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Helen Williams

Associate Professor of Politics, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

Helen holds a BA in International Economics and Cultural Affairs from Valparaiso University, a MA in Russian and East European Studies and a PhD in German and British citizenship and naturalisation policy from the University of Birmingham. She has also spent time at the University of Tuebingen and Moscow State University. She is fluent in English and German and academically fluent in French.

Her research interests are three-fold:

  • European immigration and nationality policy
  • New Institutionalism and incremental change
  • Higher education pedagogy

She is an active member of the Higher Education Academy 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.

Expertise Summary

  • Citizenship
  • Immigration
  • Asylum
  • Immigrant experience
  • National identity
  • Sovereignty
  • New Institutionalism
  • German politics and governance
  • British politics and governance

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 elite and media discourse about migration, especially in light of the 2015… read more

Recent Publications

From September 2018, Dr Williams is leading 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 'Represent! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum', the project will run for two years.

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, Head of Department, 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
  • Project Research Assistant/Associate, TBC

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.

Potential outcomes

The project will result 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) will 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 an Associate 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:

  • Introduction to Comparative Politics (L1)
  • Culture and Values in a Changing World (L1)
  • Immigration and Citizenship (L3)

Current Research

Helen's main research interests are migration studies and higher education pedagogy. Her current migration research examines elite and media discourse about migration, especially in light of the 2015 Mediterranean refugee crisis. 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 started 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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