I’ve begun tinkering again with my comparative politics course, mainly because I’m still not satisfied with what students are getting from it. Previous discussions on this topic include:
- Giving students choice in what they read, here and here.
- Team-based presentations, here and here.
- Student perceptions about the amount of reading.
- A failed comparative politics simulation.
So, yes, this course has been a source of frustration for a long time.
As I have noted previously, the essay templates that I created for last semester’s class didn’t work well. The templates were intended to be preparatory exercises for essays and presentations, but the application of theory required by the former was not evident in the latter. So maybe my template was badly designed.
For the next time around, I’ve created separate templates for each of the three theoretical perspective I want students to use as analytical lenses:
These new templates are more specific in what they ask for than the single older version. Perhaps this replaces a demand for creative thinking with an excessive level of step-by-step guidance, but I’m willing to live with that if the end product is better.
Instead of trying to get students to improve their essays by tacking on yet another writing assignment, I could simply drop the essays altogether and rely on the templates as scaffolding exercises for in-class team presentations. Each student would be at minimum accountable for choosing a theoretical perspective and completing the appropriate template at five separate points during the semester. There is a good chance that members of a team will select different perspectives and will need to decide on which one will make the strongest presentation. Teams will then compete against each as usual.
Abandoning the essays will reduce the amount of expository writing, but given their content in past iterations of the course, students weren’t learning much from them anyway. On my end, grading will be easier, especially if I convert the templates into an LMS-based fill-in-the-text-box format.