Excellence in teaching political science is essential to the discipline. This interview series highlights campus teaching award winners who have been recognized by APSA for their achievements. If you or a colleague has won a campus teaching award in the 2015-16 academic year, please let us know! At the 2016 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, every meeting attendee who has won a campus teaching award will be recognized at a reception honoring teaching. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here.
Osnat Akirav is a senior lecturer and head of the Department of Political Science at Western Galilee College in Israel. She holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her specialties are legislative studies, local government, and the Israeli political system. She has numerous publications on representative behavior in local government and parliaments, and she also served for 10 years as a local council representative. In 2010 and 2015 she received awards for excellence in teaching from Western Galilee College.
What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
Akirav: I started as tutor at Tel Aviv University and since then I have taught at many colleges and universities. Now I teach at Haifa University and at Western Galilee College.
Since my first time in front of a classroom I knew I must give the students an interesting and challenging experience. Hence, I used mix teaching methods, all of them based on the debate concept, analyzing case studies, working in groups on a project.
Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
Akirav: My favorite course is about the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) members. During the course each student follows one Member of the Knesset (MK) and analyzes the way the MK behaves in daily parliamentary life (tabling bills, asking parliamentary questions, working in committees). At the end of the course every student gives a presentation about what they learned and tells the class whether his or her MK is active in a significant way or not. The course helps students understand what representatives do, and how we, as voters, can be more aware of their activities. Or sometimes even demand accountability for their actions.
How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
Akirav: My teaching style is based on the constructivist teaching approach, which is based on the belief that learning occurs when students are actively involved in acquiring knowledge, rather than passively receiving information.
As an example, in the course about the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) members, the class conducts a simulation of a committee meeting. In order to do it properly as MKs, each student researches his or her MK’s agendas and preferences and participates in the committee meeting as if they really are the MK. In this way the students learn about the procedures of committee meetings at the Israeli Parliament. The students also learn more about their representative, sometimes even emailing or calling him or her to discuss their political positions and preferences.
Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
Akirav: During my MA degree I had a course with Professor Gideon Doron at Tel Aviv University. Every class he started with a question we needed to deal with. It was fascinating, because the discussion based on the question led us to improve our abilities to analyze the materials.
Read more about Osnat Akirav’s work here.