Interactive education in public administration (2)

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
AuthorJohn Alford,Jonathan Brock
Subject MatterArticles
Interactive education in
public administration (2):
Strategies for teachers
Jonathan Brock
University of Washington, Seattle
John Alford
University of Melbourne, Australia
The previous article (‘Interactive education in public administration (1): The role of
teaching ‘‘objects’’’) described the benefits of ‘moving from behind the lectern’ to engage
in interactive teaching in public policy and administration, and the central role of ‘objects’
in that process. But teaching ‘objects’ can only produce effective results if they are used
in a way that achieves learning objectives. Interaction for interaction’s sake is not enough;
it must also lead to understanding of new concepts and analytical approaches. Moreover,
interactive teaching can be challenging for teachers who mainly use didactic traditional
lecturing, since it entails sharing control of the discussion with students. This article
explains and justifies a purposeful, structured framework both for stimulating engage-
ment in public administration courses, and for turning that engagement into learning, in a
way that provides for the intellectual safety of the teacher and student – which is crucial
for enabling participants to take risks in classroom discussions. In the process, the article
further addresses the rationale for using interactive and object-based approaches specif-
ically in public administration and related disciplines.
case teaching, interactive teaching, teaching objects, teaching structure
The first article of this two-part series explores why interactive education using teaching
objects is valuable in in public administration and policy (Alford and Brock, 2014). This
second article explains how to do so effectively, and in the process bolsters the argument
Corresponding author:
John Alford, Australia and New Zealand School of Government, PO box 230, Carlton South, Victoria 3053,
Teaching Public Administration
2015, Vol. 33(1) 6–21
ªThe Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0144739414521112
for interactive teaching in this field. It describes a framework, distilled from the authors’
reflection on decades of experience with these approaches, for utilising teaching objects
by aligning them carefully with educational objectives and with a related teaching struc-
ture supporting their use. These ideas and techniques are the keys not just to learning
opportunities, but to successfully managing the risks of stepping out from behind the lec-
tern and all of its armour into the seemingly vulnerable arena of an interactive discussion.
Interactive teaching is neither an accident of teacher personality nor an impossibly
fluid method that is resistant to achieving course coverage, despite whatever interest or
novel amusement it may have stimulated. In fact, like a good lecture, interactive teaching
is also amenable to preparation and planning (Brock, 2001; Bonwell, 1996; Raines,
2003; Shellman and Turan, 2006). This article explains its authors’ framework, devel-
oped, adapted, tested and continuously improved by us in literally thousands of public
sector classes in a wide range of settings. It sets out principles and practices for planning
and executing a class that attracts student engagement, but in the process also fulfils our
duty to provide, reinforce, measure and integrate learning. Along the way, we delineate
the links between the framework and the available research about teaching public
The requisite capabilities of public servants
The starting point is to build on the literature review in the first article, which looked at
what is distinctive about public administration and why interactive and object based
teaching might be especially relevant (Alford and Brock, 2014). It pointed to three main
ways in which public administration differed from private sector management (see also
Alford, 2001), each with implications for the capabilities required by public servants.
Here we elaborate a little further on these capabilities, in order to draw out how object-
oriented interactive teaching, in its various forms, is particularly suited to helping stu-
dents acquire them (Denhardt, 2001; Rosmarin, 1987; Lynn, 1999a, 1999b).
The first major difference identified was that public and private sector organisations
have different types of purposes. Private firms produces goods and services that are
individually appropriated and consumed; government organisations ‘deliver’ and/or
maintain various collectively consumed services, such as public goods and other
remedies to market failure, equity, and social institutions – what Moore encapsulates as
‘public value’ (1995). These collective goods are typically less tangible and more
complex, and therefore can be harder to define or measure, as well as lacking a common
standard of value (e.g. money) to inform comparisons between alternative actions,
requiring governments to weigh up ‘apples and oranges’, and also to cope with uncer-
tainty (Franke, 2011; Mushkat, 2003). Public servants therefore need particular cap-
abilities in qualitative as well as quantitative analysis to assist often tricky judgments
about priorities and trade-offs. Learning about judgment, in particular, calls for repeated
experience with real and varied situations, something more suited to object-oriented
interaction than PowerPoint monologues.
Second, government organisations face more political environments, comprising
stakeholders with varying, often conflicting interests, who can influence decision-
Brock and Alford 7

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