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Promoting ASEAN awareness at the higher education chalkface.

This research note outlines a project-in-progress, in the hope of soliciting broader participation and discussion. It describes and evaluates a joint initiative between two regional universities to promote inter-class contact and active learning on the subject of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and supplements the experience gained in this endeavour through interviews with practising lecturers. Based on these twin research thrusts, the note argues that the higher education chalkface is a vital arena for ASEAN community-building, and pleads for a more concerted effort to link politics and pedagogy. To this end, recommendations include: cooperating to generalize and extend the kinds of small-scale projects discussed in this article; establishing an inclusive, interactive, teaching-oriented website where ideas and material can be shared; setting up a platform where the results of student-driven research and initiatives can be made available; and organizing practitioner-oriented workshops where lecturers can access combined expertise of ASEAN officials, national diplomats and pedagogical specialists to construct practical, active, and cooperative teaching programmes. If we are to fulfil the tasks of promoting ASEAN awareness, nurturing regional identity, and encouraging public ownership of the regional project among this highly significant sector of Southeast Asia's population, then facilitating the task of "teaching ASEAN" is an indispensable component.

Keywords: Southeast Asia, ASEAN awareness, higher education, regionalism, communication, pedagogy.

Pedagogy is now widely recognized as an integral part of International Relations (IR), with linkages traceable on many levels. Teaching can, of course, "inform scholarship", either through informal processes of joint discovery, (1) or by more formal frameworks that specifically involve "students as researchers". (2) More profoundly, however, teaching plays a role in knowledge production. As many scholars have pointed out, the IR universe is not comprehensible without studying what goes on inside its many classrooms. If "the teaching of IR helps shape self-understandings of the discipline", and is part of the subject's "constitution of meaning", (3) then it is important to "take a more direct interest in how world politics is explained to students in everyday schooling practices". (4)

In Southeast Asia, a particularly salient component of IR teaching is the part of the curriculum that deals with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Estimates of ASEAN awareness vary in their degree of optimism, but few are satisfied with the level such awareness has attained. (5) In attempts to root the three-pillared ASEAN Community more firmly in the context of Southeast Asian society and lived experience, pedagogical studies become vitally important. Lecturers and students are well placed to address these tasks, by encouraging debate, generating research and undertaking outreach activities.

This research note discusses a project undertaken over two academic years, in the context of two Southeast Asia-focused modules at two universities in Indonesia and Malaysia. It seeks to complement the excellent work that has already been done on mapping the IR environment in Southeast Asia and scrutinizing some of its textbooks, (6) by offering a snapshot of some of the challenges and opportunities of specifically ASEAN-focused teaching.

This project is by no means complete. Eighteen months since its commencement, however, it seems timely to assess what has been learned, invite a response from other lecturers, researchers, and policymakers in Southeast Asia and further afield, and open up a fuller discussion of the teaching of ASEAN in the region's universities.

The research note is divided into four sections. The first discusses the context of the project and its rationale. The second reviews the "results" obtained in the teaching phases. The third draws on the outcomes from those two sessions of teaching and supplementary interviews to analyze a few of the challenges and opportunities which, in its early stages, the project has begun to identify. The fourth provides some recommendations that attempt to take into consideration the limitations (technological, financial and so on) faced by the ASEAN-publicity enterprise. At root, this research note is an evidence-based plea for more attention to pedagogy in the ASEAN context, and for more opportunities to share best practices and jointly tackle challenges.

The "Teaching ASEAN" Project

Context (7)

ASEAN's policymakers are by no means unfamiliar with the potential utility of higher education as a vehicle for ASEAN awareness-raising and community-building. The ASEAN University Network (AUN), established in 1995, now encompasses thirty regional universities and ten thematic networks. (8) Its most recent annual report affirms: "Boundless opportunities emerge for Higher Education Institutions to play a significant role in contributing to the ASEAN Community's advancement... It is a critical time to further intensify our efforts in developing higher education in ASEAN." (9) Among its strategic objectives, accordingly, are the promotion of "in-depth awareness" of ASEAN and "innovative teaching and learning for ASEAN Community". (10)

In an effort to promote these goals, the AUN has advanced important initiatives such as credit transfer schemes and quality assurance. Nevertheless, as the latest iteration of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) notes, "the significant differences in curricula and standards among institutions, limited financial resources for student and staff exchange, and language differences have all constrained progress". (11)

Despite the prominence of education as a key element of "people-to-people linkage", data gaps on intra-ASEAN student mobility persist, (12) and the AUN is itself aware of a raft of obstacles that hinder mobility, ranging from lack of funding to "unclear benefits". (13) The MPAC therefore notes the ongoing need to "support higher education exchange across ASEAN Member States", "ensure there are strong incentives for ASEAN students to study in other ASEAN Member States", and research "current student perceptions and barriers". (14)

Conscious that its actual membership is necessarily limited, the AUN has also attempted to reach out beyond its immediate circles to promote the wider reach of ASEAN-related materials. One such initiative is the AUN ASEAN Studies Academy, (15) which developed twenty-one modules (for example, Historical Development in ASEAN Economic Integration, ASEAN Security Cooperation, and Peace and Conflict Management), and gathered experts in 2012 to share their experience of these areas. Some of these contributions are still available on YouTube, although the materials referred to on the Academy website no longer seem available. A newer initiative, the ASEAN Cyber University, initially targeting the CLMV (Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam) states, involves ASEAN, the AUN and the Republic of Korea. (16) Here again, materials are available only to participating institutions, but not to all.

The ASEAN Secretariat's "Learning: Getting to Know ASEAN Better" website showcases ASEAN-relevant courses and research centres. (17) Its "ASEAN Studies Program" page lists, within Southeast Asia, three ASEAN Studies degree programmes; six Southeast Asian Studies degree programmes; seven ASEAN Centres; and four Southeast Studies Centres. (18) These lists are not exhaustive, however, as other ASEAN-focused institutes exist, and many programmes teach ASEAN as part of a broader curriculum.

The point here, of course, is that all these initiatives are welcome, but not yet sufficient. Only a few of the region's universities are involved in the current networking arrangements; (19) and only a minority of students (and staff) can avail themselves of exchange opportunities, regional role-play opportunities, and so on. Yet the task of promoting ASEAN awareness devolves on all.

The premise of the research project to be discussed below is that modest, bottom-up, class-based initiatives might effectively supplement at least some of the goals of these larger programmes. Such initiatives cost little, and potentially reach a wide audience. If they could be replicated and linked, their snowball effect could play a valuable role in raising ASEAN awareness in the university context. In order to put this supposition to the test, we embarked on the "Teaching ASEAN" project.


Maryellen Weimer distinguishes among general educational research, discipline-based pedagogy and "the personal world of experiential knowledge". (20) Our contribution, while grounded in the first two categories, falls squarely into the third. The project started on a very practical level, as an attempt to observe and link two classes that were studying similar subject matter. The demands of classroom teaching (and ethical concerns) made it difficult to set up rigorous "before and after" tests with participating students. (21) Nevertheless, in its attempt to open up a space to share, evaluate, and build upon initiatives promoting active ASEAN learning, this research note aims to contribute to "thoughtful, reflective practice", and to demonstrate that "the study of teaching and learning as it occurs in courses by teachers vested in their practice is a unique form of scholarship". (22)

The project under discussion involved a second-year undergraduate class at Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY) in Indonesia, studying a module entitled "International Relations in Southeast Asia", and a third-year undergraduate class at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), studying a module entitled "Regionalism in World Politics: The Case of ASEAN". Both modules were taught in English. (23) While the syllabus of the first class was broader, ASEAN still occupied an important position within it. (24) The decision to twin these particular classes was a purely pragmatic one, as we had previously been colleagues, knew each other's work, and shared the idea that classroom exchange was a potentially valuable way to promote ASEAN awareness.

In its first phase, the project had two goals: to share experiences of facilitating more active student involvement in learning about the region; and to promote engagement between the two classes. The importance of active learning is now endorsed by substantial bodies of evidence. (25) Actively involving our students, therefore, in researching and publicizing ASEAN promised benefits on many levels, some of which will be discussed below. By encouraging contact between our students, we also wanted to offer them in some small-measure the opportunity to go beyond the horizons of their own classrooms to experience different regional viewpoints.

To gain a broader perspective on the challenges and opportunities identified through the first year's collaboration, we canvassed the views of other lecturers running courses involving ASEAN. Drawing on ideas from these discussions, we initiated another round of teaching, once more with the same dual focus on active learning and class contact. The whole project to date, then, has consisted of three phrases (teaching, interviewing and teaching).

In the 2015 iteration of the teaching, the UNMC class was quite small (seven students only, from Southeast Asia, Europe and China); in 2016, the class numbered 38 (with students from Southeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia and South Asia). The numbers in the UMY class were more consistent (with 40 students and 39 students in 2015 and 2016 respectively, mainly from Indonesia and Thailand, but also including an exchange student from Germany).

The following section evaluates the two teaching phases, using as yardsticks the criteria of facilitating active learning and class contact. The subsequent section supplements this classroom-derived experience with material gleaned from interviews with other practitioners.

Evaluating the Teaching Phases

Successes and Failures: Active Learning

In both 2015 and 2016, a primary research project formed an important component of the assessment at UNMC. The initial stages of this required the students to interview five of their Southeast Asian peers (using questions pre-agreed by the students in class) about their awareness/experience of ASEAN. (26) The emphasis was on qualitative research, with the aim of eliciting student "narratives" about ASEAN. (27)

The results, while disappointing in terms of the low levels of awareness they reflected, were highly motivating in the sense that the students taking the module felt challenged both to find out more (about ASEAN and about the reasons for its lack of traction among young people) and to share their knowledge of ASEAN in a more effective way. (28) Preparation for the latter course of action involved group work in which students critiqued and/or tested samples of ASEAN publicity.

For the follow-up stage of their research project, students had more options (albeit within fairly strict parameters, in order to ensure equitable assessment). Over the course of the two iterations of the module, they variously conducted and analyzed follow-up interviews (sometimes with people involved in a particular field, for example, representatives of the medical profession commenting on Mutual Recognition Agreements, or school teachers describing ASEAN initiatives in their institutions); created and tested awareness-raising blogs, Facebook pages, promotional films and infographics; and organized small informative events from which they gathered feedback.

This all adds up to a quite substantial amount both of ASEAN research and ASEAN publicity. It can be imagined that if similar projects were undertaken among a number of the region's universities, and if, more importantly, the results were shared on a common platform, the combined outcome would simultaneously improve our understanding of how young people react to ASEAN and raise ASEAN's profile among university students.

In 2015, the UMY class interviewed their counterparts from UNMC via Skype (see below). In 2016, the UMY class was given a "movie-making" project on ASEAN with the theme "We are Southeast Asian and we are proud of it." Students worked in groups of four to make the movie. The project was expected to create a broader understanding of ASEAN and Southeast Asia among the students, and they were also actively involved in communicating ASEAN because they had to post their short movie on YouTube.

The project proved very successful, with everyone enthusiastic about making the movie, despite facing difficulties such as information technology problems while shooting and editing. The project "forced" them to read more on Southeast Asia and ASEAN, as they needed to write a good script before starting to make the movie. Finding resources was not difficult, but they experienced difficulties choosing the right information for a brief movie to communicate ASEAN succinctly. In this area, of course, their challenges replicated those of more professional publicists.

Successes and Failures: Class Contact

While the active learning component of our project produced very heartening results, our experience of facilitating contact between our respective classes--which were not timetabled simultaneously--was much patchier.

In both years of the project, we set up a joint class Facebook page. This was useful in terms of sharing with both classes relevant news items as they arose, and in the second year, students also used the Facebook page to share with each other the results of their projects (their movies, blogs, and so on).

Students did not take up the invitation to "run" the Facebook page, however, and reaction to the posts was quite passive (mostly limited to "liking", or adding very short answers to "easy" questions, such as where they would most like to go on holiday in Southeast Asia). There was little interaction or exchange, and students largely refrained from commenting on the publicity produced by the other class. Only exceptionally did students post news items themselves.

The reasons for this relative lack of success need to be investigated, as clearly we have not proved able to optimally exploit the advantages that social media provide in this context.

In terms of "direct" contact, in the first iteration of the project, we attempted a Skype session between the two classes. The aim of this activity was to create a dialogue between the two classes in the two different countries, so that they could share their ideas on ASEAN. This activity was also expected to grow understanding, perhaps even some degree of "we-feeling", among the students.

The event proved technologically challenging, and as first video contact and then audio contact dropped out, students were reduced to using Skype messaging to communicate. As organizers we expected the students to be disappointed and were therefore surprised to receive very positive feedback from both classes on this activity. Despite the limitations of the technology, the students had thoroughly enjoyed "talking" to each other about ASEAN, other manifestations of regionalism and the role of various key member countries.

The UMY class was particularly successful in exploiting this contact, working together to answer questions from their counterparts in Malaysia, discussing the results with their respective groups in class, and writing a report on the activities. Pedagogically, of course, such contact activities also promote active learning, and in terms of facilitating ASEAN awareness, they are useful in promoting "real" exchange. A genuine question opens a window on what is not understood in another ASEAN country, and the task of framing an answer to that question invites students to gather, critique and synthesize information.

In the second year, we tried a different approach. The UNMC class, after discussion, drew up a few questions to send to their counterparts at UMY, mostly related to Indonesia's role in ASEAN. Students from UMY drew up replies, which were printed out and distributed among the UNMC students for group discussion and plenary feedback. This was a very useful activity, which could have been repeated, and we now know that by starting it a little earlier in the semester we can develop and promote an ongoing and useful dialogue.

Analysing the Teaching and Supplementary Interview Phases: Challenges and Opportunities

This section of the research note moves on from raw results obtained in the classroom to discuss the broader challenges and opportunities educators face in their quest to "teach ASEAN". For this section we draw not only on our classroom experience but also on the views expressed by lecturers we interviewed. From these twin sources, we have distilled five talking points.

Students Start with Limited Knowledge

Respondents testify to a widespread pattern in which undergraduates arrive in class knowing a few basic facts about ASEAN, but "what it does, and does it actually benefit them--they don't really understand that". Students are also very unfamiliar with the goals, organization and progress of the ASEAN Community.

The above observation dovetails with the findings from student surveys at UNMC, two years running. When the students asked their Southeast Asian peers to indicate their degree of familiarity with ASEAN, the responses they received mostly fell in the 50 per cent or lower range. While many of those answering the survey questions saw ASEAN as important for their country, they were hard pressed to define exactly what form that importance took. Many struggled to find ways in which ASEAN was beneficial to them personally. The elements that were deemed most important were those that impinged most directly on their experience, such as scholarships, lowered tariffs, visa-free travel and the ASEAN passport line at airports.

A more profound problem identified by our lecturer respondents is that students are sometimes more drawn to the study of Europe or the United States than to their own region. (29)

Respondents who teach at the Master's level testified to more experiential knowledge, sometimes gained tangentially through the student's work environment. This experience might have pushed students either to the overly negative assessment that ASEAN is just a talk-shop, or conversely, to the overly positive assessment that because ASEAN exists, it must work satisfactorily. In either case, this viewpoint needs to be challenged and nuanced. This can be a more demanding task than dealing with the blank sheet of minimal knowledge.

Lecturers Want More Primary and Secondary Material It is widely understood that the ASEAN Secretariat is hampered by its limited budget and staff. However, lecturers and students would very much welcome more accessible primary material and enhanced responsiveness.

On the former issue, typical comments included the following: "You can't get materials"; obtaining primary materials for teaching is "really hard"; and the documents provided by the Secretariat are often at too technical a level for students, let alone "ordinary people", to understand. In sum, "If we look at the comment from ASEAN, almost we can't find it. If we can find it, most of it is formal."

On the topic of responsiveness, the lecturers felt: "The ASEAN Secretariat doesn't open up to people"; "it's really hard if you can't communicate with the ASEAN Secretariat itself"; "sometimes there must be misunderstanding, because we cannot ask them, 'What exactly do you mean by this, or is it really like this?' It's hard."

In terms of secondary material, almost all the Indonesian lecturers referred to limitations in their access to academic databases. But the difficulty of sharing scholarship and information from country to country within Southeast Asia was also noted. One Indonesian participant, for example, having attended a conference in Vietnam, was surprised to find an approach to ASEAN that s/he was not familiar with: "When we actually explore more Vietnam scholars,then we found many things that we haven't heard before."

The Western orientation of many secondary sources also continues to be challenging:
There's one session where we talk about democracy and I discuss the
democratization wave in Southeast Asia during the 1980s and 1990s...
But again I think we face a similar problem; it's the literature... It
is mostly written by Western scholars. Obviously, we're not doubting
them or their expertise, but I think it's very important to have a
local point of view.

Unfortunately, such local narratives often remain inaccessible. Either material is not translated and/or distributed regionally, or it is simply not produced.

Active Teaching is Thriving--But Needs Support, and Could Reach Much Further if Shared

It was apparent from our interviews that a host of good teaching practices are under way in the region. What is needed is not so much a campaign for active methods--since lecturers are already using them--as the establishment of the kinds of platforms that could facilitate the sharing of information, ideas, material, and best practice, and the deepening of the knowledge needed to drive more sophisticated activities.

Lecturers from one university described their "Sunday market" outreach. Students are given publicity materials, after which they approach people and start explaining about ASEAN. They derive feedback by using a pre- and post-test with the people they engage. As one respondent put it:
I think socializing in a formal situation [means] people get like a
block in their heads. It's like, oh, no, no, ASEAN. But when we do it
like fun, when they're just sitting and talking, and they suddenly
realize, oh, so it's 2015, and people, labour, are going to come to our
country and stuff like that, they just go, 'Oh, now I understand'.

Another university experimented with an exercise in which students were asked to conceptualize an international organization, and decide its purpose, its rules, and so on. Most students based their organization in Southeast Asia, giving them scope to discuss issues of path dependency by means of establishing an ASEAN counter-factual. The same programme also ran an exhibition, encouraging students to create posters or models raising awareness about ASEAN issues.

Simulations were popular with many of the lecturers we interviewed. (30) One noted:
During one semester my students stop being Indonesian. They become
Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, and so on. So they have to really
understand not only about the country but also the psychology of the
country, the psychology of the people... They can't find that in
textbooks, so they have to find out by actually hanging out with, say,
Vietnamese. How do Vietnamese feel about Cambodia... those kinds of

Two of our Singaporean interlocutors, who taught students from the military, run a crisis simulation as an assessed piece of work. This always involves some ASEAN countries (or, in a fictitious scenario, "ASEAN-like" countries).

Proponents of simulation and role play techniques identify many advantages for students in this kind of learning, noting, variously: "[Role play] lets them really understand what is the ASEAN Way --how ASEAN approaches other ASEAN countries...; [for example] you don't condemn other ASEAN countries publicly..."; simulations help students to understand that there are different kinds of conflict settlement, and ASEAN's approach is one of those; and "during the debrief, we're surprised that they can apply most of the topics that we cover during the course."

Ironically, however, the hands-on realization that consensus-building is a challenging task can also be discouraging for students:
At the end of the simulation, some of the students felt, 'Oh my God,
it's really hard for ASEAN to reach a consensus', so they seemed
sceptical. It seems, like, how can ASEAN move faster, and be effective,
if there are non-interference principles? ... There are so many things
that ASEAN faces, that are really difficult for them.

The lack of material referred to above also impacted simulations. One lecturer noted that these exercises often end up following a United Nations style of diplomacy, even though in reality things in ASEAN are almost certainly different.

Discouraging, also, was the realization that it was hard to obtain funding for ASEAN publicity projects that the students had designed. More than one institution reported that enthusiastic groups of students, with attractive projects for communicating ASEAN, had failed to secure funding from government sources. One lecturer concluded: "So working with people, communicating ASEAN, even though it's interesting, and it's really needed--maybe it's not so interesting for those people up there who have to give the grants."

Europe is a Mixed Blessing

Students also have very limited knowledge of the concept of regionalism. "They 'know' that the European Union (EU) is like ASEAN, but what actually is ASEAN or the European Union--nothing".

One lecturer noted:
The problem is that students tend to compare ASEAN with the European
Union... So students are much more critical of ASEAN, because they see
the European Union as a perfect example of regionalism. That's the
problem... If they didn't learn about the European Union, perhaps they
would see ASEAN as good... And basically, all studies regarding
regionalism, it's much more about European regionalism.

This was a frequently cited problem among the Indonesian lecturers. Another lecturer pointed out:
The literature is not helping. Most studies about Asian regionalism
still tend to focus on Europe. So basically whatever we teach to our
students, one way or another, they're going to find that [literature],
and have a certain vision that ASEAN is not as good as Europe.

Another, describing a similar effect, noted: "We have to reconstruct their understanding."

Some lecturers dealt with that problem by focusing on history, and the different pathways that led to European and Southeast Asian regionalism: "But not many students like history, so it's a bit problematic. And sometimes the students still think that the European Union is the best, and ASEAN is not good."

Some lecturers pushed back against the student assumptions that "ASEAN is not really good because they didn't follow the Europeans' path", asserting instead that "we just require a different path". Others also blamed ASEAN for showing too much willingness to emulate the EU, and not optimally developing its own model.

However, there was a certain ambivalence even within the lecturers' discourse. One noted: "Compared to the EU, ASEAN's decision-making is always based on inter-governmentalism, so everything must satisfy everyone, and nobody actually thinks about the interests of the region. Who actually represents ASEAN? Nobody actually."

Students in the classes we taught, and those described by our Indonesian interlocutors, often reflect an entrenched belief--despite years of widely publicized EU problems, including the Euro crisis, migration and growing fears of "Brexit"--that Europe has somehow achieved the regional identity that Southeast Asia finds elusive.

One lecturer aptly described the circle that needs to be squared:
Sometimes we use the European Union as a role model of the best lesson
of regional integration. But we also remind students not to use the
European Union lesson as the only one, because ASEAN has a different
character, a different structure... There's a dynamic in ASEAN that
might make it different from the European Union... It's also difficult
to select resources. When we look at the European Union, of course,
we'll talk about it as the best, the most successful.

Both in 2015 and 2016, the UNMC class included students from Europe. The fact that they did not all agree about the merits of the EU, did not particularly detect much sense of European identity, and did not feel that European publics were necessarily very well informed about the EU's way of working was very revealing for the Southeast Asian students, challenging many of the widely circulating myths about the EU's intrinsic superiority. Accounts from Central Asian and South Asian students about their experiences of regionalism similarly allowed Southeast Asian students to recognize that, by comparison, ASEAN had made significant progress in many areas.

ASEAN is Difficult to Publicize

At the height of the Brexit debate, Marco Biagi notes: "Campaigning for the EU is like trying to be a passionate advocate for hoovering [vacuum-cleaning]. You can recognize its benefits but it is very hard to love." (31) ASEAN also has this problem, perhaps arguably more so.

There are two interconnected aspects to this challenge. The first concerns the issue of publicity. As the UNMC students who designed material to publicize ASEAN rapidly discovered, it is extraordinarily challenging to hit the right tone. Too upbeat and optimistic, and the effect is propagandistic, and invites disbelief. Too "negative" (in the sense of highlighting intrinsically interesting but highly problematic issues such as Rohingya refugees or the "haze"), and the conversation easily becomes either cynical or defensive.

Some students dealt with this by avoiding substantive issues altogether, and focusing on fun, youth-friendly portrayals of "background"--the facts and figures of the region, for example, or the ways Myanmar could be drawn closer to its ASEAN peers by the promotion of tourism.

As a Singaporean interlocutor pointed out, ASEAN is innately difficult to teach--let alone publicize--because it is based on multiple contradictions. It is difficult to render in soundbites. The UNMC students struggled with the challenge of portraying ASEAN holistically yet attractively, particularly as many found their efforts to capture the nuances of ASEAN necessitated lengthier pieces of writing than their peers (their "guinea-pigs") were willing to read.

The second, deeper issue involves the inevitable contestation surrounding any regional endeavour. While regionalism can arguably benefit all legitimate individual interests, it does not necessarily benefit them all equally or simultaneously. This can be illustrated by the experience of lecturers who carry out informal publicity in vocational high schools. Some students are interested in the opportunities they hear about. "But some also consider it as a threat: 'Am I going to lose my job? Is it going to be really competitive now? My English is not that good...' It actually quite worries some people as well." Another lecturer, however, commented:
What I find is that young people are more optimistic than the older
people. The older ones see it as a threat... In vocational school,
they're actually more optimistic. It's quite surprising, actually.
They're more optimistic than the people in the general high school.

This begs the hugely important question of what students are actually optimistic or pessimistic about, and the extent to which their hopes can be justified and their concerns allayed. Some fears can be laid to rest simply with more information. However, others form part of a complex cost-benefit analysis that is going to be different for each ASEAN country--and needs to be carefully and differently managed by each ASEAN government.

Lecturers note the challenge of finding "good examples of the dynamic of diplomacy" within ASEAN: that is, examples of things that are working, and going well. "The cooperation between elites is very solid", one pointed out, "but it's sacrificed at the societal level. We talk about human rights, we talk about democracy, and we're pessimistic about what kind of cooperation [we have] in ASEAN."

Wrestling with the very practical issue of publicity, however, is an excellent (and relatively "fun") way to plunge into these debates --which must be dealt with and not ducked if students are to emerge with a rounded and nuanced picture of ASEAN.


Building on the discussion in the previous sections, but bearing in mind that our project is still at an early stage, we tentatively put forward the following recommendations. Given that they cost little, are intrinsically unthreatening, could be organized within Southeast Asia, and allow full scope for subregional variance, they are largely immune to the objections that often bedevil ASEAN initiatives. They also resonate with the conclusions and recommendations proposed in the latest ten-nation survey. (32)

Firstly, projects such as the one described in this research note need to be not only extended to cover a broader regional footprint, but also generalized, linked and synthesized. To that end, we would welcome replies, discussions on the results of comparable interviews and initiatives, suggestions for further development, and so on. Further context needs to be provided by, inter alia, a detailed examination of the extent to which ASEAN figures in general (rather than dedicated) undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the region, an analysis of the way "national framing" in each member country affects ASEAN pedagogy, and a comparison of the pedagogical treatment of ASEAN qua institution with that of the situations and approaches of individual member countries. (33)

Secondly, and more broadly, there is an urgent need for an interactive, informal, user-friendly online platform where ASEAN-focused lecturers can "meet", discuss challenges, share ideas and materials that have worked well, and link up with potential partner classes for enhanced contact and interaction.

In many places in Southeast Asia, enthusiastic lecturers are undertaking active and innovative projects, some of which were discussed in the sections above. Unfortunately, these initiatives rarely gain the wider attention they deserve, largely because lecturers are often too busy to focus on issues beyond their immediate teaching duties. The desire to encourage exponents of ASEAN at the chalkface to share and build on their experience is one of the motivators of this research note. If such a platform could also act as, or link to, an "Information Central" on ASEAN-focused initiatives, so much the better.

Several materials-sharing initiatives have been attempted to date. The AUN's were mentioned above, and the ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook (34) remains an excellent resource (although it is still unclear how widely it is known). ASEAN's "Learning" site (35) also attempts to meet some of these needs. Its "ASEAN Studies" segment comprises an upload facility, but the current collection, though interesting, is highly disparate. The "Virtual Classroom" section is still returning a "content updating" message, and the ASEAN Virtual Learning Resource Centre Forum, soft-launched in 2015, (36) is still in test mode. This website has huge potential to be a youth-friendly "one-stop shop" on ASEAN, but at the time of writing was still somewhat sparse. It could usefully include, for example, links to the excellent "Reporting ASEAN" news site, (37) and to the numerous volunteer and outreach opportunities that are available in the region.

In terms of raw information, while the ASEAN Secretariat's website has improved enormously, and other initiatives, such as the National University of Singapore's Centre for International Law Database, (38) fulfil valuable functions, the points raised by our interlocutors remain valid: How can lecturers themselves check on points of process, and how can they make these documents attractive and accessible for students? Hence, there is a need for a dedicated, interactive, teaching-oriented website, open to all lecturers within the region who teach ASEAN in any part of their syllabus.

Thirdly, a sister platform could be used to publicize the results of student research and awareness-raising initiatives, such as the ones undertaken in our project. The cumulative impact of peer-to-peer ASEAN research and publicity could be enormous, supplementing quantitative awareness studies with a wealth of rich qualitative data, allowing young people to take greater ownership of the ASEAN awareness process, and providing valuable pointers towards the types of publicity that work well and those that are less effective.

The potentially transformative effect of enabling lecturers and students to share, evaluate, and build upon initiatives to promote active ASEAN learning--broadly conceived--should not be underestimated.

Fourthly, initiatives are needed that help bridge the perceived gap between ASEAN diplomacy and ASEAN teaching (the "how does ASEAN really work?" gap). Workshops and conferences that bring together technical/diplomatic practitioners and pedagogical experts in a joint effort to foreground, validate, and support the teaching element of the Southeast Asian lecturer's role would therefore be very useful.

It would probably be flying in the face of global trends to attempt to make governments value teaching output as much as publication output, but incentives for lecturers to learn more about "teaching ASEAN" would pay incalculable dividends. Active and inclusive learning, which puts students centre stage as enquiring, problem-solving and communicating groups and individuals, would go a long way towards breaking down the barrier of elitism that still impedes ASEAN progress, and make a significant contribution to ASEAN publicity, awareness, identity-formation, and community-building in the decades to come.


The authors are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful suggestions, and to all those who took part in interviews and/or focus groups, including: from Brawijaya University Malang, Indonesia, Asih Purwanti, Yusli Effendi, Aswin Ariyanto Aziz, and another lecturer who preferred to remain anonymous; from Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Ali Muhammad and Omi Ongge; from Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta, Atin Prahandari; from Universitas UPN "Veteran", Yogyakarta, Ludiro Madu; from Universitas Islam Indonesia, Hangga Fathana, Irawan Jati, Karina Utami Dewi, and Hasbi Aswar; and from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Alan Chong and Daniel Wei Boon Chua. Thanks are also due to Rashaad Ali for helping with the task of transcription. Most of all, we want to thank the students from UMY and UNMC, who actively participated in the class activities described here. Their curiosity and enthusiasm motivated us to do more, and to keep doing it better.

(1) Robert C. Bulman, "How Teaching Can Inform Scholarship", Faculty Focus, 10 April 2015, available at <>.

(2) Helen Walkington, "Students as Researchers: Supporting Undergraduate Research in the Disciplines in Higher Education", The Higher Education Academy, 2015, available at <>.

(3) Alan Chong and Natasha Hamilton-Hart, "Teaching International Relations in Southeast Asia: Historical Memory, Academic Context, and Politics--An Introduction", International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 9, no. 1 (January 2009): 3.

(4) Jonas Hagmann and Thomas J. Biersteker, "Beyond the Published Discipline: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of International Studies", European Journal of International Relations 20, no. 2 (June 2014): 293.

(5) A number of studies have documented levels of ASEAN awareness over the years. See, inter alia, Eric C. Thompson and Chulanee Thianthai, Attitudes and Awareness Towards ASEAN: Findings of a Ten-Nation Survey (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2008); Guido Benny and Kamarulnizam Abdullah, "Indonesian Perceptions and Attitudes Toward the ASEAN Community", Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs 30, no. 1 (January 2011): 39-67; ASEAN, "Surveys on ASEAN Community Building Effort", 2012, available at <>; The Habibie Center, "Raising People's Awareness Towards ASEAN: Potentials and Recommendations", The Habibie Center ASEAN Studies Program: ASEAN Briefs 3, no. 2 (November 2015); Eric C. Thompson, Chulanee Thianthai, and Moe Thuzar, Do Young People Know ASEAN? Update of a Ten-Nation Survey (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2016); and Bridget Welsh and Kai-Ping Huang, "So Close, But Yet So Far: Public Perceptions of ASEAN", The Habibie Center ASEAN Studies Program: ASEAN Briefs 3, no. 6 (August 2016). Generally, these studies present a fairly sober picture, either of lack of knowledge, or of knowledge that is superficial. A study by J. Walter Thompson ("ASEAN Consumer Report", 2013, available at <>) offers a rather more upbeat (brands-orientated) assessment of regional identity and unifying factors, but according to former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, "So far we have not been able to demonstrate, in a simple way, the benefits of ASEAN membership to citizens" (as cited by Chia Yan Min, "Raising Citizens' Awareness of ASEAN Benefits a Challenge", Straits Times, 15 September 2015, available at <>). ASEAN is therefore deemed by experts to be "relatively unknown amongst the general public" (Termsak Chalermpalanupap, as cited by Johanna Son, "Five Decades On, Is ASEAN Ready to Grow Up?", The Irrawaddy, 27 September 2015, available at <>). It remains "essentially a diplomatic community of policymakers, journalists and academics which has not sunk deep roots" (Barry Desker, "ASEAN's New Era: Challenges Amid Growing Cooperation", RSIS Commentary 167, 11 August 2015, available at <>). Youth do not tend to identify with the region, an expert roundtable likewise found (The Habibie Center, "Challenges of Raising ASEAN Awareness: Multi-Sector Perspectives", The Habibie Center ASEAN Studies Program: Talking ASEAN, 24-26 August 2015, available at <>). And studies in Indonesia, by far ASEAN's largest member, found low levels of awareness as the birth of the ASEAN Community approached (Ayomi Amindoni, "Public Awareness of AEC Remains Low", Jakarta Post, 2 December 2015, available at <>). Despite considerable effort and some improvement, "there is still much to be done to ensure that ASEAN-related information goes down to the grassroots level" (Katlene O. Cacho, "Awareness Still Lacking", Sun Star, 18 March 2016, available at <>).

(6) See, for example, Alan Chong and Natasha Hamilton-Hart, "Teaching International Relations in Southeast Asia", op. cit; Alan Chong and See Seng Tan, "Teaching International Relations in Singapore 1956-2008: From Supporting Development to Global City Aspirations?", International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 9, no. 1 (January 2009): 19-54; Bob S. Hadiwinata, "International Relations in Indonesia: Historical Legacy, Political Intrusion, and Commercialization", International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 9, no. 1 (January 2009): 55-81; K.S. Balakrishnan, "International Relations in Malaysia: Theories, History, Memory, Perception, and Context", International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 9, no. 1 (January 2009): 107-30; Farish A. Noor, "How Indonesia Sees ASEAN and the World: A Cursory Survey of the Social Studies and History Textbooks of Indonesia, From Primary to Secondary Level", RSIS Working Papers 233 (22 February 2012), available at <>; and I Cede Wahyu Wicaksana, "The Changing Perspective of International Relations in Indonesia", International Relations of the Asia-Pacific (early online publication 11 August 2016), available at <>.

(7) Some of these sources post-date the onset of the project, but nevertheless represent an accurate account of its motivations.

(8) The fourth meeting of ASEAN Heads of Government in 1992 advocated the strengthening of existing higher education networks, and even contemplated the establishment of an ASEAN university. The relevant ministers from the (then) six member states signed the Charter of the ASEAN University Network in 1995, and senior officers from eleven universities signed the Agreement on the Establishment of the ASEAN University Network. See ASEAN, "Charter of the ASEAN University Network", November 1995, available at <>, p. 7. From those original members, the AUN has expanded to include universities from all ASEAN's member states.

(9) AUN, "2015-2016 Annual Report", May 2016, available at <>, pp. 2, 14, 130-31.

(10) Ibid.

(11) ASEAN, "Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025", September 2016, available at <>, pp. 21, 65-66.

(12) Ibid.

(13) AUN, "2015-2016 Annual Report", op. cit., p. 161.

(14) ASEAN, "Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025", op. cit., pp. 7-8, 21, 65-66.

(15) AUN, "AUN ASEAN Studies Academy", 2012, available at <>.

(16) AUN, "2014-2015 Annual Report", June 2015, available at <>, pp. 65, 68-69; ACU Project, "History", 2016, available at <>; and AUN, "ASEAN Cyber University", available at <>.

(17) ASEAN, "Learning: Getting to Know ASEAN Better", 2014, available at <>.

(18) ASEAN, "ASEAN Studies Program", 2015, available at <>; see also Candida Ng, "Thinking ASEAN, Studying ASEAN", Reporting ASEAN, 8 August 2016, available at<>.

(19) Currently, the AUN's member universities are Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Royal University of Law and Economics, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Universitas Indonesia, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Universitas Airlangga, National University of Laos, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Yangon Institute of Economics, University of Yangon, University of Mandalay, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University, Chulalongkorn University, Burapha University, Mahidol University, Chiang Mai University, Prince of Songkla University, Vietnam National University Hanoi, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho University. This represents laudable coverage of the region, but by way of comparison, the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education of the Republic of Indonesia documents 3,226 universities and higher education institutions in that country alone ("Indonesia", 2015, available at <>).

(20) Maryellen Weimer, "Pedagogical Knowledge: Three Worlds Apart", Faculty Focus, 15 April 2015, available at <>.

(21) A number of issues make it difficult to accurately and specifically capture students' knowledge on entering the course. Practically, the lecturer needs to keep in mind that this is primarily a class, and only secondarily his/her research project; a "test", even an informal and "fun" one, is not necessarily the friendliest way to begin a module; and many students, for various reasons, might not even be present in the first meeting. Ethically, any direct usage of student data requires specific consent, and because the student-lecturer relationship is one of unequal power, care is needed to ensure that students do not feel compelled in any way to give that consent. In their own research projects, however (described below), individual students did undertake "before and after" tests with their volunteers, asking them to complete a questionnaire about their initial knowledge, then participate in the awareness-raising activity the student had designed, and finally redo the questionnaire on the basis of what they had learnt. These student research projects also require specific consent from their subjects. But because they are peer-to-peer, and student-initiated, the ethics concerns are less complex.

(22) Maryellen Weimer, "What We Have and Haven't Learned", Faculty Focus, 1 April 2015, available at <>.

(23) English is the medium of instruction at UNMC, and the UMY class that was the primary focus of this research was part of the English-language "International Program", which is embedded within the Department of International Relations. However, a number of the activities described below were also conducted with Indonesian-speaking parallel classes within the department. Undoubtedly, a common language facilitated the interaction of our focus classes, and communicating in English replicates the ASEAN milieu, where English is the official language. Lack of a common language need not be an insuperable obstacle to the activities, however, provided the initiating teachers can understand each other. Motivated students can be very innovative in their use of translation applications and visual media, and university language programmes can also be encouraged to support these endeavours.

(24) As the respondents in the second phase of our project made clear, ASEAN is taught in many different contexts, figuring variously as a component of IR in Southeast Asia, comparative government and politics, comparative regionalism and general IR modules. In some of these contexts, the overload of material to be covered makes it problematic to give ASEAN sufficient space. ASEAN is also used in case studies for modules as various as diplomacy, economics, security studies or Indonesian foreign policy.

(25) See, for example, Karl A. Smith, Sheri D. Sheppard, David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson, "Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices", Journal of Engineering Education 94, no. 1 (January 2005): 87-101; Scott Freeman, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt and Mary Pat Wenderoth, "Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 111, no. 23 (June 2014): 8410-15; Jess Gifkins, "What is 'Active Learning' and Why is it Important?", E-International Relations, 8 October 2015, available at <>; and Weimer, "What We Have and Haven't Learnt", op. cit.

(26) As well as the transcripts/summaries of their interviews, the students were required to submit analyzes of the results, evaluations and documentation of appropriate consent procedures. This kind of assignment therefore allows students to practise interviewing technique, analyze data, reflect on their performance and become aware of ethics processes. It also garners a trove of interesting, peer-to-peer, qualitative data on students' experience of ASEAN.

(27) A snapshot of the 2015 results is perhaps illustrative here. Alongside much evidence of a lack of knowledge, perhaps predictably trade and economics was by far the strongest theme that emerged in the 2015 interviews. The next most commonly iterated theme--more surprisingly--was the idea of "protection" (for example, "the role of ASEAN is to protect the rights of its countries"; "ASEAN takes care of its members"; "ASEAN tries to preserve the interests of countries in Southeast Asia"; "ASEAN is a support system for Southeast Asian countries"). Development was the third most commonly occurring idea. Very few of the interviewees had mentioned education.

(28) One of the student interviewers remarked that it was "striking to see by yourself that people don't really know". Another commented: "I feel the research projects have the potential to not only track but engage public opinion, not only as an academic project, but in the real world."

(29) Compare the comments by Farish A. Noor, "Rebranding Will Boost ASEAN's Image", New Straits Times, 22 April 2013, available at <>, and AUN, "2015-2016 Annual Report", op. cit., p. 161.

(30) For pedagogical accounts of the merits and demerits of a variety of types of simulations, see, for example, Jeremy Youde, "Crushing Their Dreams? Simulations and Student Idealism", International Studies Perspectives 9, no. 3 (August 2008): 348-56; Kirsten Taylor, "Simulations Inside and Outside the IR Classroom: A Comparative Analysis", International Studies Perspectives 14, no. 2 (May 2013): 134-49; Dave Bridge and Simon Radford, "Teaching Diplomacy by Other Means: Using an Outside-of-Class Simulation to Teach International Relations Theory", International Studies Perspectives 15, no. 4 (November 2014): 423-37; Sarah M. Glasgow, "Stimulating Learning by Simulating Politics: Teaching Simulation Design in the Undergraduate Context", International Studies Perspectives 15, no. 4 (November 2014): 525-37.

(31) Marco Biagi, "What Does the EU Have To Do With Hoovering?", OpenDemocracy, 10 June 2016, available at <>.

(32) Thompson, Thianthai and Thuzar, Do Young People Know ASEAN?, op. cit., pp. 182-87.

(33) We are indebted to an anonymous reviewer for these highly apposite contextualizing questions.

(34) ASEAN, ASEAN Curriculum Sourcebook, 2012, available at <>.

(35) ASEAN, "Learning: Getting to Know ASEAN Better", op. cit.

(36) ASEAN, "Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025", op. cit., p. 21.

(37) "Reporting ASEAN", 2017, available at <>.

(38) NUS, "CIL [Centre for International Law] Database of ASEAN and International Law Documents", 2017, available from <>.

DIAN AZMAWATI is a Lecturer in the Department of Internationa Relations at Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and is the Director of the International Program of International Relations (IPIREL). Postal address: Jl Lingkar Selatan, Kasihan, Bantul, Yogyakarta 55183, Indonesia; email:

LINDA QUAYLE is an Assistant Professor in the School of Politics, History, and International Relations, The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Postal address: Jalan Broga, 43500 Semenyih, Selangor, Malaysia; email:
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Author:Azmawati, Dian; Quayle, Linda
Publication:Contemporary Southeast Asia
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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