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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There are no bad ideas

Activating prior knowledge is a critical step in engaging students and facilitating learning.  There’s a whole bunch of literature in cognitive science that tells us that learning happens when students connect new knowledge to existing knowledge.  Brainstorming is one simple technique that can activate prior knowledge and encourage students to make these connections. Continue reading

Our review of APSA TLC Portland… in a podcast!

That’s right, we’ve decided to practise what we preach and have done a bit of experiential learning (well, the others did – I’ve got history on this one).

Myself, Michelle, Amanda, Chad & Victor sat down after a long day to talk about what we’ve got from the conference, as well as to look ahead to some new projects we’ve got coming up.

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy 20 minutes of conversation.

We’d love to get your feedback, both on our thoughts and on our podcasting. If it’s something you’d like to see/listen to more of, then we’re biddable, especially now that we’ve seen just how easy it is to set up.

TLC 2016: Highlights from the Simulations and Games Track

Most of the ALPS team reunites this weekend for the APSA’s Teaching and Learning Conference in Portland, Oregon. As usual, we are all on the Simulations and Games Track, sharing the latest on new games and simulations for teaching political science and discussing principles of design, evaluation, application, and assessment.

A few highlights so far:
–Victor Asal’s ‘Running Game’, which has students race to the front of the classroom facing an increased series of structural constraints (in the form of TAs given a head start). It’s a quick exercise that helps explore issues of structure, rational action, culture, and grievance.
–Michelle Allendoerfer worked with two undergraduates to create a multi-day comparative politics simulation looking at state building in a region of ethnic division and scarce resources.

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It’s in the bag

This week, I did an activity in my human rights class that I’ve been doing for a few years. It’s a quick and easy interactive exercise designed to kick off a discussion – the activity can be adapted for a variety of topics. In my human rights class I use it to gauge student beliefs about which rights are universal. I project a slide with a one-sentence description of five different rights – ranging from rights that are widely accepted as universal (right not to be tortured) to practices that are consistent with cultural relativist critiques of universal human rights (freedom to marry and female genital mutilation).

I place five bags (simple brown paper lunch bags work well) around the room, labeled with each right. I give students five small slipsBy ThatPeskyCommoner (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons of paper and tell them they can select anywhere from zero to five of these rights as “universal” by their understanding of the term. Continue reading

LeBron James, Realist: A Paper Assignment for Intro to International Relations

This is a guest post from Sarah Fisher, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Emory & Henry College.

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper has his quirks, but his deeply rooted concern for relative power and hegemony, whether winning a Nobel Prize or crushing trivia, is pure realism. LeBron James’ contract details reflect the fluidity of alliances, another realist.


Sheldon Cooper and LeBron James are just two of the individuals my Introduction to International Relations students analyzed for their final paper this past semester. After assigning this paper assignment to three different classes, I’ve enjoyed reading papers that outline Leslie Knope’s liberal tendencies and even the realist principles in a sorority’s official pledge.

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Crowdsourcing exam review

This is a guest post from Leanne Powner, Visiting Assistant Professor in Government at Christopher Newport University.  Leanne is also the author of the Empirical Research and Writing: A Political Science Student’s Practical Guide.

One of the more challenging parts of preparing students for an exam – especially a comprehensive one like most finals – is helping them to see connections between class topics. Most of us construct our lectures as self-contained units, perhaps one chapter of the textbook at a time; students’ study habits invariably follow this pattern as well unless we find a way to help them break out of it. I’ve begun teaching concept mapping (sometimes called concept webbing) as a tool for making connections across class sessions.

Concept maps consist of three elements: Continue reading