The future of Development Studies. How to promote more critical teaching and learning?

February 6, 2023
Meeri Tiensuu

Meeri Tiensuu, Education Specialist coordinating the development of the MOOC course Essentials in Development Studies at UniPID has been inspired by three key aspects reflected by Professor Henning Melber. As the team continues working on the organization of the course, get motivated with this provoking discussion regarding the future of Development Studies.

Back as a first-year student in Development Studies at the University of Helsinki, I remember saying “I hope that the Introduction to Development Studies course would be taken by all the students across disciplines.” As a young and naïve student, I visioned that learning from development studies would be a fruitful way to work on the better world and to spark critical thinking towards the views we have learnt to live with. While this somewhat utopian thought has remained in the back of my head over the years, it has actually become concrete while developing the MOOC course Essentials in Development Studies during the past year.

Working on the course together with my colleagues, discussing the learning objectives, brainstorming the course material, and thinking about different ways of introducing the dimensions of development to the course participants has been an inspiring journey that is still to continue. It has also been a channel to think about what the future ways of teaching -and learning- can be in development studies. The same question was also reflected by Professor Henning Melber in the launch event of the project New Directions in Development Studies in mid-November 2022. The discussion was facilitated by Tiina Kontinen from the University of Jyväskylä, and UniPID had the pleasure to be among the first ones to hear it. You can watch the full video here.

What resonates in me while listening to Melber and thinking about the MOOC course are a few details. First, advocating hope. In development studies, and talking with development scholars, I often feel that the connection between people in the discipline is around the concept of hope. We may have different understandings of how to maintain hope or what hope even is, but I feel that the desire to see the future differently from what is it now is one of the shared principles between students, teachers and practitioners of development. In development studies, “we try to represent a better future and ways out of the multiple crises” as Melber puts it in the discussion with Kontinen. I hope that once the MOOC course is available, it could provide hope by presenting the different actors, debates, and alternatives of development.

Second, we should commit to what Melber says: “... [be] more aware about the need to seriously engage and reflect.” I think this should be one of the main goals of this MOOC course as well: To provide different ways to understand, learn, re-learn and reflect the power asymmetries in the world in order to find concrete actions of hope. Our task as the course designers is to find approaches that can help the course participants to interact with the notions of development studies. And as we are creating something totally from scratch, I believe we have the whole world of possibilities open for us. How could we facilitate embodied practices and learning in the course? How could we engage with material that is not considered as “traditional” academic material, while still offering high-level university teaching? These are important questions to keep in mind while developing the course and its content. We can be innovative, and trust that new ways of interacting with learning material can open our minds into new directions. Regarding this issue, Melber highlights: "So, it is not good enough to have Frantz Fanon and Paolo Freire and Amilcar Cabral, and others on the reading list if you do not translate what they say, into concepts you apply in practice, in the interaction with the students, and encourage and motivate the students to pick it up and apply themselves in their interaction with others.

Third, this is important. It is important that we work on this course and aim to provide a possibility for anyone to take a course and learn the fundamentals of development studies. It is important to raise these reflections and ramifications of development in order to find alternative ways to think about the concept and its practices. This is the driving force for me, at least. “You can’t win it if you are not in it”, Melber says, and I couldn’t agree more.

What is next? While we at the UniPID continue developing the MOOC course Essentials in Development Studies, you can now find the discussion between Henning Melber and Tiina Kontinen on our website. I encourage you to listen to what Melber has to say and reflect those words in your work, as well as share them with your partners. You can also follow Professor Melber on Twitter to get to know more about what this scholar has to say.

Photo credits: Franchi, Daniel, 2020, on UnSplash.