Department for Health

Innovative teaching project flips classroom to make students policy makers

Mon Dec 12 15:19:00 GMT 2016

An innovative teaching idea, led by Dr Jess Francombe-Webb in the Department for Health, has developed a deeper understanding about the complexities surrounding tackling childhood obesity by putting students in the shoes of policy-makers.



Students took part in a mock policy launch event, where individuals in the group would take the role of the government minister responsible for the policy, and interested stakeholder groups.


Based on the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan of Action released in August, at the start of the semester students were given an overview of the ways and means by which policies get communicated and implemented This included tips and advice to help them prepare policy briefs and press releases from Research Marketing Manager, Andy Dunne which fed into their work.

Students then used the weeks ahead to explore and critique the government’s initiative in order to prepare for a mock policy launch event, where individuals in the group would take the role of the government minister responsible for the policy, and interested stakeholder groups. Instead of their work being assessed through traditional written assignments, they were judged instead by the quality of the arguments they put forward in press releases and policy briefs about the subject.

This led to a Radio 4-style interview, conducted in the University’s TV studio, where students were given the opportunity to expand on the policy proposal and dodge difficult questions. The interview was played at the start of the launch event to set the scene. You can listen to their interview again online.

A subsequent policy launch event featured contributions from a number of individuals around the University: Dr Cassie Wilson (Associate Dean, Learning & Teaching from the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences), Ed Stevens (Public Engagement Unit), Marie Salter (E Developments Manager), Annaleise Depper (PhD, Health), Niamb O’Sullivan (PhD Health) and Andy Dunne (Research Marketing Manager), each on hand to question students about different aspects of the policy.

Dr Francombe Webb said: "My aim was to provide the students with opportunities to practice communicating with non-academic audiences on a range of health issues, including obesity. Translating complex health issues, particularly as these relate to inequalities and identity struggles, is challenging but the students rose to this challenge, recording mock radio interviews and engaging in role play to launch a government report.

"It was a pleasure to see their nervous energy as they entered the television studio and took the floor during these activities. They flourished in this 'engaged' environment and benefited hugely from the feedback they received from their peers and the external guests. My thanks go out to all those involved and the students for their energy, enthusiasm and commitment."

Coinciding with the launch event, Jess Francombe Webb, Annaleise Depper and Emma Rich (also Department for Health) authored an article for The Conversation 'Why young women need to be given a louder voice in the obesity debate' to demonstrate to students one of the ways by which our research is being shared far and wide. This has already been read by nearly 13,000 people and has been republished by The Independent.

Andy Dunne, Research Marketing Manager, added: "This was a great project to engage students with a subject and help them to communicate complex issues to a wide audience. Summarising findings, providing concise briefings and writing to generate interest in a topic is a vital skill for many jobs and hopefully this will have been useful exercise to them in the future. The fact that a Conversation article on the topic could be published to coincide with the launch helped to showcase to our students how our research is making an impact."