In less than a month, I’ll be teaching “Introduction to International Relations” for the first time in over ten years. As luck (for certain values of “luck”) would have it, this means I’m building a 100-200 person course from scratch and teaching it online. But where some might see a yawning black pit of despair, I see a yawning black pit of despair… and opportunity. Why not experiment a bit?

I know a lot of professors are thinking this way, so at the start of the summer some of us talked about working together to produce shareable content. We had plans! We had pants to match! And massive coordination problems.

So about a week ago, as I looked down into that black pit, I decided “screw this, I’m going to email lots of friends and see if they’ll record interviews with me. I’ll make it more appealing by putting the results online in an archive. That way anyone can download interviews and integrate excerpts from them into their lectures, class videos, or whatever.”

Shockingly enough, it turns out that academics and practitioners generally like to talk about their work, as well as their career paths. I’ve recorded something like 12 interviews over six days, and have a lot more scheduled.

But it’s been a haphazard process, driven in no small measure by my specific needs for my class. And all that video is useless to anyone else if it’s not processed, and useless to me if I don’t have time to put the course together. So I’ve been teaming up with people, gotten help from an RA, and come to the conclusion that this is the kind of project that works best if it’s crowdsourced.

Enter this post, which serves to announce “The Interviews for Teaching World Politics Project.” (It’s the worst title I’ve ever used for anything, and believe me, that’s a very high bar to cross). Below is a version 1.0 of the project summary. You can also read it via this link, where you will also be able to navigate to the archive and see the two sample videos we’ve got up.

About

“The Interviews for Teaching World Politics Project” aims to develop a large database of video interviews – currently conducted on Zoom at 720p in .mp4 format – with international-relations scholars and practitioners. 

The interviews are supposed to be suitable for use in introductory or advanced undergraduate classes, and are conducted not to produce a seamless “lecture” but rather excerpts that can be incorporated into prerecorded class videos or lectures. 

In addition to scholars and practitioners talking about their areas of expertise, some interviews will contain discussions of what it’s like to work in various areas of applied international relations. Some videos include biographical information on how participants wound up in their present positions.

Using the Archive

The archive consists of folders that are entitled with the name of the interviewee and the core topic under discussion. Each folder contains a video and a text file with a rough index to the video. The videos themselves have title cards related to the index, so it is possible to scroll through the video to find sections that might be useful to you.

All videos in the archive are under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license. At minimum, your videos or lectures must identify the name of the interviewee. Preferred citation includes the name of the interviewee, the date of the interview, and some reference to the “Teaching World Politics Project” so that other people can find the archive.

We currently only have a small number of samples up, and it will take a while to even process what we already have.

How Can You Help?

As of now, all of our interviewing, recording, and production work is being done by three people – one of whom is a serious introvert – and we could really use help. There are two ways to help:

  1. Editing and indexing videos. Each video should take 1.5-2 hours to complete, depending on your skill level. Videos are currently being processed this way in iMovie or Final Cut Pro X, but any software is fine so long as the video output isn’t downsampled. Contact Dan Nexon  if you’re interested. We are happy if people are willing to do only one or two videos – indeed, we’d prefer that to anyone taking  on more than they can realistically complete in relatively short order; no one wants to be pestering volunteers.
  2. Recording interviews. We’d love for people to volunteer to interview other scholars or practitioners, and the neat thing is that you can interview pretty much anyone you want. The only restriction on our end is that the interviewer must be someone currently teaching IR at the college or university level, or an advanced PhD in International Relations/International Studies. There is, or will soon be, an access-restricted spreadsheet to track the effort. This will help us a) to avoid pestering those who have already agreed or turned down a request and b) to try to ensure adequate methodological and demographic diversity in the pool of videos.

    Instructions for Zoom: when recording, keep your interface set to speaker view (you’ll notice that our first two videos were in gallery view, and that’s… not great).

    General instructions for recording
    • You and your subject should use headphones, and make sure that all your computer sound is routed through those headphones. Both you and your subject should do their best to remove other sources of noise, such as mobile phones. 
    • If you do get interrupted or the subject wants to start over, make sure that they back up to a point where it will be easy to edit (so at the start of the idea). 
    • There are plenty of resources online that cover best practices, but keep in mind that our interviews are supposed to be informal.
    • Do not split screen your interview. The interviewee will be edited out of the archived video.
    • Keep in mind that our videos are supposed to be informal.
    • Important: as you’re interviewing have a timer going and keep a real-time index of key subjects or anecdotes. This will make it much easier to process the video later.
  3. Volunteering to be interviewed. If you’d like to be interviewed, email Dan and he’ll put you on a list. You should include your name, best email address, position(s), and subject-matter expertise. Note that because 1) we don’t have a lot of labor hours and 2) volunteers are likely to be focused on collecting material for their immediate teaching needs, we cannot guarantee when or if an interview will actually take place. But we do appreciate your willingness to do one and, if this project continues for the next year, we really hope that we can get to you.

But Wait, There’s More

There are a ton of informal efforts by professors to recruit other experts and scholars to speak to their classes, because COVID-19 and remote learning.

There are terrific resources that you can and should use to break the constraints of social capital and find potential speakers. If you’re like me, though, and you’re an introvert, it takes enormous energy to approach even one person you don’t know for this kind of favor.

Thus, over on Facebook I pitched the idea of maintaining a spreadsheet where people could volunteer as speakers. It’s called the “Yes, I would be happy to chat remotely with your class!” list, and if this appeals to you check it out (I’ve entered my name both as an example and also because, yes, indeed, I would be happy to chat remotely with your class!). I’ve put instructions there for how to get your name added.

The other thing that I think would be useful to crowdsource is a list of resources. The Carnegie Endowment is doing great work making video and audio resources available. There are podcasts that might be suitable for specific classes. That kind of thing. If there’s interest, I’m happy to host something that as well.

I really don’t know if any of this will work out. But since I’m doing some of this anyway, I figure “why not?”

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