This project aimed to trial the first two of a series of engaging podcasts and active learning approaches to assist students to ‘catch up’ on history outside of class and free up class time for more collaborative active learning activities.

  • Course: POLS2409 International Relations of the 20th Century (2nd year cornerstone course, approx. 250 students) 
  • School/Faculty: School of Political Science and International Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: weekly, 2-hour face-to-face lecture session and 1-hour tutorial session, with guest lecturers from other schools
  • Active learning approach: development and use of the first in a series of podcasts to assist pre-class learning, and targeted in-class discussion, as well as a series of in-class active and collaborative learning via both large class and small group targeted discussion and analysis. 

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

This project aimed to address the following issues and outcomes:

  • Student evaluations have revealed that students struggle with historical concepts, and wish they knew more or had a better grounding.
  • Students often do not arrive to university with enough basic historical knowledge, which means that time in lectures must be spent going through history in some depth.  
  • A key skill in international relations is developing theoretical analysis on the basis of empirical knowledge – this is an area in which many students struggle.
  • It was anticipated that a series of engaging podcasts would:
    • assist students with empirical knowledge of relevant historical events
    • ‘model’ how theory can be used to explain historical material, thus improving academic literacy
    • allow students to ‘catch up’ on history outside class and free up class time for more collaborative active learning, some of which use the podcasts as triggers for targeted discussion.
    • help students to better prepare for their 2nd year and build their confidence.

Project innovation team


Active learning approach

This project trialed the development and implementation of the first two of a series of podcasts on specific historical events. Podcasts offer an elegant solution to embedding active learning strategies. Rather than exploring a technique (which may vary in its take-up according to staff interest and ability, and is harder to teach to others), the podcasts will form a repository available to any lecturer in any subject.

The podcasts assist the UQ Student Strategy via: 

  • Extending online learning – the podcasts allow students to learn while off-campus, while travelling etc. They facilitate active learning by freeing up in-class time and assist in-class collaborative learning. For example, they assist flipped classroom techniques, including pre-class learning, use of the podcast as a discussion starter for online discussion (Blackboard) or in-tutorials such as targeted discussion, small group work, and large class interactive learning.
  • Making UQ expertise available to students and the general public – the repository will be freely available for a wide variety of uses, including to assist research and teaching innovation.

Active learning strategies

Innovation Aim / Learning Outcome Activity details


This course trialled the first two in a series of 6-8 podcasts to be developed in total:

  • 1st podcast – Inter-war economic crisis (used aligned Chronological List activity as below)
  •  2nd podcast – 9/11 + Afghanistan.
  1. To provide more historical background into international relations, currently missing
  2. To enhance student understanding of key historical threshold concepts (Myer and Land)
  3. To free-up more lecture time for active learning.

Podcasts act as a trigger for aligned in-class active learning activities as detailed below (and later use of aligned online quiz).

Used a trigger question –e.g. “How widespread was the support for the US intervention in Afghanistan?”.

Later – to develop aligned online quizzes for podcasts.

  1. To provide instant feedback, and thereby assist learning engagement with the pre-class podcasts.
Later – online quizzes directly aligned to the podcast content.

Large class activity:

Chronological list of events – discussing and ordering major historical episodes.

Critical thinking and collaboration within a large lecture theatre context – i.e. to make them feel like a collaborative small class experience. Within large class format – in pairs,  students are provided with a list of historical episodes in big periods via PowerPoint – they collaboratively discuss and place them in the correct order using their own computers or notepads. Then they share back with the group.

Critical thinking Q and large paper report – individual, then discuss/record in groups of four, then full class.

As above.

Critical Q for individual, then group of four, then whole class – e.g. the Interwar Economic Crisis -  does an economic crisis lead to world war? (e.g. rise of populist movements).

Documenting on large paper/share with full group.
Living map of Europe critical thinking – class split into countries. As above.

Students split into large country groups – each group to discuss what's happening in their country at that time and greatest threat – feedback to group.

Tutorial group activities:

Summarise the main argument of one of the readings.
Critical thinking and collaboration within a small group setting.

Summarise the main argument of one of the readings (each week has a textbook reading + two academic articles).

Engaging with the HASS ‘Knowledge-Making Site’ and HASS Peer Mentors.

Assist students with their academic literacy skills via five essay steps and engagement with HASS Peer Mentors.

Link to the HASS ‘Knowledge-Making Site’ and HASS Peer Mentors added to Blackboard. Email out to students about the site, shown in lecture/tutorials.

Deliverables and learning outcomes

The project will eventually deliver eight podcasts available via iTunesU, with hyperlinks from the POLSIS website. The direct learning outcome of this project will be an enhanced ability to understand and reference historical material in essays and exams. The indirect learning outcome will be a greater opportunity for active learning in the classroom. 

Resources and technologies used

  • Readings and background materials were provided on Blackboard, including links to the Faculty Knowledge-Making in the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences site.
  • The first two of a series of podcasts was used as a trigger for targeted discussion.
  • Innovative pictorial triggers via PowerPoint were used within the large class format to trigger interactive collaboration.


Tools and strategies used

  • Student perspective:
    • Quantitative and qualitative – SECaTS 
    • Quantitative and qualitative – end of semester online Survey Monkey survey
  • Academic observations of in-class collaborative learning and targeted discussion 
  • Podcasts analytics – will be available in the future. 

Key findings

Student quotes from SECaTs Sem 2, 2018:

“Super engaging style of lecturing. Was both very informative and humorous and activities in class were good too. Activities are also engaging.”

“The summaries for the tutorials were a very good means to encourage reading and motivate preparation for discussion.”

“I liked the wide variety of the topics covered, as it provided me with a broad pool of knowledge. It was also good that we connected the events of the past to later events and analysed their significance in both when it occurred and now. Good lectures
to attend as they were engaging.”

“The fact that she had very little writing on the slides, and talked through concepts clearly was great! It was very helpful to be able to focus on what she was saying instead of trying to read slides and listen at the same time. The day in history part was also
really interesting. I also found the stories she used to explain concepts were helpful and very interesting. Overall a very enjoyable course!”
“Sarah is engaging and all of her lectures tell a coherent and exciting story. The manner in which she teaches gives you the information to put the puzzle pieces together so you get the answer just before she tells you, which is a thrill. I feel I truly understand and enjoy the content in Sarah's lectures. She is clear and I enjoy the effort put into preparing the lectures: she never turns up and just reads off the slide. I can genuinely say I have never once been bored in one of Sarah's lectures.”

Student end-of-semester online Survey Monkey evaluation

This online student survey is currently underway and results will be uploaded on this page once collated. 

Academic observations of in-class collaborative learning and targeted discussion

The two trial podcast activities (in relation to the podcasts on the interwar economic collapse and the war in Afghanistan) were very successful. The students engaged in lively and informed class discussions during the active learning activities. The students were able to confidently respond to assessment questions regarding these two periods of history. They also mentioned in class that they felt the Afghanistan podcast was particularly useful in studying for their exam.

Project outcomes

Dissemination and further work

The active learning approaches will then be applied to another course, POLS1201 Introduction to International Relations (first year gateway course) in future offerings of the course in 2019.

The podcasts themselves are the major output of this project, and they will be disseminated via iTunesU, and promoted on the school's website and social media channels. These resources will be freely available to a wide range of audiences: the community (teachers in high schools, for example); UQ colleagues in other fields; and other universities. We will conduct a staff seminar on the project and explain the podcasts as part of our annual staff retreat. If successful, we will apply for a larger grant to create more podcasts involving more international colleagues on a wide range of subjects related to the study of international relations.

The podcasts could also be of significant use for colleagues around the university but particularly within HASS to provide basic knowledge that could be integrated into learning. We will seek to present the podcasts to other schools in 2019.