Quick and Easy Classroom Polls

I know there are approximately one billion classroom polling options, each with its own special features and quirks. But, if you’re not already familiar with Zeetings, it’s a great one to consider.

What I like about Zeetings is that it is free to use for classes up to 500 students (with the Education and Non-Profits plan). Students can follow along on a laptop, tablet, or phone. Unless you want to track attendance or participation, they don’t have to login which makes set-up pretty easy. And it has a number of cool features. You can upload a PowerPoint presentation into Zeetings and then add polls or other features into the PowerPoint. You can embed YouTube videos and other content as well.

As far as polls, you can create different types: “thumbs up/thumbs down,” multiple choice, scales, rankings, text, and word cloud. I don’t use it for taking attendance or marking participation, although you can require that students put in their names to access the Zeeting (that’s under Settings). In my class, I typically use the polls as conversation starters and quick interactive interjections.

For example, I use it a lot in my 40-person Human Rights class. In a session on international human rights law, we talk about the concept of compliance. Before discussing why states comply (or not) with human rights treaties, I get them thinking and talking about compliance with domestic law by asking a few questions about their personal compliance with laws. Zeetings – if you don’t have participants to log in with names – means their answers are anonymous. So, I can ask questions like “Have you ever stolen anything from Whole Foods?” (the Whole Foods on campus used to be a notorious site for shop-lifting but, as I learned from this exercise last year, they are now banning students if they are caught shoplifting so the numbers went way down in the poll compared to previous years). I ask them a mix of questions about laws I assume at least some have violated and some that I assume none have violated. Then I use the word cloud

Word Cloud
Responses to: “Using one word, describe why you don’t comply with certain domestic laws?”

feature to ask two follow-up questions: “Using one word, describe why you don’t comply with certain domestic laws?” and “Using one word, describe why you generally comply with certain domestic laws?” These word clouds kick off a good discussion of compliance that flows into discussions of how domestic and international law are similar and ways they are not. And then we can apply that specifically to why states comply or not comply with international human rights laws.

Zeetings, because of different polling options, works really well to frame this discussion. I just started using it last year and I plan to play around with its features and integrate it into class even more when I teach Human Rights next semester.

If at first you don’t succeed…. try, try again

Over the years, I have tried to incorporate a blog assignment into my Introduction to Comparative Politics class. I think this is the fourth attempt and I might finally be close to a format that works.

The most recent iteration of this assignment, which I did last fall and revised for this semester, centers on the students selecting a country for the entire semester. I have them fill out a preference survey and then assign, to avoid overlap. I call the assignment the Country Expert Project and it involves a couple of components. First, the students write a short reflection paper before they start the blog posts. They are supposed to talk about what they already know about the country (sometimes the answer is “very little”) and why they picked it. This serves as a baseline, because they will also end the project with a reflection on what they learned about their country and what surprised them. Another small assignment at the beginning requires them to read a handful of academic blog posts; we then discuss blogs as a genre and how it is different than a research paper.

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Keeping up with current events in the classroom

How do you include current events in your courses?

I’m teaching Introduction to Comparative Politics this semester and I just can’t keep up with all the relevant current events. Every morning, I scroll through my Twitter feed, full of examples that I can be using in class. My students tend to be very engaged with the news and I want to tap into this excitement by integrating more current events into class, but I just find it overwhelming.

What, in particular, are some of my challenges to integrating current events into a political science course, particularly an introductory course?

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Social Capital and M&Ms

Social capital is a “fuzzy” concept but serves as the foundation for some key comparative politics theories that we cover in my Introduction to Comparative Politics course. To help my students get a better grasp of the concept, I borrowed an activity from economics: the ultimatum game.

Briefly, I have the students pair up and distribute a handout to keep track of offers in the game. The students first need to allocate roles: proposer and responder. I tell them that the student whose middle name starts with an earlier letter in the alphabet is the proposer, just to randomize it somewhat. The proposer makes an offer of a division of some resource. Because candy is a (near) universal motivator, I use M&Ms and Skittles (I let the pairs decide which candy to play for, but I like to offer skittles for lactose-free students). I distribute 50 candies per pair and they play 5 rounds; in each round, the proposer makes an offer to split 10 candies. The responder can only accept or reject the offer. If the responder rejects, neither get any (they go back to me). If the responder accepts, then they divide the candy.

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Follow up on Model Diplomacy

A while back I put out a plea for new simulations for my Introduction to International Politics class. I asked specifically about the Council on Foreign Relations’ Model Diplomacy simulations and got some useful feedback (on that and others). In case others are interested, I figured I’d post a follow up.

I decided to structure my course around two sets of simulations. First, I planned on a series of four different one-day Model Diplomacy simulations, at key times during the term. I replaced my group debate assignment with these. Since I centered the group debate assignment around current events as a way of applying course material to a contemporary question, the Model Diplomacy simulations were a reasonable replacement since they, too, focus on a current event. Continue reading

ALPS is at ISA!

This week is the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association in Baltimore, Maryland.  Most of ALPS will be attending, running workshops, participating in panels, and ready to talk all things pedagogy with our readers!  Please do find us, let us know you read the blog, and what else you’d like to see us cover in the future.

A few places you can find us:

Michelle Allendoerfer will be presenting a paper on the NGOs as Key Stakeholders in Human Rights Promotion panel.

Victor Asal can be found co-facilitating the ISA Innovative Teaching Workshop on Simulations on Political Violence and presenting papers on two panels: Conflict Processes and Understanding Change in World Politics (with Corina Simonelli) and Avenues of Violent and Nonviolent Contention (with Kristian Skrede Gleditsch).  He will also serve as a discussant on the Protecting Civilians and Preventing Violence in Peace Operations panel, and will play the role of Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah of Hezbollah in the ISA Syrian Civil War Simulation.

Nina Kollars will be on the roundtable on Disobedience, Resistance, and Transgression in Military Organizations and is presenting her work at the Barriers to Effective Cyber Operations panel.  She can also be found playing the role of King Salman bin Abdelaziz in the ISA Syrian Civil War Simulation.

Chad Raymond will be running the ISA Innovative Teaching Workshop on ‘Teaching the World with Authentic Writing Assignments’ and presenting a paper on the Pedagogy for Transformative Learning and Global Engagement panel, both with Sally Gomaa.

Amanda Rosen is co-facilitating the ISA Innovative Teaching Workshop on Simulations on Political Violence, playing the role of Egypt’s President Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi  in the ISA Syrian Civil War Simulation, and presenting two papers, one on the Universality of Rights Revisited panel, and the other on the Higher Education and Globalization panel.  She’s also a discussant on the Innovations in Assessment of Active Learning panel.

Desperately Seeking Simulations

Over the past five years, I’ve used two different simulations in my Introduction to International Politics class: Statecraft and International Relations in Action. They each have their pros and cons, but I haven’t been thrilled with how either worked in my class. I think I could make International Relations in Action work with some modifications, but I like “off-the-shelf” simulations precisely because they do not require a significant amount of work.

Which leads me to a question for our loyal readers: has anyone used the Council on Foreign Relations’ Model Diplomacy simulations? On the plus side, it appears to be free for students. This is a huge advantage over Statecraft, which seems to get more expensive every few years, and IRiA, which required a book purchase (although used copies came fairly cheap). On the flip side, the roles are all domestic US actors and the focus seems to be on foreign policy decision-making. This is one of my main questions, for anyone who has used these simulations, are they useful for an Introduction to International Politics class despite the US foreign policy framework? The Case Library looks promising, but I already spend a lot of time in the class trying to get the students to think outside of the US context that I’m worried this simulation will undo that work.

So, consider this my call into the wild. Any feedback on the CFR’s Model Diplomacy simulations? I’d love to connect with anyone who has experience with them. Feel free to comment here or email me at mallendo-at-gwu-dot-edu.

Split room debates

Another easy active learning technique from Elizabeth Barkley’s SET book is the split-room debate. I use this one fairly regularly, in part because it is so easy to implement and requires zero preparation. Barkley says controversial topics with “two identifiable, arguable, and opposing sides” are best for this exercise. You simply have the students move to a side of the room to represent their position and then formulate their argument.

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Rethinking my digital ban

I’ve long been a diehard “laptop ban” advocate. Basing this decision first on intuition and later Startup Stock Photoson empirical evidence, it was rarely an issue beyond the initial student grumbling. Among hundreds of student evaluations, a very small handful (less than 5) mentioned it as an issue. Although I included the caveat of “if this is problem for you, please talk to me,” no one ever did. Case closed, or so I thought.

As I’m getting ready for a new term, I read with interest this piece in the Chronicle on starting the semester. Basically, I read the whole piece, nodding along until he got to his critique of the laptop ban. I didn’t think too much of it at first; I have always stated that I’m willing to make accommodations, just no student ever asked. But then I read the piece from Digital Pedagogy Lab he linked to and I’m already singing a different tune.
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