Susan Kenyon

A 100% first-time pass rate across three cohorts: adopting an Engineering pedagogy in Politics and International Relations

In this blog, I discuss how a new method of teaching, adapted from Engineering education, enabled my Politics and International Relations students to achieve a 100% first-time pass rate, across three cohorts.   I describe how this method supports our students to become ‘industry-ready social scientists’, upon graduation. 


I was the learning and teaching lead when we established our new School of Engineering here at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU).  We structured our learning and teaching around an innovative pedagogy, which had been designed with the key aim of creating ‘industry-ready engineers’: graduates who have the ability to practice engineering in the real world, upon graduation. 

This pedagogy is called CDIO, which stands for Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate

In brief, CDIO teaches engineering science through engineering practice.  Central to this is active, experiential learning, through ‘design–build–test’ projects.  Students are given a problem to solve and begin working on this project, with little prior knowledge.  When they experience a barrier to progress, they learn the scientific and technical knowledge that they need to move forward, in the context of their practice.  Working in a team, as they would in the real world, each has a different professional role, which they must adhere to and act within; and students learn professional skills through this teamwork, including communication, negotiation, budgeting, minute-taking and record-keeping. 

This integrated learning experience has been highly successful in engineering education, enhancing student engagement, attainment, satisfaction and employability.  I saw the potential to replicate this success in Politics and International Relations teaching.  This inspired me to develop a new module, Transport: Politics and Society, which I teach using a CDIO-inspired, project-based approach. 

The starting premise of the module is that we are a society that needs to move.  Put simply, if we can’t get to places, we cannot take part in the activities that enable us to be included in the society in which we live.  But the solution to the problems caused by too little mobility can’t be to increase mobility: increasing mobility is environmentally problematic; and that, when we increase mobility, we decrease accessibility, pushing the world further away.  So, what should we do? 

The module introduces students to the complexity of politics in the real world.  We do this over ten weeks, in the following way.


  • Conceive (weeks 1-4).  Students uncover the problem of transport-related social exclusion first-hand, by taking a walkabout around Canterbury city centre.  Through this mini-ethnography, students observe key features in the urban environment, including a pedestrian crossing, a bus stop, a car park and an underpass.  Students are prompted to consider, for example, who they can see and who they can’t see in these locations; to count how long pedestrians have to cross at a pedestrian crossing; to feel how welcoming the environments are. 

    Teamwork begins at this first task: students explore in pairs, matched with someone who has different characteristics to themselves.  This helps to illuminate the experience of transport exclusion, but it also encourages students to accept, include and value different perspectives in their ‘workplace’: an invaluable, real-world, employability skill. 

    After seeing the problem for themselves, students return to class to discuss their findings.  They apply their observations, to conceive the problem of too little mobility as it affects them, or their local community. 

    All further learning is focused on understanding the specific problem that they would like to resolve.  I select individual readings for each student, based on their transport problem.  Crucially, every student must report back on their reading, every week, to enable other students to learn about the problem of transport exclusion more deeply and theoretically.  This develops invaluable professional skills, including communication, confidence, note-taking and reliability; and teamworking builds learning community. 


  • Design (weeks 5-6).  At this stage, students design a solution to the problem of too little mobility in their community.  They select the decision maker that they need to influence to resolve their problem and present a 5-minute verbal briefing, designed to appeal to their specific decision maker.  This is the culmination of their learning about too little mobility and is 50% of their assessment. 

    Based on government guidance for briefing Ministers and my consultations with civil servants and industry consultants, this authentic assessment is highly employability focused, developing skills relevant to all manner of industries, not just in the political sphere, but also business, consultancy, civil service, local government...  In combination with the second assessment, discussed below, it is designed to develop industry-ready graduates, who have built employability skills through this form of work-related experience. 

    The assessment also shows graduates they belong in the workplace.  Graduates are more employable, because they are work-ready; and they are valued and included in the workplace, because they are more able to assimilate into the workplace community. 


  • Implement (weeks 7-10).  Of course, it is not possible for students to implement their transport solutions in real life!  The closest that we can get is to critically reflect upon the proposed solution, by introducing policy conflicts.  This, combined with consistent formative feedback on the proposed implementation of their solution, from myself and, most importantly, from their peers, students consider what may happen if they implemented their proposed solution.  First, they consider the potential negative effects of increasing mobility, considering who may be harmed by their proposal – other demographics, the environment – and the negative impact on other policies – economic, health.  Second, they consider who may oppose the implementation of their solution and how they may overcome this opposition, through conflict or compromise, to influence implementation. 


  • Operate (assessment).  Finally, students operationalise their learning, by delivering their recommendations in the form of an options and recommendations paper, targeted to meet the needs of and to influence the decision-making process of their specific decision-maker.  Through the lens of their transport problem, political decisions are brought to life: the compromises; the consequences; the contradictions.  Who wins, when policy goals conflict?  Who decides – how do they decide – should we influence the decision maker and, if so, how do we do this? 


The approach has been very successful.  I've had a 100% first-time pass rate for 3 cohorts.  Students enjoy the module: attendance and engagement are high; satisfaction, measured in module evaluations, is universal.  All graduates who took my module are in graduate employment or further study. 

I enjoy the module more than any other: I learn more about my subject through my students’ projects than I could possibly learn by myself. 

With three years’ experience, I now plan to adopt the pedagogy in my research methods teaching.  I am looking forward to evaluating the success – or otherwise! – and to reporting back next year.

Dr Susan Kenyon is a Principal Lecturer in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University.