Academic Controversy

We’ve talked about Elizabeth Barkley’s Student Engagement Technique book on this blog before (here and here). I thought I’d share another activity from the book that I used in my class last term, along with some thoughts on how the activity went.

Brief description of the activity: “Student partners review material on a controversial topic in the field that has two opposing sides (A and B) and brainstorm arguments to support their assigned position” (Barkley 199). In my experience, it works well as an impromptu class debate on a topic that doesn’t have a clear answer. In my Human Rights class, I had the students debate the U.S. response to the Rwandan genocide. The instructions for the technique suggest crafting mini-cases describing the controversy to print and distribute. I simply distributed one line prompts and expected the students to come up with the arguments based on readings and prior class discussion. Continue reading

Treasure Trove

One of my active learning mantras is: avoid reinventing the wheel. If I can find an idea for an activity from someone else, I have no shame in adopting it for my own needs. So, I was thrilled to stumble across this resource (from my alma mater, no less) called Pedagogy in Action. It is part of a larger grant project for earth science educators, but the searchable Activities portal tags other disciplines.  Seventeen activities are tagged as “Political Science”.  I would also expect that many of the other activities could be modified for other disciplines.  Each activity is described in some depth, including a discussion of learning goals, tips for using the activity, and assessment ideas.

The Pedagogy in Action website also includes a rich section on Teaching Methods with over 60 links to different modules, with even more resources and examples. Again, some are specific to earth sciences, but most are general (such as “Just-in-time Teaching”, “Writing Strong Assignments” and many more).

I’ve only started to explore this resource and I haven’t tried any of the activities yet, but I anticipate spending a lot of time on this website this summer identifying promising activities for next year.

Start the way you mean to finish (and continue)

It’s the middle of the summer and I don’t teach again until late August. But, I am thinking about first days. It’s an important day of class, but it’s easy to treat it as a throwaway class (that’s certainly how most students seem to see it).syllabus

What do you do? Most of us probably do the usual: go over the syllabus (to some degree or another), answer questions, do an icebreaker, and some of us might start teaching (to our students’ chagrin)

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Active Learning: What is it good for?

I spent this week attending a Course Design Institute held by my university’s teaching and learning center. The workshop centered on creating a learner-centered syllabus and aligning course objectives, assessments and activities. I thought I’d share a few quick take-aways related to active learning.

First, the facilitator presented evidence from STEM fields on the value of active learning over lecture-based courses. In particular, I was struck by two studies.

Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics (Freeman et al). is a meta-analysis that reviewed 225 studies comparing student performance in undergraduate STEM courses. This is the stand-out quote from that piece:

“If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discontinued because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial” (Freeman et al 2014: 8413, emphasis added).

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Review Bingo

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 11.17.22 AMI recently discovered a handy website for making bingo cards. Review Bingo is a fun way to wrap up a semester.  I fill in the bingo cards with course concepts.  To play, I read questions matched to the concepts.  I try to have about 40 concepts, so the cards don’t have a lot of overlap.  Here’s an example of one of the cards from this semester (Introduction to International Politics).  Besides picking the concepts and corresponding question, this is a quick and easy class activity.

Zero Sum Simulations

I’m growing disillusioned with international relations simulations that are, by design, zero-sum. As previously mentioned, it’s currently “simulation time” and I’m running two different simulations. In my upper-level Human Rights course, my students are participating in the Global Problems Summit, which is essentially a mini-Model UN. Although some countries may “win” and others may “lose” with respect to the content of any resolutions based, the nature of the simulation encourages diplomacy and attempts at cooperation and compromise.

In my two sections of Introduction to International Politics, my students are engaged in the International Relations in Action simulation. On the whole, I do like this simulation and think it captures my learning objectives better than Statecraft (which I’ve used the previous four years). The scenarios are interesting and have encouraged the students to think about a number of international situations and appreciate the complexity of international politics.

But, one thing the students have noticed is that many of the scenarios are zero-sum. Continue reading

A Time for Simulations

We’re entering the last few weeks of the term here; for me, that means simulation time in both of my classes.  I’m using the International Relations in Action simulation (previously blogged about here) in my Introduction to International Politics class for the first time, instead of Statecraft as I’ve done the past 3 years. In my Human Rights class, I’m using Krain and Lantis’ Global Problems Summit for the fourth time. One thing that has changed over the past few years is that I’ve shifted all multi-day simulations to the end of the semester. I find that I like this timing for a few different reasons.

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