From Frying Pan To Fire?

A brief meditation on teaching in the era of Trump. From a comparative perspective. In more ways than one.

As someone whose income is in the world’s top one percent, I have the luxury of partaking in long-distance travel on a purely voluntary basis. Soon I’ll be vacationing outside the USA, a country where corrupt, narcissistic xenophobes are doing their best to undermine the rule of law, with the full approval of their supporters. My destination? A country where corrupt, narcissistic xenophobes are doing their best to undermine the rule of law, with the full approval of their supporters.

So yes, I see parallels, despite the geographic and cultural differences. The tribalistic nationalism. The sexism. The religious justifications. The cronyism. Most of all, the constant attempts to de-legitimize the very institutions that originally put these people into positions of power.

I know that I’m a bit more sensitive to the symbiotic relationship between popular prejudices and abusive government than many people, in part because my wife, as a Muslim and an immigrant, is classified as both a terrorist and a rapist in Trumpspeak. But history demonstrates that those who engage in idol worship and willful ignorance as a means to an end rarely see their expectations met.

And here is the connection to my teaching: the basic principle that I try to convey to students is that one benefits by comparing, as open-mindedly as possible, the familiar and the unfamiliar. Curiosity-driven analysis leads to unexpected insights, sounder judgments, and more satisfying outcomes in life. And it is quite acceptable to make mistakes along the way as long as one takes the time to try to figure out why things went wrong.

Unfortunately I am seeing an increasing resistance to this message among U.S. undergraduates. Far too many expect to be intellectually and morally validated solely on the basis of personal opinion. Far too few exhibit a willingness to consider the possibility that perspectives which differ from their own might have merit. If some students perceive my teaching as a threat to the comfortable psychological environment that they have constructed for themselves, I get labeled authoritarian, racist, sexist, or otherwise unprofessional — revenge for being told that their academic performance is not of the quality that they believe it to be. Who am I to tell them that they are not perfect?

This probably makes me sound like a disgruntled, insufferable elitist. But I wonder if we folks in the USA are in the midst of a disaster of our own making. Unstructured and unsupervised play during childhood has become the exception rather than the rule. Reality TV, online personae, and the War on Terror have been background noise for as long as today’s teenagers have been alive. Anxiety and depression are epidemic on college campuses. And now government by distortion, outrage, and caprice has been normalized. It’s probably only natural that many undergraduates think everyone has the right to their own immutable set of alternative facts.

Model Diplomacy: Smart, easy to use foreign policy simulations

Model Diplomacy is a series of free National Security Council simulations put out by the Council on Foreign Relations. Michelle used it in her class last year, and I decided based on her positive experience to try it in my intro to IR class this year.  In this post I’m going to explain the basics of Model Diplomacy, discuss my experience using it, and give my recommendation.  Spoiler Alert: I loved it.

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Open Source Public Policy Research Reports

Courtesy of the Human Security Studies Group at the Naval War College, I recently learned about EveryCRSReport.com, a non-profit project that has the goal of making every report written by the U.S. Congressional Research Service freely available online. This is unclassified, taxpayer-funded research on a huge variety of topics, produced for the legislative branch of the U.S. government. The Congressional Research Service itself refuses to supply these reports directly to the public, so a third party has taken up the task.

If you’re teaching an undergraduate course on U.S. domestic or foreign policy, or on the U.S. Congress, the website could be a useful resource for students.

This article on Medium explains more about the mission and history of EveryCRSReport.com.

Call For Proposals — APSA Centennial Center Teaching Workshop

The American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Centennial Center for Political Science and Public Affairs is pleased to announce a Call for Proposals for faculty interested in participating in a two-day teaching workshop from May 18-19 at APSA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. APSA’s Teaching Workshops provide a unique opportunity for faculty with similar teaching interests to refresh existing syllabi, develop new teaching approaches, and share best practices. Led by co- facilitators Andrew Rudalevige (Bowdoin College) and Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa & University of Delaware), this workshop will focus on sharing and developing teaching resources for introductory courses related to American government.

Approximately 15 faculty will be invited to take part in the workshop. In addition to assessing fundamental texts and themes of American government-related courses, the program will include a series of roundtables in which each participant will share a specific teaching resource, class project, or course component with the group.

Through sharing and discussing a wide range of teaching materials, we expect participants to learn about high-impact practices for the classroom and extend scholarly networks. Examples of teaching resources or topics of presentation may include:

  • Innovative teaching approaches
  • Civic engagement education
  • Simulations
  • Community engagement projects
  • Use of technology (including social media, discussion boards, virtual reality, etc)
  • In-class exercises and assignments
  • Evaluation and assessment

Following the workshop, attendees will be invited to contribute a revised version of their teaching materials to an APSA teaching resources collection.

Applicants should have at least 3 years’ experience teaching their own American government-related course (Intro to American Government, Political Behavior, Congressional Politics, American Presidency, Political Parties and Groups, Media and Politics, etc). We encourage applications from faculty at a range of institutions, including universities and two- and four-year colleges. The deadline for proposals is Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Proposals should be submitted online and include:

  • Recent CV, including detailed information on teaching experience.
  • 250-word abstract summarizing the teaching resource you plan to share at the workshop.
  • 250-word description of your motivation and goals for participating in the workshop.
  • Brief description of your institution and how the American government courses you teach fit into your department’s curriculum or a general education requirement.

Successful applicants will be notified by the end of March. Course registration fees ($79) may be paid online in advance of the workshop. For more information, contact centennial@apsanet.org.

Fixing Health Care? A Simulation in American Government

Today we have a guest post from Josiah Marineau, an assistant professor of political science at Campbellsville University. He can be contacted at josiah [dot] marineau [at] gmail [dot] com.

For my Introduction to American Government course, I designed a simulation of the legislative process in which students are tasked with debating different policy options for the U.S. healthcare system. The simulation is intended to  familiarize students to a key policy debate in contemporary U.S. politics.

The simulation will last two weeks. The first week will be preparation:  explaining the politics of the U.S. health care system, the main options for policymakers, and how the simulation  will work. Students will be introduced to the rules used in Model United Nations to govern debate and voting on bills. Students will use materials I provide to write policy position papers that advocate for a given policy solution to the challenges facing the U.S. health care system.

The simulation itself will run in the second week, over two class periods. Students will use their policy papers as the basis for debate and will give speeches in class in favor of or in opposition to proposed legislation. I expect them to form coalitions with other, like-minded students, and draft a bill that is amenable to a majority of the class.

As part of the debriefing, students will write a two-page memo reflecting on what they learned, what surprised them, what worked and what did not, and why. This memo will be due in the week after the simulation concludes.

I will grade the simulation as follows:

  • Quality of the policy position papers — 40%
  • Level of engagement in the simulation — 30%
  • Two-page reflection memo — 30%.

I will share the results of the simulation in a future post.

Two Online Games From The New York Times

Last month The New York Times published an updated version of its confirmation bias game that might be useful for teaching research methods or political psychology. The newer version includes an explanation of how confirmation bias affects government policy.
Also of note is another game on President Trump’s plan for changing U.S. immigration criteria. I failed to qualify under these new proposed rules. Probably all of my students will fail also.

Using Slack for Online Teaching

Today’s post is by guest contributor William R. Wilkerson, Professor of American Government and Politics at SUNY-Oneonta. He can be reached at bill [dot] wilkerson [at] oneonta [dot] edu.

As I noted in my previous post, I am teaching Law Courts and Politics as an online course this summer. In the past, I have used email and the Blackboard LMS for communication in online courses. Students don’t respond to email as they once did, and while Blackboard has about every tool you could imagine, discussion forums are clunky and the mobile app is unsatisfactory. After listening to a podcast interview with political scientist Steven Michels, I decided to give Slack a try. My wife uses Slack at work as an officer of a professional association board and she had good things to say about it. Examples of teaching with Slack are described here and here.

Slack is an integrated team communication tool. Only invited participants can be part of a team workspace, and it has tools for group discussion that can be divided into forums that are called channels. Channels can be open to the entire team or part of the team. Slack also has features like direct messaging, file sharing, video conferencing, and tagging of individuals. The free version works great for most purposes and its apps are fully compatible across platforms. Continue reading

Cultural and Historic Preservation Conference

And now for something completely different . . .

The Noreen Stonor Drexel Cultural and Historic Preservation program at Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island, will host its annual conference on October 13 and 14. The theme for this year is “Gentrification & Preservation: A Reappraisal.” The conference will explore the relationship between gentrification, preservation, and the community – broadly construed.

“Gentrification” is a term that carries a great deal of emotional weight. It is frequently tied to issues of class and race, and historic preservation efforts are often accused of being a handmaid to gentrifiers.

The conference’s keynote speaker is Dr. Lance Freeman, professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University. Dr. Freeman is a leading researcher in the study of gentrification, particularly the various relationships connecting race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and housing markets.

The conference schedule includes site visits in Newport as well as a session in the Newport Art Museum. For additional information, visit http://chpconference.salvereginablogs.com/ or email chpconference@salve.edu.

Specification Grading In An Online Course

Today we have another post by guest contributor William R. Wilkerson, Professor of American Government and Politics at SUNY-Oneonta. He can be reached at bill [dot] wilkerson [at] oneonta [dot] edu.

This summer for the first time I am teaching an online version of my judicial process course, Law Courts and Politics. I adopted a specifications grading system, something that has been discussed by people like Linda Nilson at Inside Higher Ed and Amanda Rosen on this blog. With specifications grading all assignments are graded on a satisfactory or unsatisfactory basis and course grades are based on assignment bundles.

My course is five weeks long with a distinct theme for each week’s lesson. Each lesson includes an online quiz made up of multiple choice and short essay questions on the textbook (Corley, Ward and Martinek’s American Judicial Process ), various discussion topics on the text, other assigned readings, video and audio, as well as a 600-750 word writing assignment. Each of these elements—quizzes, discussion, and the writing assignment, along with a summative assignment for those wishing earn a B or an A—are tied to course learning objectives. The grade bundles are as follows: Continue reading

My Students Don’t Read: Responses to a Classic Classroom Problem

All experienced instructors have had this happen to them: You assign an interesting reading that is pivotal to a topic on the syllabus. You emphasize to the students how important it is that they complete that particular reading, as it will be the basis of the next class session’s discussion. Walking into class, you smile, anticipating a smart, informed discussion on a fascinating topic, and ask a basic question to get things going. And then, the silence, and the signs: the blank stares, the eyes that won’t meet yours, the walls and shoes and notebooks that suddenly are the most interesting things in the room. Your smile drops as you realize the horrible truth: none of the students did the reading.

Quickly you realize it’s not entirely true: a small handful of students, the ones you can always rely on, tentatively raise their hands. Others may have skimmed the reading, or tried to do it just as class started. Still others pull it out as you ask the question, trying to do in 30 seconds what they need a concentrated 10 or 30 minutes to do. Despite this, the vast majority of the class simply did not do as instructed.

What’s the dedicated instructor to do?

I have been teaching for more than ten years, and this happened to me twice this semester alone. In one case, only one student out in my intro to IR class had read Thucydides’ short Melian Dialogue that IR teachers the world over use as an introduction to Realism—even though they had weekly reading quizzes on the material. In my intro to American politics course, none of them had read Federalist Paper #84, which outlines the arguments regarding the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution. In the moment when I realized that my students were not prepared for the reading-based discussion I had planned, I had a decision to make: how would I respond to their lack of preparation?

A few options immediately came to mind.

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