Updating Comparative Politics, Part 2

In my search for a new book to use in my comparative politics course, I sort of stumbled across Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America by Jeffery M. Paige (Harvard University Press, 1997). I say “sort of” because Paige, a sociologist by training, was a prominent scholar of agrarian revolution and development in the 1980s and 1990s — a name I had encountered as a doctoral student.

Search results for his publications turned up Coffee and Power, so I pulled it from the library. The book meets many of my criteria for being worthy of inclusion in my course. It is a multi-country study set in Central America that goes beyond the traditional white male Britain-France-Germany presentation of comparative democratization. The writing is academic but not too heavy with pointless jargon. And it serves as a good example of how to do research in the field.

The problem, as with the book I’m trying to replace, is that Coffee and Power, being than two decades old, is now very much a historical analysis. I don’t think a 400-page work that discusses events from the 1930s through the 1980s will succeed in getting undergraduates here interested in additional study in comparative politics. But I did figure out a way to use the book for what I think would be a good assignment, shown below.

Read Jeffery M. Paige, Coffee and Power, p. 53-84. Do a qualitative comparative analysis of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Classify each country as “high” or “low” for the following independent variables related to the coffee industry:

  • concentration of land ownership (average area of farm per number of farms)
  • farm productivity (amount grown per land area)
  • farm productivity (average yield)
  • technological sophistication (use of high-yield varieties or fertilizer)

Based on your findings, what can you conclude about the economic class structure and the likelihood of democracy in each country?

Updating Comparative Politics, Part 1

The good old days.

Last semester I was finally somewhat satisfied with the way I had organized my comparative politics course, after much failed experimentation (described, for example, here, here, and here). However, I would like to replace one of the books, Around the Bloc by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. Around the Bloc is a good fit for my course for a number of reasons. First, the author is Tejana, and I like students to read authors with different cultural backgrounds. Second, the book recounts Ms. Griest’s experiences in Russia, China, and Cuba, which automatically serve as fodder for comparison. Third, students learn about someone who at their age ventured forth into unfamiliar environments and came back better for it. Fourth, the book is stylistically well-written. The problem? Griest’s adventures took place twenty years ago, and they are described across 400+ pages. While I think students need to have some grasp of history to understand contemporary politics, I prefer that a book of that size include more recent events.

I would love to hear suggestions about possible replacements for Around the Bloc.

The Intel Community and the Theory of Knowledge

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.
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Review of Learning Assessment Techniques

LATsSome of more widely-known practical guides for college teaching:

A recent addition to the list is Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Barkley and Manor (2016).

The bulk of this book consists of an easy-to-use directory of assessment techniques, many of which can be found in the other books. Here, however, the emphasis is on how the data generated by each technique can be collected, analyzed, and packaged for dissemination.

The focus on the links between learning goals, learning activities, and outcomes assessment can be summarized with two questions people should be asking themselves:  Continue reading

Review of Creating Significant Learning Experiences

L. Dee Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses * is a book that is just as useful for college instructors as Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angelo and Cross. While the latter focuses on measuring teaching effectiveness at a granular day-to-day scale, the former provides a framework for designing an entire course.

Fink’s taxonomy emphasizes what I would call human-centered rather than content-centered learning. Yes, the acquisition and application of foundational knowledge are present, but psycho-social outcomes rank higher on his list of characteristics that mark good teaching. He argues that students should gain an awareness of themselves and their relationships with others. Ultimately they should develop the cognitive and emotional machinery necessary for learning how to learn.

The may sound like vague, feel-good mumbo jumbo, but the book is in reality a very practical step-by-step guide. According to Fink, the course design process should begin with the instructor identifying situational factors that can affect how and what one teaches: Continue reading

Review of Handbook on Teaching and Learning

Handbook PS IRI’ll begin a series of posts on curriculum design with a brief review of the Handbook on Teaching and Learning in Political Science and International Relations, edited by John Ishiyama, William J. Miller, and Eszter Simon (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015). Be forewarned that this snapshot review is probably biased given that I’m the co-author of one of the book’s chapters.

I commend the editors for ensuring that all the chapters in the book are concise and directly relevant to teaching. There is a complete absence of the convoluted verbiage that normally characterizes writing by academics.

Chapters in the Handbook neatly flow from curricular structure to teaching particular subject areas to classroom exercises. Both beginning and experienced practitioners will find topics like effective syllabus design, course-based writing,  and best practices when lecturing incredibly useful.

My one criticism is the very occasional inclusion of bogus assertions that have established themselves as “fact” in much of the political science pedagogical literature. A good example is the quotation on page 158 from Baranowski (2006), who cites Stice’s (1987) statement that “students retain only about 10% of what they read and 20% of what they hear [but] up to 90% of what they do and say.” This claim was thoroughly debunked in 2008 by Keith E. Holbert and George G. Karady of Arizona State University.

That said, I believe book ought to be a standard tool used in the training of political science doctoral students, along with Classroom Assessment Techniques by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross.