Catherine Connolly

Dr Catherine Connolly takes international security and international law to Instagram posting fun and interesting lectures; Generating huge interest and positive feedback

The staff at Dublin City University's School of Law and Government has responded to the emerging challenges of online teaching with their own innovative approaches and styles. The widespread popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and many others has not just helped millions of people around the world to stay in touch with each other in these unprecedented times but also to convey their messages in unique ways.
Dr Catherine Connolly, 2019-2020 Irish Research Council (IRC) Postdoctoral Fellow at School of Law and Government, shared with Moign Khawaja, the in-house School of Law and Government journalist, her latest endeavour of posting short, fun, and informative online lectures on Instagram, and the huge buzz it is generating.

I created the Instanational Security (@instanationalsecurity) account on 15 March, and in the past week I’ve put up the first three videos for the course. The latest video looks at the securitisation of the coronavirus pandemic and what it means to describe it as a ‘war’, was uploaded on Friday, 26 March. The account currently has over 397 followers (as of 15:45 on 28 March, 2020) – which is a number that might seem tiny to some people, but it’s far more than I’d expected!

I had the idea for teaching a course on international security and international law (the two research areas I work in) over Instagram about three weeks ago, on a Sunday evening, when it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to have serious and far-reaching effects for universities, and for everyone. I love teaching, and have taught courses in international security, international law, critical security studies and U.S. politics and policy over the past few years, but this year I’m in receipt of a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Irish Research Council, so I’m not teaching any courses. I thought that attempting to teach a course over Instagram would be something fun and interesting to try, and that it would give people who’ve never studied international relations or security, or international law, the opportunity to learn more about these subjects, and to learn how it affects them in ways they may never have considered or even realised. I want the course to be as accessible as possible (for example, I’ve finally figured out how to get the captions on my videos to cooperate with Instagram, so all videos on the account from now on will be captioned), so that whether you’re completely new to these areas, or whether you’re an established academic, there’ll be something to interest you. None of the videos are more than ten minutes long, which can be challenging – it means I need to be as clear and concise as possible in that short space of time.

One of the positives about using the Instagram platform to teach this course is that it can be very interactive – I use the ‘Stories’ feature to put up quizzes about what’s been covered in the videos, I do polls to ask what the ‘students’ would like me to cover next, I can share books that I think would be of interest, and people can message the account to ask me questions about what’s been covered so far, and to make other suggestions. I’m working on a reading list at the moment that I’ll be able to share with those following the course, but for the moment I’m keeping the structure of it quite loose, as I want to be able to respond to current events and the topics that people are most interested in.

Compared to face-to-face teaching, I think the main difference I’ve found so far is in not being able to see the faces of my ‘students’. As all lecturers know, so much of teaching is about the interaction between you and your ‘audience’ -  seeing how they react to what you’re speaking about, whether they’re interested in and understanding the topic, and, of course, whether any of them laugh at your terrible jokes. In terms of using Instagram, compressing difficult and nuanced topics into ten minutes is both a blessing and a curse – it certainly helps to clarify some things, but I also want to avoid being reductive about subjects that deserve much more attention and detail (however, I often feel the same about subjects we discuss in hour-long lectures!).

So far, I’m really enjoying doing this over Instagram – its genuinely enjoyable to share the videos and get feedback from so many people, from all over the world (it is somewhat less enjoyable to have to re-watch the videos and make sure they’re okay before I put them up – recording yourself and then watching it back is excruciating!!). If people learn something new from it, think about something in a different way, or even just find it a good way to distract themselves for a few minutes, then I’m thrilled!

Dr Catherine Connolly is a 2019-2020 Irish Research Council (IRC) Postdoctoral Fellow at School of Law and Government, Dublin City University (DCU). Her research areas include U.S. imperialism, targeted killing, international law and Kriegsraison. You can follow her on Twitter: @KitConnolly

28th March, 2020