each day to slip away into a good book. Of course, here at A Novel Group of Huskies Headquarters (aka my office in Storrs, CT) we heartily endorse this important notion that you should take a break from technology overload and ease into the pages of a great story. For many of us, it might not be a completely clean break from electronics since we’re using e-readers, but it still represents a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of the day and sink into a great story.

Like the slow food movement, it seems like the emphasis of slow reading is a bit of a throwback. “Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying…

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Event Flier

EVENT TODAY @12:30PM: UNIV 1820 UConn Reads: First-Year Students’ Reflections on Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Today is the last day of UConn Reads for 2015! To go out with a bang we’re hosting our own UConn Reads event in the Storrs Center Co-op  to celebrate our experiences with the book. It has been a long, exciting intellectual journey supported by some stellar faculty and staff.

Course Highlights Include:

  • We visited the Benton Museum’s UConn Read’s exhibit for an exclusive tour.
  • Dr. John Volin taught us about sustainability.
  • Dr. Hedley Freake taught us about nutrition.
  • The Office of Undergraduate Research gave us tips and resources to succeed in developing undergraduate research grants.
  • Dr. Steve Zinn took us on a tour of the farms to teach us about UConn Agriculture.
  • And along the way we developed practical research and professional skills:
    • writing,
    • peer review,
    • community learning, and
    • presentation.

For our final student guest blog, we’re happy to welcome back Quinton with a reflection on one of our final project workshop days of the semester. Please enjoy the blog and consider stopping by the Co-op to hear UConn’s first mini-Pecha Kucha and some compelling artistic interpretations of  student-identified topics of relevance. We’re in for everything from backyard gardening to global politics, and even a few cartoon cows for good measure. We hope to see you there!

By Quinton Carmichall

Published with permission

Mock Grant Proposals

As usual, we were pleasantly treated to a variety of snacks from which to choose when we walked into the classroom, but on the condition that we also took these mysterious animal-themed capsules with us. It was then revealed that each animal represented a question the holder would answer regarding the recent project, charging valuable conversation on our shortcomings but also our potential. Regardless of how applicable a grant proposal is to each of us, in the process of making it and reflecting on it, everybody learned a lesson about their work ethic simply by asking their selves the right question.

Nevertheless, class arguably could not just call itself complete ten minutes in. So, we separated into groups – mostly of two – to discuss our individual approaches to our mock grant proposals. Some of us are doing objective projects while others are tackling more subjective issues, so the degree of relevance to the grant proposal varied, yet the degree of preparedness among classmates seemed unrivaled, when I in turn had a partner who could recite her project by the tip of her tongue. In speaking of the differences between those taking objective measures and those developing artistic responses, it was revealed there would be differences between the two in practice.

Those reporting a study with measurements and results will be following the “Pecha Kucha” presentation style in where each slide has a set amount of time before it transitions to the next, forcing the speaker to be concise. Reasonably, there can only be so much time allotted to any given speaker at the Coffee House discussion, so some restraints ought to be made to give those who need more time just that, while limiting those who do not. So, those conducting an artistic presentation would be granted the extra minutes so as not to limit the dynamism of their creativity.

For those of us presenting an artistic project, even where the mock grant proposal represents an objective analysis of our work, it still reliably portrays our more debilitating deficits on which we can improve over the coming weeks. The end slowly encroaches upon our UConn Reads course. When our finite time as a class has become more apparent, it marks the time to shift gears to keep up with the flow of traffic like which our work steadily will begin to appear.