2015 Ecole d'été sur la justice internationale : crises et transition l’Université Laval, Faculté du droit

2015 Ecole d'été sur la justice internationale : crises et transition l’Université Laval, Faculté du droit

Teaching Philosophy

A quote often misattributed to Mark Twain provides a useful starting place from which to expound upon my own teaching philosophy: “College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.” To be sure, this amusing—yet regrettable—description captures a part of the university experience for many of us. Though I fear there are times as a junior instructor when I have fallen into this lamentable mold, I have worked hard to understand how and why this happens in order to break out of the pattern.

My early inclination to rely heavily upon lecture notes mostly arose from the many years of effort poured into acquiring that knowledge and developing the ideas that undergird them. Why bother re-chewing concepts that have already been digested when spoon-feeding through pure lecture is a method we have all seen and know? Of course, this woefully misses the stage and aptitude of the students, and represents the first challenge I confronted in learning how to lead a classroom. Not only is passive learning less likely to provide lasting lessons, it also creates a distance between the professor and students when knowing your pupils is an important first step towards recognizing whether they are learning.

Thus in seeking to avoid this pitfall I have discovered that when preparing lesson plans my primary focus is best attuned to creating an environment in which the students can fruitfully explore difficult questions through active learning. To effectively achieve this for the enormously complex questions of international studies, my experience has been that students need two principal elements: a sound structure to shape inquiry; and a chaperone providing feedback as they apply it for investigation. In aiming to provide these two components, students are required to use their intellect to process and reflect upon the “lecture notes” that structure the course, and are meant to walk away with more durable learning that can be reapplied in different contexts.

It is readily apparent that one disciplinary approach is insufficient for international studies, and this is no less true for the examination of technology and security. Thus in my classes we learn and explore the basics to support a multidisciplinary approach, and I encourage the students to strive for an interdisciplinary one when and where it is appropriate. In the context of my specialty, this means that students must first gain the empirical and technical knowledge to understand different emerging technologies and what opportunities they offer—along with what difficulties they cannot overcome. Secondly, it is necessary that students contemplate the basics of societal structure and military strategies that defend this public edifice while still advancing security.

smoking-towers-bin-laden-droneOne simple classroom exercise to begin students’ learning about the emerging technology of Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) is to project a picture of the smoking Twin Towers, Osama Bin Laden, and an armed drone. The question with which I open class discussion is simple: we have this technology and know where he is, what do we do?

While a good examination of the possibilities takes many twists and turns, I help guide the discussion by asking whether proposals raise questions of formal validity (legality), axiological validity (morality), and empirical validity (efficacy). My job as the instructor is to steer the arguments into these disciplinary groupings and illuminate the fact that each of these approaches is interesting and valid. Then students are divided into three groups and each group is tasked with listing the primary questions at stake, and how they suggest finding the sources for exploring just one of the forms of inquiry. Finally, with some direction to the best sources, students will start to explore each of these different avenues on their own.

This multidisciplinary model can indeed be applied to the gamut of technologies used to increase security. As new technological equipment emerges, we must understand how they work, what they offer, and if/how they can fit into our shared norms and codified law. Thus my goal is to largely abstain from just telling students about my own answers, and offer an opportunity for students to put this analytical instrument in their toolbox by working with it and seeing what it has to offer.

Simply put, my teaching philosophy today is about letting go of reliance upon lecture notes, and exploring ways to connect with students through active learning designed around the ideas that structure those multidisciplinary notes. While I am pleased to have taken this initial step in improving my teaching skills, my full intention is to continue to develop this philosophy as I gain more and more experience.

Steven J. Barela

Geneva, September 2015



University Teaching and Lectures


Undergraduate Seminar, “Legitimate Force: Law, Morals and Science”

Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva

2018, 2020

Débats historiques relatifs à la guerre des drones

Historical Debates Relevant to Drone Warfare (lectures given in French),

MAS en sécurité globale et résolution des conflits, l’Université de Genève


La lutte contre le terrorisme, les drones et le NSA

Counterterrorism: Drones and the NSA (given in French) 

Conférencier, Université Laval, Faculté du droit, - Ecole d'été sur la justice internationale : crises et transition


Les assassinats (ciblés) : le programme de contreterrorisme des États-Unis

(Targeted) Killing: The U.S. Counterterrorism Program (given in French)

Conférencier, Université Laval, L’Institut Québécois des Hautes Études Internationales (HEI), Sciences Po Bordeaux et la Faculté de Droit de l’Université Laval – École d’été sur les Conflits et Interventions Internationales


Detention, Judicial Review and the ‘War on Terror’, Lecture for Human Rights in Armed Conflict Course, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights


La légitimité, Guantánamo et la détention préventive

Legitimacy, Guantánamo and Preventive Detention (given in French)

Conférencier, Université Laval, Institut québécois des hautes études internationales – École internationale d’été sur les terrorismes


U.S. Counterterrorism and Int’l Law – University of California at Los Angeles, Geneva Program – Lectures on ‘Torture Law’ and ‘Guantánamo and the U.S. Supreme Court’ – Paired with afternoon visits to OHCHR and the ICRC


La légitimité comme cible du terrorisme: le cas des Etats-Unis

Legitimacy as a Target of Terrorism: The U.S. Case (given in English)

Conférencier, Université Laval, Institut québécois des hautes études internationales École internationale d’été sur les terrorismes


International Law and the ‘War on Terror’ –

Masters level course taught at the University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies


Detention, Judicial Review and the ‘War on Terror’,

Lecture for Human Rights in Armed Conflict Course, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights




Presentations and Conference Papers

2020Panelist “America’s Misadventure with Torture: New Revelations & Hard Lessons”, Georgetown University/Law Faculty/USA, Book Launch (2nd) Interrogation and Torture: Integrating Efficacy with Law and Morality
2019Opening for Book Launch, Speaker on Morality, Moderator of Panel Discussion, Interrogation and Torture: Science, Law and Morality, Human Rights Day, University of Geneva/Law Faculty/Global Studies Institute
2019Presentation of Interrogation and Torture Volume at the International Association of Chiefs of Police 2019 Conference, for the Section on International Managers of Police Academies and College Trainers (IMPACT)
2019Conference Presentation at Exeter Law School/UK “Measured Self-Help in the Disinformation Age”, Conference on Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats
2018Opening Presentation, Volume Preparation Conference for Interrogation and Torture, at University of Pennsylvania/Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law/USA
2017Cross-Border Cyber Ops to Erode Legitimacy: Russian Interference in the 2016 US Election, 11th Pan-European Conference on International Relations: "The Politics of International Studies in an Age of Crises" – Barcelona, Spain
2017Déstabiliser l’Etat : un objectif clé des attentats suicides, Destabilizing the State: A Key Objective of Suicide Attacks (given in French) « Kamikaze : Arme de guerre ? » Colloque – 11e éditions du Security Forum, Université de Genève, Global Studies Institute
2013Legality and Morality in Drone Killing: Implications for Diplomatic Practice 8th Pan – European Conference on International Relations, University of Warsaw, Poland
2012Drone Killing: Non-State Actors and Imminence in U.S. Counterterrorism, Law in Crisis? Normality and Exceptions in the Regulation of Armed Violence at the 41st Annual Conference of the Canadian Council on International Law
2011The Coincidence of Legality and Morality: Bacon, Grotius and U.S. Counterterrorism, « Paix, guerre et justice » - Colloque Interdisciplinaire et Bilingue, Université de Genève, Facultés des Théologie et Droit
2009Judicially Moderated Dialogue and the ‘War on Terror’ – Counterterrorism Models: Transatlantic Perspectives Conference, Brussels, Belgium
2007Legitimacy and the ‘War on Terror’ Cities Against Terrorism Conference, EU Forum, Brussels, Belgium
2005Preemptive or Preventive War and the Law of Peoples – International Studies Association Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii