Make Discussion More Inclusive with the Raised Block

Facilitating discussion is one of those teaching tasks that is sneakily quite challenging: you need to have goals (beyond creating noise); keep the discussion on track to achieve those goals in the allotted time; manage the speaking order; address incorrect information or offensive remarks; enforce norms and rules; actively listen to students and capture themes; and encourage students to listen and respond to each other. Increasing inclusion is its own challenge–ensuring that every student has the access, opportunity, and encouragement to actively engage in the discussion and learn by being part of it.

A particular challenge can be the Dominant Derailer: the student(s) who speak up far more than their peers, sometimes on a pet topic that isn’t aligned with the learning goals, and has the result of shutting out other voices. When Dominant Derailers run the discussion, they turn their peers into Silent Spectators, who are no longer actively listening but instead just waiting for the ‘discussion’ to end.

I’ve already written with some tips on addressing or preventing a Dominant Derailer, but today I want to introduce a new tool that can help with this problem and others: the Raised Block.

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Chat GPT and Specifications Grading

Unsophisticated use of Chat GPT tends to produce generically poor essays, with repetitive structure, lack of analysis, and pretty stilted prose. Whether its identifiable as AI or not, the reality is that an essay written that way is likely to get a poor grade. When you receive a poorly written essay in which you suspect AI use, there are two typical paths:

  1. Pursue it as a case of suspected misconduct. You might run it through a detector to check for AI use, or ask the student to submit evidence of the work as it progressed through revisions.  Detectors are notorious for producing false positives, though, and students who were acting in good faith (but just have poor writing skills) will be caught up in this.
  2. Ignore the suspected use and just grade it accordingly. The essay is likely to get a C, as Devon Cantwell-Chaves pointed out in a recent tweet, so how much energy do you want to spend on trying to catch users out, when the results are poor? 
Devon Cantwell-Chavez tweets on February 13, 2024 about her approach to grading assignments where Chat GPT use is suspected.

To this I wish to add a third path: use specifications grading. 

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Wargaming for Learning: A robust examination of how educational gaming adds value to traditional instructional techniques

My latest article is out in Journal of Political Science Education and I’m excited to share it with ALPS readers. Alongside Dr. Lisa Kerr, also at the Naval War College, we set out to do a robust examination of whether educational gaming is worth the extra time it takes; in other words, do students learn more by playing a game (in this case, a bespoke war-game called War at Sea) when they’ve already encountered the material through traditional methods of learning such as reading, lecture, and discussion of a case study? Our research says yes.

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Scholars are Practitioners…in the classroom.

In many academic spaces, but particularly in the politic and professional military education worlds, there is a noted divide between ‘scholar’ and ‘practitioner’. Scholars have terminal degrees, or are in the progress of getting them, and rely on their academic background and research to provide them with their expertise. Practitioners may lack that formal academic background, but bring a wealth of experience from their professional experience in the military, policy world, or activist space. The divide between the two can be tense, with academics accused of living inside the Ivory Tower with no practical experience, and practitioners being told they over-rely on their own personal experience to the expense of a more representative or multi-perspective view.

To say ‘both have value’ is obvious, but not the point I want to make. Instead, I offer this: when it comes to the classroom, most of us scholars are actually practitioners.

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Lecture v. Active Learning: You Don’t Have to Choose

So many faculty feel like they must choose a side in an ongoing debate over whether faculty should lecture or engage in active learning. Those who extensively use lecture defend it; those who use games, simulations, and other active tools try to eliminate it. This debate is at the heart of “Which is Better, Active Learning or Lecture? It’s Not So Simple“, a recent piece by Becky Supiano in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which cites a new study that critiques the well-documented finding that active learning leads to greater learning over lecture in STEM courses. I can imagine many will point to this article to dismiss arguments against the standard lecture in the classroom.

This entirely misses the point for two reasons.

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Classroom Discussion Techniques: Handling the Dominant Derailer

We all know the type: the student who is the first to speak in response to every question and drags the discussion in their preferred direction. Either unknowing or uncaring that they are dominating the conversation, they suck out the air from a room of open discourse, creating a challenge for the instructor and potentially frustration for students who might otherwise want to join in. Of all the challenges facing us in leading a productive conversation, this is the one I hear about the most.

Let’s examine five ways of handling the Dominant Derailer.

  1. Establish Class Rules
  2. Acknowledge and Ally
  3. Redirect to a Parking Lot
  4. Return to an Essential Question
  5. Use Discussion Entry Tickets
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Key Features of Effective Games for Teaching

This week we had the pleasure of welcoming Sebastian Bae to our campus. Sebastian is a wargame designer and research analyst for CNA, and also teaches a course on wargame design at Georgetown. Amongst other events during his visit, he gave a talk called The Educator’s Toolkit: Learning to Use Wargames, and I want to highlight one of the key contributions of this talk: the six elements of good educational games. While Sebastian was focusing on e war-games, this advice applies to any educational gaming, inc. in politics and government.

The six criteria are:

Let’s dig into these.

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Chat GPT: Possible Responses Crowdsourced from ISA

At ISA a couple of weeks back, I facilitated a Teaching Cafe discussion on AI and Chat GPT’s impact in our classes. Thanks to the Innovative Pedagogy Conference Committee generously allocating us space, several colleagues from a variety of different institutions stopped by to share their thoughts and ask questions about the ethics, practical responses, and positive aspects of this technology. I’m going to share a few of these responses in case they aid others in thinking through how AI will affect their teaching, with the caveat that AI is advancing at a rapid rate and many of the strategies we discussed will be outdated very quickly.

I’ve categorized our conversation into three themes: how to mitigate the impact of AI in our classes; ethics and academic honesty; and leveraging AI to teach.

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Early Career Instructors: Supporting ISA’s next generation of teachers

I’m back from Montreal with an overwhelming to-do list. Regular ALPS readers may have noticed that in recent years I haven’t been writing here as much; that’s partially due to free-riding on Simon and Chad, who do an excellent job; part because I don’t teach undergraduate students anymore; and part because I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’ve promised Simon that I’ll start posting more, and so here’s an initial effort: unpacking the excellent roundtable discussion on early career instructors at ISA 2023: why we are remiss as a profession in providing support, and some tools and considerations for changing that.

I co-chaired the roundtable with Michael Murphy of Queens University–and if you aren’t reading his work, you should. He is the one who coined the ‘early career instructor’ moniker, an important way of considering the needs of those who are first starting out teaching. As a profession, we generally do a terrible job of preparing our ECIs for the classroom. With some exceptions, graduate students are rarely actively encouraged and supported in pursuing opportunities related to teaching: in general, such opportunities impose some kind of cost to pursue, in time, money, or reputation. Many have shared that they are either actively discouraged from spending any time on learning to teach, and that they are told their career will suffer if they are perceived as caring too much about teaching.

Let’s talk about the problems with this practice.

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Typologies for Conflict Simulations and Games

Fresh off the virtual presses is my latest article, Simulations and Games (SAGs) to Teach Conflict and Political Violence, a literature review in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies. In it, I pose several new typologies as I consider the key considerations for instructors who are considering what kind of game or simulation to use in their classes. This piece will be useful both to scholars publishing on SAGs, providing ways to categorize their activities, and also to instructors who are trying to decide what kind of SAG to use in their classroom.

Here are 7 considerations or decision points for choosing a game or simulation, according to my analysis of the existing literature:

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