What You Think Depends On Where You Stand

Our superb librarians survey students and faculty annually. Results from this year’s survey are in. Student responses to one of the questions:

Faculty responses:

Notice that the frequencies of responses from these two groups are essentially mirror images of each other. Students are extrinsically motivated by grades, so they think in instrumental terms: I need correctly formatted citations and the specified minimum number of sources. Otherwise my grade will be negatively affected. Knowing whether a source is reputable is far less important. Faculty think the reverse: the ability to locate scholarly source material and analyze information for bias matters most.

I have tried to solve this problem in the past, and could not find a satisfactory solution. Consequently, I have focused more on curating quality content for student to consume than on marking down students because of their reliance on websites that are top-listed in Google searches. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I decided to stop assigning traditional research papers.

Given the survey results though, the problem extends far beyond my small corner of the curriculum. I’m not going to solve it independently.

Readers might find these other posts on information literacy skills to be of interest:

The Methods Silo Effect and Fixing Poor Research Skills

Googling

Write Your Own Headlines Activity

Op-Ed Writing Workshop

The Virginia USA chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network is sponsoring a free online op-ed writing workshop on Wednesday, October 20, 3:30 – 5:00 pm. This workshop is a hands-on training for scholars who want to learn how to write and pitch compelling, research-based op-eds. Participants will learn how to craft a good lead, identify and incorporate timely news hooks, signal the author’s unique and relevant expertise, increase the likelihood of publication, and structure an op-ed for maximum impact. Participants are asked to come prepared with an idea for an op-ed in mind; they will be guided through shaping their idea into a first draft.

Registration form and additional details are here.

Personal note: as the author of occasional op-eds for local and national publications, I know first hand the benefits of being able to write for a non-academic audience.

Collecting Data From Students

As previously discussed, this semester I am attempting to research whether metacognitive exercises improve students’ learning — as measured by exam scores. My class completed the first survey and exam. A few initial impressions about the data and the process of collecting it:

Eighteen students completed the pre-exam survey a total of twenty-seven times. Two students submitted responses three times each. This demonstrates the importance of requiring that students include some kind of identifying information when they complete the survey, so that duplicate submissions can be removed from the data set.

I suspect the survey data are skewed because of above average effect or subject bias. By coding the responses from 1 to 5, with 1 being “never” and 5 being “always,” the highest possible sum score from the ten survey questions is 50. The average for this survey was 40. I doubt students actually engaged in the study strategies referenced in the survey as frequently as they said they did.

The average total score on the exams five multiple choice questions was 7.7 out of 10. Given the small sample and the nature of the data, a statistical analysis that compares these scores against survey responses isn’t meaningful, but I did run a correlation in Excel, which resulted in a very non-impressive r of -0.12.

The exams in this course are extremely low stakes — the first and second exams are worth 25 points each, and the final exam is worth only 40 points, out of more than 1,000 points available from all graded items. That might have affected how diligent students were in studying for the exam.

Given the small size of the class and the usual host of possible confounding variables, I can already guess that I won’t be able to identify a relationship between the metacognition surveys and students’ exam performance. Repeatedly asking students about their study techniques might help them learn more, but I’m not going to be able to demonstrate it.

Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide

Christopher L. Caterine’s Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide (Princeton U. Press, 2020) is packed with sound career advice for people who have obtained doctorates. The book is also highly relevant to anyone who is just contemplating post-baccalaureate study, because it points out three systemic flaws in graduate education:

First, graduate programs typically emphasize the production of subject matter experts, leading to what Caterine calls the overspecialization trap:

“[N]obody outside the academy can monetize knowledge of . . . constructions of gender in eighteenth-century French novels. Even scientists aren’t safe on this count . . . many still face hiring bias because of the excessive specialization that graduate school requires. Trying to convince nonacademics to value what you study is probably a losing battle” (p. 89).

Just as doctorate holders should emphasize how they study when applying for jobs, graduate programs need to be oriented around methodological training rather than the delivery of factual knowledge. Any worthwhile graduate program needs to teach its students how to quickly distill large amounts of unfamiliar and often contradictory information down to its essentials and present “a coherent narrative in a public forum on short notice” (p. 123). This skill is in constant demand by employers, whereas being the world’s foremost authority on a post-Augustan Roman poet is not.

Second, the elements of good teaching are also immensely beneficial job skills, yet how many graduate programs train their students to become competent teachers? Good teaching requires one to be adept at project management, public speaking, running meetings, balancing divergent stakeholder interests, and emotional intelligence (p. 104). For example, running a classroom debate on a policy topic for which there are no cut and dried answers is an example of the ability to engineer “discussions that orient people toward a shared understanding or goal” (p. 108). These are the kinds of attributes that employers prize.

Finally, just like anyone else, academics need to present themselves and their expertise in an understandable, unambiguous manner. Judging by the terribly written cover letters and resumes I have seen from job applicants, this is not a skill that people commonly acquire through graduate education.

So, for anyone out there thinking about graduate school, what’s the evidence that a program in which you are interested will adequately prepare you for a non-academic career? If you are already university faculty, what aspects of your work have value outside of academia, and how can you clearly communicate this to potential employers? Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide will show you how to find answers to these questions.

Write Your Own Headlines Activity

This post comes from Chelsea Kaufman, assistant professor of political science at Wingate University. She can be contacted at c[dot]kaufman[at]wingate[dot]edu.

In teaching undergraduate research methods, I often find that the students are intimidated by the subject matter and don’t see its relevance to their lives. I have increasingly emphasized to students that it prepares them to be savvy consumers of political information wherever they might encounter it. This approach introduces an additional challenge, however: students often lack the information literacy skills to evaluate the sources that they access. If I want students to have the skills to evaluate the political information they encounter, I obviously need to teach them these skills. How exactly can this be accomplished? 

It is not enough to tell students which sources are acceptable, because people tend to trust information that aligns with their political predispositions. Simply lecturing to students about the dangers of misinformation can reinforce false beliefs and increase their distrust of reliable sources. 

To avoid this conundrum, I have students write their own headlines based on public opinion poll data. I first find a poll with results covered in several media outlets. I then send students a link to (or print out) the results of the poll, without providing them any context as to how it was covered in the media. After writing the headlines, students share them and compare theirs with those of their classmates and with published headlines about the data. Students learn to interpret data and evaluate whether it was given accurate coverage in the media. As the final part of the lesson, I then ask them to evaluate the polling methods used to obtain the data, by, for example, considering how a question’s wording might have impacted the responses. 

You can view detailed instructions for the activity on APSA Educate. You can also read more about this topic and find examples of additional activities in my article Civic Education in a Fake News Era: Lessons for the Methods Classroom or my chapter in The Palgrave Handbook of Political Research Pedagogy

Resilience of Learners in Times of Uncertainty

Three weeks ago I wrote about resilient syllabus design. A chance email exchange with someone I’ve never met caused me to reexamine that post for unconscious assumptions. And yes, I had a few. For example:

A course with numerous low stakes assignments throughout the semester is probably more pedagogically resilient and effective than a course in which the only assessments are a midterm and a final exam. If one of these two exams has to be cancelled for some reason, you’re screwed. But the design assumes students will be able to complete assignments mostly continuously, with perhaps only a brief interruption or two because of weather, contagious disease, or alien invasion.

What happens if people’s homes and workplaces have been destroyed and a significant portion of the population has evacuated? Maybe the campus reopens after electrical power has been restored, but students, wherever they are, might still lack a permanent residence, transportation, employment, internet access, or, in some cases, even an adequate supply of food and water. Euphemistically, they have become the ultimate retention risks.

While there might not be a good solution to this type of worst case scenario, I’m going to be running undergraduate students in my economic development course through some exercises that I hope will get them thinking about “What if?” Just in case the unexpected, or highly unlikely, happens.

The Challenge Game

Elia Elisa Cia Alves

Today we have a guest post from Elia Elisa Cia Alves, Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), and Ana Paula Maielo Silva and Gabriela Gonçalves Barbosa, State University of Paraíba (UEPB), of Brazil. Elia Elisa Cia Alves can be contacted at eliacia [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Challenge Game was developed by a group of professors at the State University of Paraiba and the Mettrica Lab in Brazil. It is suitable for teaching concepts in international relations theory, such as state survival within an anarchic system, the security dilemma, alliances and the balance of power, and hegemony.

Ana Paula Maielo

To play this game in the classroom, you will need 1) approximately 8 to 50 students who can play either individually or in teams, depending on the purpose to which the game is put, 2) candy, points, or some other reward that can be distributed, and 3) a method of determining the winner of a challenge between two parties, such as dice (high roll wins), rock-paper-scissors, or an online random number generator. Also, the rules of the game should be visible to students during the game.

The game is played in four rounds of approximately ten minutes each. A challenge is a one-candy bet (a loss results in one piece of candy being taken away) with a 50% probability of winning. Any individual or team that is challenged must participate in the challenge. Only one challenge should occur at a time so that the instructor can note what happens. A student or team that ends up with zero candy can no longer issue challenges; they are “dead” for the remainder of the round.

Round 1: Each student starts with one piece of candy. The winner of a challenge takes one piece of candy from the loser and can then challenge someone else. Any student who loses all of his or her candy is out of the game for the round. Depending on class size, the instructor may want to limit each student to a maximum number of challenges.

Round 2: Candy is distributed unequally among students. Most students should have 1-2 candies, a few students should have 3, and only a couple of students should have 4. The instructor may want to allow students to form alliances, in which case students can borrow candies from each other if needed. However, the loan is optional.

Round 3: Group students into teams. Distribute candy unequally among teams as in Round 2. Each team represents a nation-state. Students within a team decide, using any decision making method they choose, whether the team challenges any other team. As in Round 2, the instructor might allow teams to form alliances.

Round 4: Group students into teams and distribute candy as in Round 3. The professor grants special rules to only teams that have the greatest number of candies, such as altering their odds of winning a challenge. After the game, the professor should debrief the class to link theoretical international relations concepts to students’ experiences of the game. In our JPSE article, we suggest several questions that can be used as part of the debriefing.

Call for Proposals: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Charity Butcher, Tavishi Bhasin, Maia Hallward, and Elizabeth Gordon are creating a book for political science faculty who want to simultaneously increase their research productivity and teaching effectiveness. They are seeking proposals for chapters that will outline how faculty can align their teaching and research interests through:

  • The scholarship of teaching and learning.
  • Textbook authorship.
  • Faculty-student research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Study abroad and field research.
  • Designing courses to general new areas of scholarship.

If you are interested, please submit a 300-400 word abstract and a short bio (around 50 words) to cbutche2@kennesaw.edu by September 30th. Your proposal should describe the essay you would like to contribute, explicitly connecting your chapter to one of the areas above or indicating an additional unlisted area where you think your chapter could fit. Abstracts will be reviewed on a rolling basis, with all decisions completed by October 15. Accepted abstracts will be included in a book proposal to be submitted to Springer as part of the Political Pedagogies book series (edited by Jamie Frueh and David Hornsby).

They anticipate final essays of roughly 3000 words to be submitted by February 1, 2022. Final essays should include specific, tangible examples of teaching and research practices that other professors could reproduce in their own contexts to improve and expand their research and teaching. For more details, please see the full call for proposals at: 

http://facultyweb.kennesaw.edu/cbutche2/docs/Call%20for%20Proposals%20-%20Aligning%20Teaching%20and%20Research.pdf.

Developing a Podcast Assignment

Today we have a guest post from John McMahon, Assistant Professor of Political Science at SUNY Plattsburgh. He can be contacted at jmcma004 [at] plattsburgh [dot] edu.

Podcast assignments make students the creators of political knowledge, allow them to actively research subjects of interest, and offer them the opportunity to improve their writing, listening, and speaking abilities. The format is more interesting and authentic to students than that of traditional assignments, in part because of the popularity of podcasts among people under the age of thirty-five.

In my experience, there are two especially salient components of podcast assignment design. First, it is necessary to be intentional and clear with oneself and one’s students about the assignment’s required elements. A podcast’s political content, length, required sound elements (clips, effects, music, etc.), type of interview subjects (if any), how its creation is scaffolded—all require careful consideration. The requirements of the assignment need to match course learning objectives.

Second, do not worry too much about the technology. Instructional technology and library staff usually can provide support and resources, from workshops to USB microphones to campus recording studios. If needed, students can simply use their phones to record audio. Audio editing tools like Audacity and GarageBand are easy for students to learn, and instructional videos on podcast creation abound online. In my experience, students have also found Spotify’s Anchor to be an easy platform to use.

Podcast assignments are adaptable to a range of courses. I have used them successfully when teaching political theory and American politics at the 100-, 200-, and 300-level. Crucially, as we enter another pandemic academic term, this kind of assignment is suitable for online, hybrid, and in-person courses, including those that change modality in the middle of the term.

Instructions for one of my podcast assignments are available on APSA Educate, and I have published an article on student podcasting in the Journal of Political Science Education.

Asynchronous Field Research Exercises

To answer Maria’s question in her comment on my last post about syllabus design, here is an example of one of my field research assignments:

To earn full credit: upload your first post by 6:00 p.m. Wednesday and respond to at least one other person’s post by 9:00 a.m. Friday; see the rubric.

  1. Read:
  1. Go to The Opportunity Atlas at https://www.opportunityatlas.org. Click “Begin Exploring.” Click “OK.” Enter Newport’s zip code in the search bar at the upper left. Make sure “Household Income” is selected for “Outcomes.” Select a street in the blue area and a street in the red area.
  2. Walk a portion of the two streets that you selected. What do you see about the built environment that you think relates to economic opportunity in these locations?
  3. Take a photo that indicates what you notice; post the photo and your observations in the discussion. Identify the location shown in the photo. Cite at least one the readings in your first discussion post. 

Here is my rubric for grading the online discussion: