The Value of Cake by Dr Emma Mayhew

In September British baking was celebrated during National Cupcake Week. The BBC’s Great British Bake Off has been tremendously popular. Niche cup-cake shops have been springing up on the high street…and quite right. Most of us love cake.

Part 3 politics students enjoying cake

With this in mind, last year I introduced a 10 minute break in the middle of my two-hour Part 3 seminars. During that ten minute break my students and I sat together and chatted over a Tupperware container of home-made cake. We had decided on a cake rota at the start of the autumn term. Each week a different student volunteered to made cupcakes, fairy cakes, millionaire’s short bread, lemon drizzle cake, chocolate brownies and carrot cake.

This year I rolled out my pilot project across all of my Part 3 seminars. This may seem a rather self-indulgent concept. Six seminars a week does, I admit, equal six slices of delicious homemade cake. But this isn’t just about the cake and the simple enjoyment of baking. Cake has pedagogical value.

Part 3 politics students enjoying cake

In these breaks we chat. We don’t just chat about the actual topic of debate in the seminar. We talk about dissertations, essays, careers and controversial authors. We complain about the price of food, the weather, what’s on TV, the economy and politicians. We bond a little more as a group and everyone, including me, becomes less intimidating to the quieter students. We carefully tidy our cake cases away, scoop up the crumbs and start debating the topic of the week again. We’re relaxed, refuelled and reenergised.

Optimal learning occurs when students are happy, calm, engaged and often when they feel part of a wider group learning experience. Cake can help to deliver this environment.

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