Today we have the first of two more guest contributions by Gigi Gokcek of the Dominican University of California.
Political development courses are inherently interdisciplinary, drawing upon economics, history, anthropology, sociology, geography, and political science. For students, however, this is a course about the politics of less-developed countries. I first taught this subject in a traditional way: readings on theory, methods, and cases about the Global South, with exams and a final research paper. This approach left me unsatisfied, despite positive teaching evaluations from students. I wanted to deliver a more animated, meaningful experience, the kind that comes from actually traveling to the places being studied. I also felt it was important that students understand the usefulness of creativity, discovery, and expression across a variety of disciplines. How could I do this without turning the course into a study abroad program that would exclude students who couldn’t afford the extra cost?
Albert Einstein once said that, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” I wondered if a thorough re-imagining of this course might allow it to better engage students in the analysis of development problems in the Global South. I redesigned the course as if I were the CEO of an international consulting firm, with students as employees who were regional and disciplinary experts on development issues. Working in pairs, their task for the semester was to investigate a specific development challenge in a country of their choice and offer a viable solution to the challenge to the country’s government. As the CEO, I required that each group present an oral and written report on their project. A pair of students even came up with a name for this imaginary firm: Gokcek Global Consulting.
Student projects included access to clean water, providing high quality public education in rural areas, safe travel through roads for children in gang-infested areas, and local policing of terrorism. Coincidentally all regions of the Global South (Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and Asia) were represented, even though this was not something I set out to achieve. Students selected countries or topics based on their own familiarity or curiosity. In most cases students already had traveled to or studied the selected country. Students learned about the multiplicity of factors that need to be considered when addressing a development problem, and the need to take a holistic approach to the study of any country. In short, without getting on a plane, students gained an appreciation and empathy for people living in the Global South.
Today we have a guest post from David Young, Head of Theory of Knowledge and Ideas, The English College in Prague. He can be reached at david [dot] young [at] englishcollege [dot] cz.
A while ago I was asked to develop a critical thinking course for an International Baccalaureate (IB) school as a preparation for its Theory of Knowledge course. As someone who teaches global politics, I was drawn to two books: David T. Moore’s Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis (2nd ed 2007), and the invaluable The Art of Intelligence (2014) by William J. Lahneman and Ruben Arcos. Both have had a significant impact on my teaching and my position as the school’s co-coordinator for Theory of Knowledge (ToK), a core element in the IB programme.
In ToK, students are supposed to formulate and evaluate knowledge claims and ask questions about the acquisition of knowledge, making it one of the most challenging elements in a congested pre-university curriculum. I’ve found the analysis of intelligence and the ethical issues surrounding its collection and dissemination to be an exciting way for students to learn about ToK concepts such as reason, imagination, intuition, and sense perception. From my perspective, using principles of intelligence analysis has both enhanced my understanding of ToK and improved the course for students. Continue reading →
Last week, I discussed some of the environmental aspects of working in U.S. higher education that ought to be considered by foreign academics. Today I have some links to information that is relevant to both foreign and U.S. audiences:
First, if you already work for a U.S. college or university, especially a small one, check out my recent essay in Inside Higher Ed on how to identify whether your employer is heading for unrecoverable failure. Colleges and universities don’t fall off of a cliff overnight; many exhibit danger signs for years. Faculty should pay attention to these signs if they want to preserve their careers — but frequently they don’t.
Second, Moody’s Investors Service reported that one-third of small private colleges in the USA had operating budget deficits in fiscal year 2016, up from one-fifth in 2013.
Third, this story in The New York Times discusses the bleak financial outlook for many colleges and universities in the USA, both private and public.
One last post about the South China Sea simulation that I used in my Asia course last semester. Previous posts are here and here.
Students found it much easier to accomplish different objectives than I thought they would, and as a result I set the rewards too high. Several students managed to earn 200 points in a course with a 1,500-point grading scale.
The most beneficial aspect of the simulation for me, the instructor, was using the debriefing as an iterative design tool. I asked, both in class and in a writing assignment, how well the simulation reflected contemporary relations between countries with competing claims to the South China Sea. Students provided me with a lot of excellent feedback about how to improve the simulation for the future:
Clarification about which country had claims to what islands. A table would suffice for this.
Students write something about the country to which they are assigned and in the process research the history behind the territorial claims. This would be an easy preparatory assignment to develop — each student writes some sort of memo or position paper, then each team collaborates on a single version, which is circulated among the other teams or presented to the class orally.
Account for the relative military and economic strength of each country, and include rewards for trade agreements rather than just for treaties about territorial claims. More difficult to pull off, but possible.
Create a more formal environment and employ a moderator for discussion among participants.
Better incorporate nationalistic sentiments of the actors — something I mentioned in my last post. Don’t really know how to do this, but . . .
Students thought the simulation ought to last the entire semester, with roles assigned at the beginning of the course. This would enable me to replace the Visualizing Cultures presentations, which suffered from a small class size and students’ inability to deliver interactive presentations, with a sequence of preparatory assignments, negotiation sessions, or both. Engagement with the topic over a longer period of time might result in greater learning. It might also cause students to develop an affiliation and identify more strongly with the actors they are playing.
Today marks a return to an occasional series on higher education in the U.S., with a post co-authored with an esteemed colleague, Sally Gomaa. She attended graduate school in the U.S., works as a university professor, and is now a naturalized citizen.
Are you from outside the U.S. and considering academic employment here? Does a graduate program in the humanities or social sciences seem attractive because of an expectation that it will get you hired by a U.S. university? If you are wondering if job prospects in academia are better here than at home, they probably are not. The economic foundations of tertiary education in the U.S. are undergoing a long-term transformation that has greatly diminished everyone’s chances of a stable and rewarding career as a professor.
Education in the U.S. reflects the country’s penchant for local autonomy in the provision of public goods. Although the national government imposes certain legal burdens on all of the country’s colleges and universities, there are no league table rankings or formal budgetary outlays toward the costs of instruction. Instead, the national government helps students defray the cost of their undergraduate educations by guaranteeing loans at subsidized rates. Only universities that are deemed in good standing by private, regionally-based accreditation organizations can enroll students who receive this federal aid.
Public universities do receive a portion of their operating funds from state governments via tax revenue. But there has been a decades-long disinvestment in higher education at the state level, and legislative allocations now comprise less than ten percent of the budget at many public university systems. The decisions of elected officials in states such as Illinois, Louisiana, and Wisconsin have significantly degraded the quality of public universities in those states. If you are thinking about applying for a faculty position at a public university campus, it is wise to investigate the financial treatment of that campus by its state government overlords. Continue reading →
Our series on “teaching Trump” continues today with a guest post by Martin S. Edwards, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University. He can be reached at Martin [dot] Edwards [at] shu [dot] edu.
Teaching in a professional international affairs program offers some unique challenges. The focus at the graduate level is on professional skill development rather than preparing students for comprehensive examinations, and our students come from a wide variety of disciplines rather than as political science undergraduates. The election brought a unique challenge for those of us that teach International Organizations. It made clear that we need to better train students to speak up in defense of multilateralism, especially at a time in which the White House is suspicious of it. So, given the current climate, in which the White House is openly dismissive of the value of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Financial Institutions, and NATO, how can one rethink an established course so as to demonstrate its relevance? My approach to “Teaching with Trump” during the Spring semester was to refocus my graduate course on problem-based learning. Continue reading →
As promised in my last post, I’m going to talk about the mechanics of my South China Sea simulation, but I’m also going to go in a different direction because of the bombing in Manchester and Simon’s subsequent post.
As I’ve done in the past with some of my other classroom simulations, I created a set of objectives for each actor — in this case Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. Each objective was associated with a number of points that contributed to a player’s final grade, but players’ objectives often conflicted with one another — a feature deliberately intended to reflect competing interests and force negotiation. All of the objectives involved which Asian nation-state would be granted sovereignty over which territories. Although I gave actors the option to engage in military action, I specified probabilities that such actions would be successful. For example, an attack by the Philippines against a specific target had a 1:6 chance of succeeding, while acting in concert with U.S. forces had increase the chances of success to 2:3. However, an attack risked involving the Philippines in a regional war, the probability and costs of which I left completely vague. This uncertainty seemed to have beneficially made students reluctant to use military force, unlike my experience with some other simulations.
Given the number of contested islands and overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, the entire set of objectives and payoffs was rather complicated to create, but the complexity forced students to become much more familiar with the area’s geography, which I think was also plus.
I will discuss what went wrong with the simulation in the near future, but I will mention here — and this is what relates to Simon’s post — what I see as a failure that I often witness in my geographically-situated simulations: because of the point rewards, students very quickly become rationally-acting deal-makers. Nationalist and ethnic identities that the simulations are supposed to model quickly get tossed out the window. In the language of simulations, players find it easy to abandon their roles. In the real world, Vietnamese and Chinese policies reflect a strong sense of nationalism, and the two states would never agree so easily on who owns the Paracels. If they did, there would not be a conflict to simulate. Continue reading →