Baselining II: Intro to Comparative Politics

Having created a pre- and post-test for my introductory course on international relations, it’s time to do the same for comparative politics. As regular readers of this blog know, I have an unusual approach to teaching this subject — themes and competitive presentations rather than lectures on government institutions.

Buckminster Fuller Map of Earth

My primary objective of the course — which I state in the syllabus — is to provide students with an opportunity to acquire some sense of what they do and do not know about the world. In other words, I want them to recognize that not everyone in the world has the same experiences and perspectives they do — because of cultural, historical, geographic, and economic differences. I focus more on getting students curious about why political institutions and patterns of political behavior vary from one part of the world to another than getting them to memorize exactly what those differences are.

This approach makes it difficult to reduce course content to a series of multiple choice test questions, but the questions that I came up with are listed below. As before, this process of created a pre-test/post-test has caused me to think harder than I usually do about what specific learning outcomes I want to structure the course around.

  • Modernization is . . . 
  • A revolution results in . . .
  • A person’s political identity is often based on . . .
  • Genocide is . . .
  • The speed or success of democratization can be affected by  . . .
  • Liberal democracy is usually defined as including . . .
  • A state is . . .
  • A nation is . . .
  • Nationalism is the belief that . . .
  • Power is . . .
  • Authority is . . .
  • Legitimacy is . . .
  • Political economy is the study of . . .
  • In a parliamentary system of democratic government . . . 
  • In a presidential system of democratic government . . .

6 thoughts on “Baselining II: Intro to Comparative Politics

  1. Great point Chad! I had almost forgotten that I took this pledge last year…. I’ve adjusted my questions a little and since I have small classes I am going to enjoy the open ended questions a little more than usual. I find myself concerned about “teaching to the test,” especially with very specific concept questions so I try to keep them a little more vague to see what the students come up with.

    I would appreciate any comments regarding these questions since I haven’t tried them on a classroom yet.

    1. What is state sovereignty?
    2. Define the term “universal jurisdiction” in terms of international law.
    3. Explain the general U.S. position on the prior term.
    4. Explain some of the differences between the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council.
    5. Peace keeping and peace making: explain the differences in terms of military intervention
    6. What is terrorism?
    7. Explain the difference between preventive and preemptive war:
    8. What does the term “Cold” in the phrase “Cold War” refer to? What is its opposite?
    9. Explain the use of the term anarchy in reference to the international political system. Is it helpful or harmful and why?
    10. Evaluate the following statement: “the United States spends too much foreign aid to poor countries when it could be better served making the domestic economy stronger and the country safer”

  2. The first thing that comes to mind: how large is the class — how long will these short answer questions take you to “grade” at the beginning and end of the semester?

    #6, for example, is fairly straightforward — it will be obvious whether the student can define the term correctly or not.

    #9 and #10 are less easy to objectively evaluate, the former because of the way the question is worded, and the latter because of the question’s topic. With #10, you are likely to get a rambling opinion statement that makes no reference to IR theories (assuming that’s what you are aiming for).

    1. Each class is 30 students. I will be doing the pre-test in paper format during class. This way the space between questions will limit their ability to spend too much time.

      1. And how much time will it take you to read through 30 exams, each with 10 answers? In other words, will the pain be less than the gain?

      2. Ahh I see… hmmm…. to get a sense of their competence… I would imagine about 2 minutes per exam on the post test and probably 1 minute on the pre-test… the last time I tried something like this there was a great deal of ????? written on the blanks.

Leave a Reply