Bridge Repair

Forth BridgeIn my last post about teaching comparative politics, I discussed replacing expository writing assignments with a set of templates for students to use when designing presentations. I thought the templates might be a more effective method of getting students to apply theory to past events. For the spring semester, I have decided to ditch the theoretical content altogether, for these reasons:

  • Students had a difficult time comprehending comparative politics theories in two previous iterations of the course.
  • The course is not required for the political science major and does not serve as preparation for more advanced political science courses.
  • Enrollment is typically a dozen or fewer students, many of whom come from other programs where learning outcomes don’t include an understanding of comparative politics theories. The number of students taking the course who will study political science at the graduate level is effectively zero.
  • Incorporating outcomes from these other programs, such as “identify the ways in which local and international communities are affected by immigration, the environment, violence, racism, and/or gendered injustice,” is rational given who enrolls in the course.
  • I want students to get interested in asking questions about the rest of the world, a goal that does not always require learning about theoretical constructs. If students become more curious and better able to think about what’s happening in the world, then I’ve done a good enough job.

Forth Bridge PaintersHow to accomplish this? I’m very deliberate in the readings I assign; the more they think about what’s in the readings, the more they’ll get from the course. But getting them to think means getting them to write, and the more they write, the more they have to think. So I decided to reformulate the essay assignments in a way that forces students to revisit what they’ve already read and written about. Directions for the five essays now state:

  • Are the events described in the readings on Africa explained by the introductory readings on identity and nationalism? Why?
  • Do the readings on Africa explain events in Asia? Why?
  • Do the readings on Asia explain events in Europe? Why?
  • Do the readings on Europe explain events in Latin America? Why?
  • Do the readings on Latin America explain events in the Middle East? Why?