School of Politics and International Relations
 

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Helen Williams

Faculty APVC for Education and Student Experience, Professor of Political Science Education, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

Helen Williams is the Faculty of Social Sciences Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience and Professor of Political Science Education. She joined the School of Politics and International Relations in 2013. In 2021, Helen won a Lord Dearing Award as part of the Digital Learning Directors team and since 2016 has been a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Helen has been PI and Co-I on a number of externally funded projects relating to more inclusive curricula, quantitative research methods, enhancing student feedback, secondary data analysis, and technology-enhanced learning. Helen's teaching portfolio has included modules on culture and values, comparative politics, immigration and citizenship, designing political research, and the extreme right in established democracies. She is author of Statistics for Politics and International Relations using IBM SPSS Statistics (Sage), numerous peer reviewed journal articles on race, decolonisation, student feedback, gender, and citizenship, and is completing her new book Studying Politics (Oxford University Press).

Helen Williams has a BA (joint honours) in International Economics and Cultural Affairs and German from Valparaiso University (USA), with an integrated year at the University of Tuebingen and time at Moscow State University; and a MA Russian and East European Studies and PhD in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Birmingham.

Helen is a teaching and curriculum leadership specialist. She has taken a variety of education leadership roles, including Deputy and Director of Education and Student Experience, Deputy Faculty Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, and Faculty of Social Sciences Digital Learning Director. She is an external examiner in postgraduate research methods for the University of Glasgow. Her teaching and research specialisms are human migration and research methods.

She is fluent in English and German and academically fluent in French.

Her research interests are three-fold:

  • Immigration and nationality policy and public opinion
  • Decolonisation and diversification of political science and international relations
  • Higher education pedagogy and statistics education for non-specialists

She is an active member of the Higher Education Academy (Senior Fellow) and the Political Studies Association. She is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Gamma Mu and Delta Phi Alpha.

She maintains a Twitter feed relating to her research interests.

Dr Williams has led extensively on teaching and learning initiatives, including a Higher Education Academy funded collaborative research grant exploring assessment feedback and a current interdisciplinary research project looking at the coverage of non-Western and non-white topics and scholars in politics and philosophy curricula in the UK.

Helen has led training at various institutions on a variety of themes relating to feedback, assessment, and equality, diversity and inclusion. She has been Deputy and Director of Teaching since 2016 and founded the School of Politics and IR's peer mentoring scheme.

Dr Williams is also passionate about teaching statistics and research methods to non-specialists, leading curriculum change to embed hands-on training at the undergraduate level. For this work, she was awarded the Political Studies Association Innovation in Teaching Politics Award in 2014. She was a co-investigator for the ESRC project 'Understanding Society Through Secondary Data Analysis'. She has recently published a book to help students learn statistics using SPSS embedded in the discipline of politics and IR.

Expertise Summary

  • Citizenship
  • Immigration
  • Asylum
  • Immigrant experience
  • National identity
  • Sovereignty
  • German politics and governance
  • British politics and governance
  • Research methods

Teaching Summary

Helen is enthusiastic about good teaching and learning practice. She is keen to implement innovative and evidence-based teaching improvements. She uses a variety of technology and teaching structures… read more

Research Summary

Helen's main research interests are migration studies and higher education pedagogy. Her current migration research examines shifts in public opinion about migration and rising nationalism around the… read more

Selected Publications

From 2018-2020, Dr Williams is led a team of six researchers in a project to increase the presence of ethnic diversity in the curricula of politics and philosophy (also referred to as 'decolonising' the curriculum) in an effort to achieve greater representation of a wider range of perspectives, debates, and interpretations of the world. Entitled 'All in! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum', the project website is available here.

Project team

The project is funded by the Birmingham-Nottingham Education Partnership Fund. The project team is formed of:

  • Dr Helen Williams (principal investigator), School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Andrew Fisher, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Helen McCabe, School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Peter Kerr, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Emma Foster, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Vipin Chauhan, Research Fellow, School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham

Brief description

This project will take a curriculum-based approach to the undergraduate attainment gap between white and BAME students in philosophy and politics.

Descriptive representation matters, including in the curriculum, and mainstreaming perspectives that are not the traditional white, European, middle class, male approaches is very important for increasing retention, engagement, and attainment of other demographics. The importance of mainstreaming more diverse perspectives has been highlighted under many guises, starting with critical pedagogy in the 1960s and proliferating into other headings, such as hidden curriculum, critical race pedagogy, and more recently decolonisation of the curriculum. Each of these headings addresses a slightly different aspect of the same underlying phenomenon: the decisions we make about what we teach and how we teach it, as well as the expectations our students have, can either foster inclusion or perpetuate social and ethnic inequalities.

Recently, decolonisation (or ethnic diversification) of the curriculum has received considerable press, but there is a clear call for a coherent methodology for decolonisation. The project will start with a review of the ways that educationalists across the world have undertaken diversification to propose a methodology for systematically improving representation without assuming unlimited knowledge and resources of those trying to decolonise their curriculum. Alongside this, we will audit what we already do, uncovering the implicit and explicit curriculum. In the second year, the main activity will be to work with staff and students to identify examples, authors, readings, and topics to ensure greater visibility of BAME authors and ideas in the mainstream curriculum, including diversifying our expectations in assessments. The Department of Philosophy has already begun such a review; Peter Kerr and Emma Foster (Birmingham) have undertaken a similar review for gender; Helen McCabe (Nottingham) has made a review of political philosophy the focus of her PGCHE project.

Outcomes

The project resulted in the incorporation of more BAME authors and themes as part of the core curricula in the participating departments. The resources (website with database, curriculum changes) provide a blueprint to expand the changes beyond the participant departments.

Helen is enthusiastic about good teaching and learning practice. She is keen to implement innovative and evidence-based teaching improvements. She uses a variety of technology and teaching structures to encourage deeper engagement with sometimes difficult and/or unpopular material.

She has won awards for her teaching, including the Political Studies Association Innovation in Teaching Prize for 2014. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

From June 2013 through December 2014, she ran a Higher Education Academy-funded Teaching Development Grant to improve the communication of assessment feedback to students. A brief overview of the project can be found here. The outputs can be downloaded here. The research outputs were published as part of a special issue of European Political Science on feedback, which can be found here.

Teaching and learning interests:

  • Higher education pedagogy
  • Immigration and citizenship
  • European politics
  • Comparative politics
  • Research methods and design
  • Academic skills

Current teaching responsibility:

  • Culture and Values in a Changing World (L1)
  • Undergraduate Dissertations (L3)

Current Research

Helen's main research interests are migration studies and higher education pedagogy. Her current migration research examines shifts in public opinion about migration and rising nationalism around the world. She has also been conducting archival research looking at targeted labour recruitment of female labourers in post-war Europe. Current pedagogical research projects examine strategies for decreasing students' anxiety about learning statistics; and continued exploration of students' understanding and use of feedback. She has recently finished a two-year funded research project on decolonising the curriculum in philosophy and politics.

Past Research

Research fellow and co-investigator (2012), 'Understanding Society Through Secondary Data Analysis: Quantitative Methods over the Undergraduate Life Course'. PI: Prof. Stephen McKay. ESRC project (£80,206.99) ranked 8/9. Curriculum innovation project to improve provision of undergraduate quantitative methods teaching.

From June 2013-December 2014, Helen ran an HEA-funded project on assessment feedback. Entitled 'Closing the loop: bridging the gap between provision and implementation of feedback', it explored the persistent communication gap between what university teachers write on summative assessments and what students understand and implement from the feedback. It produced a series of Open Educational Resources (OERs) with student-tested feedback to improve staff provision of feedback without placing additional demands on staff time. A brief overview of the project can be found here. The outputs can be downloaded here. The research outputs were published as part of a special issue of European Political Science on feedback, which can be found here.

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