A Bit of Housekeeping

I just sent out my very first email using MailChimp. Here it is . . . 


You’re receiving this email because you once filled out this pop-up:


A bit of history: this blog began after a discussion among five like-minded individuals at the 2011 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC). I originally built it on the free WordPress.org platform and readership eventually grew to nearly 1,000 subscribers and an average of 5,000 page views per month.

By 2015, the constraints of using WordPress.org as a web host were increasingly apparent, and with help from our friends at Soomo Learning I moved the blog to its own web domain at http://activelearningps.com/.

For some reason the migration erased about 75 percent of our subscribers, and new visitors to the blog seemed not to be noticing the subscription box on its home page:


As an amateurish solution — this is a labor of love, not something I profit from  — I created the MailChimp pop up. Whenever a visitor to the blog submits their email address via the pop up, I get notified, and then I manually enter the same address in the blog’s subscription box — resulting in a second confirmation email to you. If you didn’t confirm your desire to subscribe after receiving this second email, most likely you haven’t been receiving updates about new blog posts.

So I’m urging you to subscribe through the blog if you haven’t done so already.

Other news: a few of the ALPS regulars will be at the next TLC. We will also be delivering a workshop on Creative Teaching and Course Design at the next International Studies Association meeting. Both events are in February, so book now if you are interested.


Chad Raymond
Managing Editor
Active Learning in Political Science

Learning Outside the Box

How do we get our students excited about class material? How can we encourage students to apply class concepts to new and unique situations? One avenue for increasing student motivation and encouraging students to make connections between course material and the “real world” is through co-curricular activities. By co-curricular activities I mean any experiences that happen outside of class but complement the classroom learning experience. In my classes¹ this includes: speakers, on and off campus talks or events, course-related films, and theatrical performances.²

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Future-proofing your course

It’s… um… oh…

The beauty of studying politics – its ever-changing nature – is also its curse, at least when it comes to trying to teach it. This year has seen more than its fair share of surprising and consequential political developments, which presents us with a dilemma.

On the one hand, students are understandably keen to explore and discuss what’s happening around them, not least because it has a material impact on their lives. On the other, it’s hard to talk about something that’s still happening: that’s why so many of us encourage our students to pick recent – rather than current – developments for dissertation topics.

Without getting into the whole question of whether we should be led by our students’ interests, rather than by what is important (and even as I write that, cringe at both sides of the equation), we can still think about ways to allow us more scope to integrate the here-and-now into our courses. Continue reading

Active Teaching & Learning in Bogotá, Colombia


Today we have a guest post by Kent Kille, Matthew Krain, and Jeffrey Lantis from The College of Wooster, Ohio, USA.

framework-skyWe recently led a three-day workshop on active teaching and learning in international studies, sponsored by the Centro de Estudios Políticos e Internacionales, at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia. The workshop was based on a best practices framework that we devised for teaching with purpose, called EEPA:

  • identifying clear Educational objectives;
  • exploration of a wide range of possible Exercises, with the goal of choosing ones that best meet the instructor’s objectives;
  • developing clear and explicit Procedures for implementation to help guide the students and the instructor;
  • incorporating critical Assessment, debriefing, or other forms of structured reflection to achieve learning outcomes more effectively.

Workshop sessions included simulations, case teaching, structured debates, teaching with visual media (such as film) and alternative texts, and included discussions about the effective use of technology and experiential learning opportunities. Participants had the opportunity to engage in and experience different applications, and we focused on detailing effective methods for debriefing and assessment. The workshop ended with sessions focused on syllabus development and on publishing materials and exercises in the scholarship on active teaching and learning.

We found like-minded and conscientious teacher scholars in Bogotá who were already using some of these approaches and eager to think more systematically about how to make their classrooms even more student-centered. For example, faculty from the business school engaged us in conversations about how to adapt and use Apple’s “Challenge-Based Learning” curriculum at the college level by incorporating problem-, service-, and community-based learning. Faculty members teaching about entrepreneurship shared ideas about exercises that helped students learn to better interact with and serve community-based clients, and discussed how to assess them. We worked with an economics professor to develop procedures and assessment for data literacy and visualization exercises, and with political science professors on simulation design. And we enjoyed wide-ranging discussions about the utility of Colombian-authored, Colombian-focused case studies, exercises, and texts.

Evaluations of the workshop were overwhelmingly positive. Participants reported that they were thinking about how to implement or modify pedagogical strategies in line with the ideas discussed during in the workshop. All seemed grateful for the opportunity to begin to develop a local community of teacher-scholars in Bogotá. Expect to see professors from universities in Colombia begin to connect to professional opportunities for, and publish about, active teaching and learning in the very near future!

The Power of Unpublished Research: You Be the Reviewer

We want our students to learn to read critically and to interrogate and evaluate what they read. Does the author have the right data? Do the conclusions actually follow from the data? Are other explanations missing from the argument? That’s what we want them to ask themselves. A quick look at students’ notes from reading – if they even took any – reveal a totally different set of information, usually focused on the literature review and sometimes the theory. After all, this is the main textually-based body of an empirical paper, so it’s easiest for them to read.

Beyond steps we can take to teach students to read articles effectively (see my previous post on R&U and the Article Sort activity), I like to engage my intermediate and upper-level courses in an activity we call “You Be the Reviewer.” Students in all of my classes have already done the R&U activity and read (briefly) about the process papers go through to get published. So at some point in the term, I assign an unpublished article manuscript – often from a colleague or a conference paper pulled from the conference archives with author permission – and ask students to write a journal-style review, including a decision of whether the item should be published.

As support for this assignment, I distribute a handout like the one available here. It suggests some questions for students to consider, reminds them to check R&U for more guidance, and gives them a framework for writing a review. Typically, they are asked to post their reviews to the course learning management site and to bring a hard copy to class for reference. The resulting conversations have been far more in-depth and wide-ranging than anything else I’ve tried. At the end of the discussion, we collectively decide on the disposition of the article. Several classes – including a freshman-level intro course – have voted to reject manuscripts, though, as in the real world, R&Rs are the most common response.

While this activity obviously works better with upper-division classes, even lower-level students have enjoyed it and given very piercing feedback. For lower-level classes, qualitative research or very simple quantitative analysis works best. I normally compile the students’ feedback (copying particularly relevant bits from the CMS and pasting into a document) and send it to the author as thanks for sharing the manuscript. In an undergraduate methods class, I once was able to have the author come and give a (previously prepared) conference style presentation to the class on the manuscript they had reviewed. The author also took questions, so that the class had a model presentation to use in preparing their own as well as a chance to ask the author about research design decisions and practice giving useful feedback on research-in-progress before their own peer review process.

I’ve found that using a manuscript – an honest to goodness pre-publication, looks-like-it-was-written-in-Word-then-PDF’d manuscript – gets a far better reaction than published research. Students are reluctant to question or challenge work by ‘experts’ that’s already been vetted and published, but papers are a different matter.

Have you used unpublished research (other than your own) with your students? What was their reaction?

Brexit game update 2

This semester I’ve been running a Brexit simulation with Matthew (Memorial) and Chris (Keele). As we’re now moving towards the end phase, I thought it’d be useful to share our progress.

Last week, the UK group submitted their notification to invoke Article 50, which is the formal process for leaving the EU. That came with a letter setting out intentions for the terms of exit (you can read it here, on our FB page).

This week, the groups representing other EU member states have been putting together a response, which should be available very shortly.

That’ll lead up to a final session, face-to-face, in the week of 5 December to try and hammer out a deal.

The eagle-eyed among you will notice I am a bit vague about the date of this last element and this is indeed what I’m going to focus on here: logistics.

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Conferences done right: POD 2016

Hi ALPS land!  I recently attended the 2016 POD Network conference in Louisville, KY, and while my recollections may be due to bourbon-fueled fantasy, I’m pretty sure that they schooled us American political scientists in how to run a conference.  Now, granted, they had only about 950 people whereas our national conferences draw thousands, but I still think that we have a lot to learn about how to make a weekend very productive.

My continual problem with conferences is that there is rarely a reason to attend traditional panels.  Usually they consist of four or five presentations of papers made available on a website,, discussant comments aimed at the papers rather than engendering conversations, panelist responses to those comments that, again, focus on what they tried to do in the paper, and, if the chair has managed to keep everyone to their time limits, perhaps 5 minutes of Q&A.

This is a waste of our time.  There, I said it.

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