Comparative Politics 2021: An Additional Post-Mortem

In January and February, I wrote about changes I had made in my annual comparative politics course:

I’ve already written about the problematic results from one assignment and a potential solution, and a way of improving the final exam prompt.

Student output in the collaborative qualitative comparative analyses, an assignment discussed in the Part 4 post linked above, proved disappointing. Despite extensive scaffolding, students did not demonstrate an understanding of how to determine cause and effect. Here is a simplified version of what one team produced; the other team’s QCA was nearly identical:

Less Economic GrowthYesYesYesYes
Less Citizen Political ParticipationYesYesYesYes
Higher Disease Mortality YesYesYesYes
Greater AuthoritarianismYesYesYesYes

There is no variation in the values for the independent or dependent variables. Nor are the independent variables likely to be causes, rather than effects, of the dependent variable — the direction of causality is ambiguous. The QCA provides no logical explanation for increased authoritarianism.

So next time around, I will have to specify that 1) variables must vary, and 2) causes can’t be effects.

From my perspective, these kinds of assignments get more prescriptive and less analytical with each tweak I make to them. While I don’t want them to devolve into mindless fill-in-the-blank worksheet exercises, it seems that is where they are headed.

One Reply to “Comparative Politics 2021: An Additional Post-Mortem”

  1. I’m going to read through everything you’ve written, which I haven’t done. My first impression of the response box is that each of these variables are feedback loops. Perhaps you need a more fine-grained response box.

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