Category Archives: Welfare State

Back to School: Online Edition (2)

When my co-teacher Janna and I set out to redesign our normally face-to-face course to accommodate the pivot to online learning this past semester, we were not sure what to do. The Covid-19 lockdown seemed to call for an altogether new approach to online teaching. In three blogs posts, we’ll describe how we revised our course design, the practicalities of lockdown teaching, and why our students called our course “the gold standard of online teaching” by the end of the semester.

Part 2: The practicalities of lockdown teaching

In Part 1 of this short series, I outlined our approach to course design, which combined synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. Our aim in the course was to create an inclusive learning environment for those students able to attend our weekly online seminars as well as those students who followed the course asynchronously. In this post, I will address how we put our initial ideas into practice. In short, we found out that three things proved to be particularly important when teaching online during a lockdown:

  1. Take the small talk seriously: making space in our course for chitchat and non-teaching related banter helped create an online community between us and our students. It made students more at ease, when participating in the online chats and breakout sessions. They also indicated feeling more comfortable signaling to us, when they were struggling with the course.
  2. Make connections between synchronous and asynchronous learners: having to take a course remotely is difficult enough, let alone doing mostly on your own. We wanted to make sure that asynchronous learners did not feel as if they were excluded from what was going on in the online seminars. We made use of the interactive features on the course management page (discussions, blog posts, Wikis) and created joint exercises for synchronous and asynchronous learners to overcome this obstacle.
  3. Make sure to check in: in our department, few students make use of office hours. We therefore feared that remote learners might not contact us, when struggling with the course. Our solution was to make attending our office hours part of the participation grade. This way, we gave a strong signal that attending office hours was expected from students. It helped us give extra attention to students who needed it.

Running the live seminars

Each week, we would meet our students for three hours during an online seminar. The seminars took place in a Kaltura Live Room, the online teaching platform acquired by our university. The Live Room made it possible for us to show slides, use a whiteboard, share our screen, have students work in break-out groups, and several other things that helped approximate a face-to-face classroom setting. Managing multiple functionalities at once proved difficult. Since we were co-teaching, one of us would lecture or lead discussion with the students, while the other person would monitor the chat or activate tools when needed.

We made sure to start each seminar with some small talk, with topics ranging from Netflix recommendations to the small joys of freshly baked pastries and park picnics during lockdown. Small talk proved to be important for our seminars for several reasons: it introduced a semblance of normal social interactions in our course; it opened the discussions in the chat, making students more comfortable to contribute; and it allowed us to do a quick check before each seminar to see how everyone was doing.

It is important to note that we did not shy away from sharing our own experiences with the students. After one of us had a bad day, about half-way into the course and into the lockdown, and expressed as much during the small talk, several students expressed feeling more comfortable admitting that they were struggling as well. In hindsight, this became one of the most appreciated features of our course (see also below on course evaluations).

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building ceiling classroom daylight

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our seminars then followed a standard structure. Having three hours at our disposal, we would dedicate the first hour to a short lecture. One of us would talk, supported by slides and other visual aids. The other would monitor the chat. We made sure to make the lecture interactive by including brief surveys, pose questions for students to answer in the chat, or share links to additional online resources. The lecture would end with a short assignment, related to the week’s lecture topic. During the second hour, students worked together in break-out groups to do the assignment. While the assignment would rarely take a full hour to complete, we wanted students to have enough time to take breaks and to chat amongst themselves. For this reason, we did not enter the break-out groups, unless invited by the students (for instance, when they had a question). The third hour then was dedicated to presentations: the various groups would report back on their completed assignments and some students would present their blogs. We would end each seminar with a general discussion, to which students could contribute via webcam or chat.

For the asynchronous learners, we recorded the lecture component of each seminar. Break-out groups and class discussions were not recorded. We feared that students present in the online classroom would be more reluctant to actively participate, if their comments and remarks were ‘on-the-record’. After each seminar, we would post the lecture video on our learning management system (Blackboard).

We added also several features on our learning management system that would help asynchronous learners understand the learning materials and keep engaged with the course. First, we created several discussion threads, where students could pose questions. One thread was dedicated solely to organizational matters to the course; others were structured around each course week and invited questions of a substantive nature. Second, we created a glossary of difficult terms and concepts from the course readings, for which we used the Wiki function in our learning management system. Students were asked to post any terms they were struggling with or to post definitions of listed concepts that they already knew. Finally, we posted students’ blogs on the course page and asked students to use the comments function to ask questions or provide feedback on the blogs.

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woman writing on a notebook beside teacup and tablet computer

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

Synchronous/asynchronous interactions

While we designed our course page on the learning management system predominantly with the asynchronous learners in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to see it helped forge connections between synchronous and asynchronous learners in our course: students answered each other’s questions in the online forums and they engaged in lengthy discussions around the blogs, sometimes over several weeks. To a large degree, these interactions were unforeseen. While we had aimed to incentivize students to interact with each other by giving them a participation grade (weighed at 20% of the final grade), our students had initially misunderstood our instructions to mean they were assessed either on synchronous learning activities or on asynchronous learning activities. When synchronous learners used the interactive features on the learning management system, they told us they did so for their own enjoyment of communicating with other students.

One of the mechanisms at our disposal were the exercises that we gave students in the online seminars to work on in breakout. We would distribute the same exercises to the asynchronous learners, who would e-mail us their completed work. The exercises always involved a small research task, that helped connect the themes from the course readings to current events. To give an example: in our week on corporate social responsibility, students explored public corporations’  charitable giving and other responses to the corona virus pandemic and compared these against the measures taken to benefit the corporations’ shareholders. During the live session, each breakout group had done research on some of the world’s largest firms. We collected the results in a shared Google Drive file, to which asynchronous learners would add the findings from their own self-study efforts. The result was a collectively assembled dataset. Curious about other exercises? Click here.

Finally, we wanted to create a welcoming environment for students to interact with us, the course instructors. Again, we predominantly had asynchronous learners in mind. Since we would not meet our students in person for the duration of the course, we were afraid that we would not be able to find out, when students struggled with their coursework during these strange times. We therefore included attending online office hours in our participation rubric, hoping to incentivize students to reach out to us. This worked out as expected: over the course of seven weeks, we spoke with almost all asynchronous learners in a one-on-one setting. While most conversations initially covered assignments or other substantive questions related to the course, they also provided an opening to talk about the – sometimes very serious – situations in which our students found themselves during the lockdown. In some cases, we were able to direct students to support services provided by our university; in other cases, we simply offered a listening ear. All in all, our office hours resulted in very meaningful conversations with our students, that we may not have had under normal circumstances.

Up next: how students experienced our online course

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Back to School: Online Edition

When my co-teacher and I set out to redesign our normally face-to-face course to accommodate the pivot to online learning this past semester, we were not sure what to do. The Covid-19 lockdown seemed to call for an altogether new approach to online teaching. In three blogs posts, we’ll describe how we revised our course design, the practicalities of lockdown teaching, and why our students called our course “the gold standard of online teaching” by the end of the semester.

Part 1: Synchronous versus asynchronous learning – Why choose? 

The graduate-level course Markets in the Welfare State is generally the highlight of my teaching year. It’s an elective on the topic of my research, meaning it’s that rare treat of a course in which I get to teach the topics I enjoy the most to students with a strong interest in the subject  matter. This year, I was joined by Janna Goijaerts, PhD student and teacher-in-training at Leiden University.

The course started only a few weeks after our university had made the pivot to online teaching due to the corona virus pandemic. This meant that Janna and I had to radically reverse our standard course design. Like so many university teachers, we struggled with the choice between synchronous and asynchronous teaching. While educators on social media seemed to strongly prefer either one or the other, we were not so sure.

Our compromise was a course design that allowed students to do both: attend weekly online seminars or follow the course in their own time via the learning management system. We made sure to incorporate various interactive features. It worked. Both student performance and evaluation scores were up from the regular edition of the course. One student even deemed our course “the gold standard of online teaching.”

Hyperbole aside, we believe that we found a way to make online teaching enjoyable for both students and teachers who are largely used to face-to-face teaching, while not sacrificing performance. In the following three posts, we will therefore outline the main elements of our course design, describe how we ran our course, and report back on how students experienced our course.

We hope that our experience may be useful to other teachers, who like us are at the start of another semester of online teaching.

Reconsidering our course design

The pivot to online teaching proved to be more consequential to our course than ‘simply’ transforming a face-to-face course to an online setting. While the course normally attracts only around 15 students or so, this year more than 40 had signed up. This meant that Janna and I had to reverse our envisioned course design, once it became clear that social distancing would prevent any regular teaching. We had to rethink several elements of the course, such as our normal reliance on small group discussions and the substantial number of written assignments.

Like so many university teachers, we struggled with the choice between synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Synchronous learning refers to a situation, whereby students learn at the same time. Asynchronous learning occurs, when students learn at different times. Both terms refer to online education, whereby students are not in the same location when they learn. While many educators on social media seemed to strongly prefer either one or the other, we were not so sure. We asked ourselves:

How do we create an inclusive learning environment that is attentive to the needs of students who may be prevented from participating synchronously in our course, while at the same time serving the needs of students who prefer the structure and sociality of synchronous learning?

Our students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. While most students are of Dutch origins, around one-third are internationals from all over the world. The Dutch students typically stayed in their dorms or temporarily moved in with their parents during the lockdown. Many (but certainly not all) international students traveled home to be with their families. Some students found themselves isolated and by themselves during the lockdown, others combined their studies with jobs or family care and felt overwhelmed. This diversity means that any choice for either synchronous or asynchronous would necessarily exclude certain students from our course.

Two learning tracks

Having already taught courses online, I felt confident enough to answer our question with a “why not do both?” So we designed our course specifically with two forms of participation in mind. The first option was to participate synchronously in the course. This meant attending weekly live seminars on Wednesday mornings between 9:15am and 12pm. The live seminars were the online equivalents of our regular face-to-face meetings. The live seminars consisted of short lectures on the course readings, presentations of cases, short exercises, and group discussions. Attendance in the live seminars was not mandatory, but we did expect active participation during these sessions.

We did not use the full three hours for our live seminars. Instead, we divided the time available into three timeslots. In the first hour, we would present a lecture, supported by slides. During the second hour, students would meet in break-out groups to do a collaborative exercise. During this time, students were also free to schedule breaks as desired. In the third hour, we would meet back in the online classroom for a plenary discussion of the exercise.

The second option was to participate asynchronously in the course, by which students used the interactive features on the course management system in their own time. Instead of attending the live seminars, students could view the video recordings of the lecture component of the seminars. Students did individual versions of the seminar exercises in their own time. They could comment on blogs or contribute to the course Wiki. Students were also strongly encouraged to make an appointment for online office hours at least once during the course.

Students were also welcome to do a combination of both options (e.g. participate in the live seminar one week, participate asynchronously in another week).

(post continues under table)

Table 1: Types of course participation

Synchronous

Asynchronous

Attend live seminars

View online lectures

Pose
or answer questions during lectures

Pose
or answer questions in discussion forums

Work
with other students in breakout groups

Do
seminar exercises in your own time

Take
a leadership role in breakout groups (moderator, scribe, reporter)

Contribute to course Wiki

Contribute to group
discussions

Comment on blog posts

Present
your blog during a seminar

Attend online office hours

 

Assessment

Combining two forms of teaching and learning meant that we had to adjust our assessment strategy. The first thing we did was to reduce the number of paper assignments from two to one. Instead of writing a short paper at mid-term, we now asked students to write a blog around a recent socio-economic crisis measure taken  in response to the Covid-19 crisis in a country of their choice. Students were encouraged to write about the same crisis measure in their final paper at the end of the course. Blogs were posted on Blackboard for other students to read and comment on. Synchronous learners also had the option to present their blogs during a live seminar.

A second major change was to add a participation grade to the course. This might seem counterintuitive, considering our intention to accommodate students who were unable to participate extensively in the course. Yet, we felt it important to both incentivize and reward any form of participation that students were able to put into the course. This meant, for instance, that we considered attending the live seminars of equal weight to commenting on a blog post. We made sure that students could earn a passing grade, even with minimal participation (see our rubric here). This way, we hoped to incentivize engaged participation in the course, while simultaneously recognizing that not all students could participate to the same extent as in a face-to-face course.

A final consideration was how to keep tabs on students, who would participate asynchronously in our course. We knew that students sometimes feel uncomfortable reaching out, if they need help. With our asynchronous participants, we would not actually have the types of interactions that would help us assess whether or not they struggled with the course. We therefore asked students to send us any exercises they did in their own time, which we would briefly check. We also strongly encouraged them to make appointments for online office hours. To further incentivize this, we included office hours appointments in our participation rubric. This ensured that, by the end of the course, we had spoken to each asynchronous learner at least once.

Up next: read how our lockdown-proof course design worked out in practice.

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SASE Mini-Conference Day 2

It’s the second and final day of our SASE Mini-conference on The Welfare State in Financial Times. Today, we start with a panel on financialization and state transformation (see details below). We conclude our mini-conference with a panel on financialization and the changing face of welfare.

Panel: Financialization and State Transformation (15:00-16:30 CET)

SASE4

Panel: Financialization and the Changing Face of Welfare (18:00-19:30 CET)

SASE5

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SASE Mini-Conference Day 1

Today, we’re kicking off our long-awaited SASE mini-conference on financialization and the welfare state. Organized by Jeanne Lazarus, Daniel Mertens and myself, the mini-conference aims to explore the complicated new ways in which social and financial policies have become entangled in contemporary welfare states. The contributions to the mini-conference map the ongoing financialization of the welfare state in contemporary political economies by focusing on the introduction and expansion of financial tools and mechanisms in public and private welfare provision. The contributions study how welfare states and other social groupings have debated and introduced new public policies and financial tools that promise to protect against growing financial risks in everyday life. Looking at these promises of protections through the market requires a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of the welfare state than the scholarship’s traditional focus on decommodification.

Even though we are not able to meet in person in Amsterdam this year, we have been able to put together an exciting online program covering multiple dimensions of financialization in the realm of social policy and the state. Today’s program includes a panel on the political economy of financial sector practices, regulation and macroeconomic functions; financialization and household debt; and financialization and pensions. For details, see below.

Panel “The Political Economy of Finance Sector Practices, Regulation and Macroeconomic Functions” (10:00-11:30 CET)

SASE1

Panel “Financialization and Household Debt” (15:00-16:30 CET)SASE2

Panel “Financialization and Pensions” (18:00-19:30 CET)

SASE3

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Postdoc for DEEPEN Project

I am looking for a postdoctoral researcher to join the NORFACE-funded project  “Democratic Governance of Funded Pension Schemes.” Applications can be submitted until June 23 via the Leiden University website.

Post-Doctoral researcher for the NORFACE project  “Democratic Governance of Funded Pension Schemes

Description of the vacancy

Leiden University’s Institute of Public Administration is looking for a post-doctoral researcher to join the research project “Democratic Governance of Funded Pension Schemes” (DEEPEN) for a period of three years at 1.0 FTE. This position is made possible by a grant from the New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe (NORFACE) Network. The project explores the democratic governance of capital-funded occupational pension schemes and investigates how governments, regulators and labor market actors govern funded pensions and whether participants are satisfied with pension fund performance. The project focuses on Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Spain. The project combines quantitative analysis of survey data with comparative case studies based on elite and expert interviews and analysis of primary and secondary documents.

The postdoc will be part of the research team at Leiden University, led by Dr. Natascha van der Zwan. Other research teams are based in Austria, Ireland and Spain. The postdoc will conduct case studies of selected occupational pension schemes in the Netherlands to investigate the decision-making processes that link welfare provisions to financial markets. The postdoc will also contribute to comparative research on the regulatory context of occupational pensions in the project countries.

Key responsibilities

  • Conduct independent and collaborative research on the democratic governance of capital-funded occupational pension schemes;
  • Conduct elite and expert interviews in the Netherlands to gather information on the individual cases selected for analysis;
  • Collect and analyse information on the regulatory context of occupational pension provisions in the Netherlands;
  • Disseminate the project’s findings as co-author in high-ranking international peer-reviewed journals, conference presentations, policy reports and other relevant formats;
  • Collaborate in presenting the project to key stakeholders, academics and policymakers/practitioners working on occupational pensions.

 Selection criteria

  • Candidates hold a PhD in political science, sociology, economics, organization studies, geography or another relevant discipline;
  • Candidates have a strong command of qualitative research methods;
  • Candidates have a promising publication record that includes publications in international refereed journals;
  • Candidates have a proven ability to communicate research findings to non-academic audiences, e.g. through publications aimed at a broader audience, media work, etc;
  • In addition to proficiency in English, a good command of Dutch is considered an important asset. Project responsibilities include conducting elite and expert interviews in the Netherlands.

Our organization

The Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (FGGA) offers academic education in the field of Public Administration, Safety and Security, and International Relations, as well as in-depth post-academic programmes for professionals. In addition, the Faculty is also home to Leiden University College.

See: http://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/governance-and-global-affairs

Our institute 

The Institute of Public Administration has an established international profile and has consistently received high ratings in peer reviews of both its teaching and research programs. The Institute offers a Dutch-language Bachelor program with two tracks, a Dutch-language Master Program in Public Sector Management and an English-language Master programs in ‘Public Administration.’

http://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/governance-and-global-affairs/institute-of-public-administration

Terms and conditions

The position starts between 1 October 2020 and 1 December 2020. The appointment will be made initially on a one-year full-time basis, with an extension to a total of three years after positive evaluation. The appointment will be under the terms of the Collective Labour Agreement (CAO) of Dutch Universities. The starting salary, depending on qualifications and experience, varies from € 2.709,-to € 4.274 gross per month (pay scale 10) in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities.

Information with respect to conditions of employment of the University can be found on http://staff.leiden.edu/

Excellent benefits

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %). Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.

See https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/working-at/job-application-procedure-and-employment-conditions.

Diversity

Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.

Enquiries

Enquiries can be made to dr. Natascha van der Zwan, email n.a.j.van.der.zwan@fgga.leidenuniv.nl

Applications

Please submit online your application no later than June 23, 2020 via this link. Please ensure that you upload the following additional documents in PDF format:

  • Motivation letter;
  • Curriculum vitae including a list of publications;
  • A sample publication;
  • A copy of your completed PhD degree (or a supervisor declaration that the PhD thesis is deemed defendable);
  • The names and contact details of three potential referees (no actual recommendation letters required at this stage).

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated.

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NORFACE Funding for DEEPEN Project

I am thrilled to announce that the NORFACE network is funding our project “Democratic Governance of Funded Pension Schemes” (DEEPEN).

DEEPEN explores the democratic governance of capital-funded occupational pension schemes. We adopt Scharpf’s distinction between input legitimacy (are collectively binding decisions in line with citizens’ democratically expressed preferences?) and output legitimacy (do collectively binding decisions serve the common interests of the citizens?) to investigate how governments, regulators and labour market actors govern funded pensions (input legitimacy) and whether participants are satisfied with pension fund performance (output legitimacy). The project focuses on Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Spain because the structure of funded pension provision varies along key dimensions relevant to input and output legitimacy.

The project combines quantitative analysis of survey data with comparative case studies based on elite and expert interviews and analysis of primary and secondary documents. Four work packages investigate the following research questions: How does national policy define participant influence on funded pension provision? How do stakeholders use pension fund governance to influence investment policy? How have capital-funded pension schemes performed in terms of pension outcomes across European welfare states? To what extent are individual attitudes on pension investment aligned with these inputs and outputs?

The project team includes Karen Anderson (PI) from University College Dublin, Juan Fernandez from University Carlos III in Madrid and Tobias Wiss from the Johannes Keppler University Linz. We’ll be hiring post-doctoral researchers (Dublin, Leiden) and PhD students (Linz, Madrid) to join our project team.

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Out Soon: Business Interests and the Modern Welfare State

Picture

I’m very happy to see the new edited volume by Dennie Oude Nijhuis, Business Interests and the Development of the Modern Welfare State, is coming out in July 2019. The volume offers “a synthesis on the question of business attitudes towards and its influence over the development of the modern welfare state.” Chapters consist of both historical country case studies and comparative chapters with country focus on Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Policy aras covered include active labor market policies, educational policies, employment protection legislation, healthcare, private pension programs, and work‐family policies.

My own chapter in this volume explores how the financialization of the political economy during the last quarter of the 20th century has influenced business preferences for occupational pensions. I argue that capital funding has important ramifications for business preferences towards occupational pensions. With capital funding, the extent to which these plans can protect against the social risks associated with old age has become partially dependent on the financial risks stemming from capital funding. Financialization thus turns an influential argument in the business interests scholarship on its head, namely that, depending on size and industry, employers might be willing to incur higher risks to gain more control over social welfare provisions: as financialization reduces the possibilities for control over occupational pension provisions, employers will be more likely to adopt political preferences aimed at risk reduction. My argument builds on a comparative case study of business groups in the United States and the Netherlands.

 

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CFP: ECPR General Conference

3621486017_55be943c58_bPhoto credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Together with Daniel Mertens, I am co-organizing one of the panels at the 2019 ECPR General Conference in Section 11: Changing Political Economies and Welfare States. Our panel aims to analyze comparatively how the welfare state and the financial system are mutually intertwined, adopting a broader conception of finance which includes not just financial actors and their interest organizations, but also financial ideas and narratives.

From the CFP: “Scholars of the welfare state have shown how traditional welfare arrangements are challenged by new kinds of risks that have emerged in the late twentieth century. Among these risks is the process of financialization. It refers to the growing influence of financial markets and financial actors over the productive economy and over society at large, affecting the welfare state in several ways. For instance, welfare provisions may rely on financial market investment for funding while financial arrangements have also been touted as alternative sources of welfare (e.g. through asset-based welfare) and governments have developed new financial activities in order to maintain current welfare provisions. Furthermore, several indirect effects of financialization affect the sustainability of mature welfare states, such as growing indebtedness and social-economic inequalities.

Against this background, the panel has two aims: First, it hopes to reintegrate scholarship on welfare and finance to come to a better understanding of how the welfare state and the financial system are mutually intertwined, both historically and comparatively. Furthermore, we hope to approach the panel theme using a broader conception of finance: to include not just financial actors and their interest organizations, but also financial ideas and narratives, norms and practices that interact at different scales of the modern polity.”

Check out the CFP here!

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