Unconventional Movies As Conventional Pedagogical Tools: The Dark Knight

Gigi GokcekToday we have a guest post from Gigi Gokcek, associate professor of political science at the Dominican University of California. She can be contacted at gigi.gokcek[at]dominican[dot]edu.

Professors have long relied on movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964), Red Dawn (1984), and Thirteen Days (2000) to teach about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the Cold War. While the active-learning literature validates the effectiveness of using movies like these, today’s college students may relate better to more contemporary movies. Do unconventional movies, from such franchises as Fast and Furious, Star Trek, DC Comics, and Marvel’s X-Men and Avengers, work just as well? My experience suggests that they do. When combined with activities derived from the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, I find that they are valuable tools for teaching important political science theories and concepts.

Although many students may have seen these movies by the time they enroll in my courses, I often leave this activity until the end of the term so that they have acquired sufficient knowledge of course material. The key to the assignment is that students are not told where the course content is portrayed in the movie. Students have to think more critically while viewing the film, and thereby apply what they have learned to a new setting. They use this worksheet to help make these connections. Continue reading

An Excel-lent Simulation

Steven JacksonToday we have a guest post from Steven Jackson, professor of political science at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at sjackson[at]iup[dot]edu.

It’s there on your computer: Microsoft Excel.  Maybe you use it to calculate grades.  Maybe you use it for charts in your PowerPoints.  Maybe you just ignore it.  But have you ever thought of teaching with it?

Excel can be used in instruction in a number of ways, from a simple interactive graphing tool, to a random number generator that is much more flexible than dice, to a sophisticated engine for designing interactive simulations.

For my introductory World Politics course, I designed an Excel-based role-play simulation in which students act as a U.S. trade representative in the late 1980s. Players must satisfy different parties involved in a trade negotiation: the U.S. President who wants a minimal number of trade agreements; the protectionist “Senator Maddux” who opposes too many concessions, and the Japanese, who want their own issues favorably resolved, all within a fairly short time period.  Failure to meet all four criteria results in the user getting “fired.” Each of the twenty possible issues in the simulation is based upon an actual dispute between the U.S. and Japan. Continue reading

The Twitter Communication game

I’ll confess that I’m disappointed that my wit and charm weren’t the biggest talking points from last week’s ALPS workshop here at Surrey. Instead, people seemed more interested in one of my games, which they got to play. Therefore, I’m going to try and do the ju-jitsu move and try to write about said game in a witty and charming manner.

The premise of the game came from an observation many years ago that Twitter (which I didn’t use at all) seemed to be a nonsensical medium: you pump out stuff (in tiny short chunks) and maybe someone reads it. Sounds lame, my (deeply suppressed) American side said.

So, not being one to waste an opportunity to share my powerful insight, I thought about how I could turn this into a game for the negotiation module/course I was re-writing at the time. The result, with only minor variations, stands before you. Continue reading

Teaching EU online communication through simulation – the twitcol case: Guest post by Jon Worth

Guest author Jon Worth works across Europe, offering consultancy on a range of subject areas. This post was originally posted on his own blog and is reproduced with his permission.

wOb93E7uFor the first time in the academic year 2015-16 I am a member of the faculty of the politics department at the College of Europe in Bruges. My own MA is from the College of Europe (in 2003-04) and it is good to be back there as a teacher this time. The College operates a system of a kind of flying faculty – we are called upon to run courses or seminars, but are not actually based in Bruges. My own course is a short, optional one entitled Online Communications in EU policymaking, but this post concerns my contribution to a compulsory course for all 96 politics MA students run by Pierpaolo Settembri andCostanza Hermanin – the EU legislation simulation game.

The basic idea of the simulation game is relatively well known – each student gets allocated a role, and all of the aspects of an EU legislative negotiation are played out by the students playing these roles. Pierpaolo is the author of a book about how to use these sorts of games to teach about the EU. Continue reading

Needed: Hired Gun

This Gun For Hire PosterSoomo Learning, an innovative web-based academic publishing company that supports this blog, is in search of a political science development editor. The person hired for the position will oversee content creation and courseware support for the company’s political science products. Familiarity with the scholarship of teaching and learning in political science and the literature on student success is highly beneficial, as is:

  • Experience teaching online, in community colleges, or in open-enrollment institutions.
  • A solid understanding of political science in general and Intro to American Government in particular.
  • Study in American Government at the graduate level.

The full position description and information on how to apply is here.

As regular readers of this blog know from my posts about higher education, in my opinion a traditional academic career as a tenured faculty member in political science is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. If I were to go to graduate school all over again, I would jump at the chance to work for a company like Soomo. The environment is dynamic and the skills that can be acquired are widely applicable outside of academia. And Soomo is located in fabulous Asheville, North Carolina — home to hiking, kayaking, live music, microbreweries, Little Pigs BBQ, and Heiwa Shokudo sushi.

Twitter Campaigning, Part 2

Today is the second of a two-part series by guest contributor Tricia Stapleton, Director of the Society, Technology, and Policy Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Twitter ScreenshotI recently wrote about incorporating a social media activity into my Intro to IR class as part of the IRiA sim. For the assignment, students developed Twitter campaigns to support their efforts to win objective points in the game. In order to prepare students for the assignment, I gave an in-class lecture on the uses of social media in politics, followed by an in-class activity on social media audience.

Before the in-class activity, I gave my students a small task for homework. They had to create a Twitter account, if they didn’t already have one, and come to class with a laptop or wifi-enabled device. For the in-class lecture and discussion, I reviewed examples of social media use in politics, such as how ISIS uses social media or how social media users may be ahead of traditional news outlets in reporting events. I wanted to get them thinking about how both citizens and government can use Twitter or other modern technologies, like text messaging, to mobilize. We also reviewed how social media efforts can completely backfire or lead to satirical analyses of politics and culture.

After I completed the lecture/discussion, the students completed an activity based on one that Simon shared. Students were required to find everyone in the room on Twitter and follow them. They weren’t allowed to use any form of direct communication, such as talking, messaging through Blackboard, email, or Facebook, although I did allow them to use the internet. I let them work for about 15 minutes, and then we stopped to discuss how well they had done.

I was surprised to find that about 75 percent of the class had never used Twitter before, and had only created a profile for the first time as homework. I asked several students to share their methods for finding people in the room, and we followed up with a discussion about what key pieces of information needed in order to have a social campaign reach a specific or wide audience. Despite their lack of familiarity with the platform, most of the students found each other fairly quickly by developing and searching for hashtags. The most successful hashtag was our course number (#GOV1320). The activity was a great demonstration of the need to prep students for a Twitter campaign that they would complete for credit. It was also useful in getting students to know each other’s names and engage in discussion before they were split up into teams for the sim.

Twitter Campaigning with IRiA, Part 1

Today is the first of a two-part series by guest contributor Tricia Stapleton, Director of the Society, Technology, and Policy Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

TweetAs I’ve noted in previous posts (here and here), I’m in the process of tweaking my Intro to IR class. I’ve successfully used the International Relations in Action (IRiA) simulation, but I want more out of it in terms of student learning outcomes, in particular student engagement during the rounds and better connections between the sim and scholarly content. After the first round in Spring 2014, I changed the course assignments with the goal of more strongly linking theory to (sim) practice. The new assignments were reflection and research pieces for IRiA scenarios for my Fall 2014 class. In addition to completing background reports before the game started, each team was required to produce an editorial, a response letter to another team’s editorial, and a Twitter campaign during the course of the simulation. The work was posted to a course wiki, and all teams had access to them.

I began thinking about creating a Twitter activity after reading Simon’s post on using Twitter to help build community. This blog also has several other posts on how Twitter can be helpful (here, here, and here). However, I was reluctant to have students actually post to Twitter, where I might not have control over content. Student interactions often become quite intense during the course of the sim, and even though I have a disclaimer on my syllabus regarding appropriate language and respect for others, I was concerned that students might post inappropriate content. Fortunately, I already had the benefit of a developed course wiki that provided some functionality for hosting fake Twitter feeds. Although it wasn’t perfect, the added bonus of the wiki was that all created materials for the scenarios were housed on one website.

Teams completed one “Twitter campaign” during an assigned scenario in the simulation. I dictated which scenario based on a team’s possible points per round. The IRiA text establishes the number of points a team competes for in a scenario: 1, 3, 5, or 10 points. Teams working toward a 10-point objective usually have several tasks to complete, and are very busy in class. Teams on the lower end – fighting for 1-point or 3-point objectives – reported in Spring 2014 that they felt less engaged in those rounds. They simply have less to do to “win” their objective, and end up taking a backseat to other teams’ efforts. The Twitter campaign was a way to think about and participate in a round, even if a team didn’t have much to contribute or gain from negotiations in terms of points. To make sure that students were engaging with the material, and not just posting a few offhand remarks, students were also required to turn in a “campaign strategy” at the start of the round. In this 3-page report, the team explained its strategy for its Twitter campaign in the context of its objectives and potential events in the scenario. The report included any predetermined content (fully-formed tweets, hashtag ideas, etc.). And, the team was asked to consider potential weaknesses in its campaign and address how it might respond to any attempts to exploit these vulnerabilities.

Overall, the students performed well. Their reports showed a good grasp of how to use social media to promote their agenda, as well as explorations of how their campaigns might backfire. Student evaluations of the sim overwhelmingly indicated that the Twitter campaign was really interesting, and it made them think about the connections between media and politics. The IRiA text currently has no role for the media, so it does fill a conspicuous gap. However, teams didn’t engage much with each other on Twitter beyond their assigned scenario. In the future, I might offer extra credit for additional tweets, or figure out a way to designate one team member as the communications director.