Reflections on my Spring 2024 Podcasting Project

In Spring 2024, I conducted a semester-long podcasting project with my students in my “International Relations and Popular Culture” class. I wrote about this idea last December if you want to get a broader overview of what I did. I want to use this post to provide some reflections on how it went, and what sort of changes I will be making in the Fall 2024 semester in two sections of the same course. I think podcasting projects are a fantastic way to have students conduct traditional research. But then they get to write podcast scripts and record episodes which ask them to translate more academic based research  into forward-facing publicly engaging content.

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The Idea of a World Government

In my Introduction to International Relations class, I have been running for the past few semesters a last-day exercise with my students, in which I ask them to envision a genuine World Government (not the United Nations in its current form). This serves four purposes: 1) It gets their creative juices flowing; 2) it allows for a stand alone exercise without having to do much prep; 3) it provides an outlet for “global problems need a global response”; and 4) it asks of them to challenge a core premise in international relations: anarchy, as the absence of world government, on the international stage, and subsequent assumed state behaviors. What would a world government look like to “make away” with anarchy?

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More reflections on the “World Climate Simulation”: Class Size Matters

I am following up once again on the World Climate Simulation exercise which I run in my Introduction to International Relations courses. This semester I am teaching two sections of the class, which meet back-to-back three times a week.

My first section is a group of eight students. In my second section I have 27 students. In the past I have only run the exercise in large groups (approx. 27 to 30 students). I was curious as to how the two different sections would play out as I had never applied it to such a small group. Maybe not to anyone’s surprise, there were some stark differences in the way the games played out.

Credit: classsizematters.org

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Talking to Others About Teaching

Inherently, the premise of this blog is to bring like-minded folks together who care about teaching in the social sciences. We share tools, ideas, events, and musings. And I have come to appreciate the people who reach out in comments, mitigating the one-sided way in which this blog-writing largely takes place.

Recently, though, I took my musings into the real world and joined a three-week long pedagogy book club run through my institutions center for teaching and learning. We all (re)read James M. Lang’s “Small Teaching”, and then discussed its parts over three meetings. This post is brief (because not everything has to be a magnus opus), but it is, nonetheless, an appreciation post for 1) talking in real life to others about teaching and 2) going back to the basics.

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Fungalovid-2025: Global Health Politics in IR

Inspired by Daniel Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies as well as too much TV watching, I have designed for my International Relations  and Popular Culture (IRPC) course a game called Fungalovid-2025. The scholarship of IRPC understands the role of popular culture as both a reflection of international politics but also as a learning device that informs our expectations of political crises.  Fungalovid-2025 confronts my students with a global pandemic and demands of them to formulate in country groups a 2-month and a 12-month plan on how their country will proceed with handling the outbreak. Their choices and behaviors are informed by reading World War Z by Max Brooks, by our previous class discussions, living through their own pandemic, and in varying degrees their personal engagement with zombie-themed popular culture goods. This game is not only great for IRPC, probably a niche area for many, but it also works in introductory classes on international relations to illustrate socially constructed realities, international cooperation, and self-interested policymaking.

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Student: “Please guide me to all of knowledge”

In a recent post, I spoke about my intention this semester to mandate an office hour visit from all of my students. We are now in Week 3 of the semester, and I am pleased to say that students are fulfilling this requirement already – and even coming back for more conversations. However, a recurring theme is emerging, which I thought I’d seek input for amongst this community. My students are anxious that they don’t know enough. And they want to point me to the magical Google Doc folder we all share as professors, where we store all necessary knowledge about the world and life.

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A Crowdsourced IR Playlist

A new guest post by Dr. Summer Marion from Bentley University, Waltham, MA:

Since Fall 2022, I have taught ten sections of Internationals Relations at Bentley University. Each semester, I experiment with integrating music into my curriculum as a means of both encouraging my students to apply abstract concepts in their everyday lives, and better understanding what IR means to them. Inspired by others’ impressive IR playlists, I take a slightly different approach from faculty who have curated their own lists to share with students in class. I challenge students to: 1) expand and improve my taste in music, and more importantly 2) contribute to making IR more relevant to their generation by proposing songs of their own for a small amount of extra credit on the final exam. Students brainstorm songs that they enjoy listening to and find relevant to a topic covered in class over the course of the semester. They then share their songs alongside a brief explanation in our class discussion forum. I encourage students to submit songs as we cover each topic, but final submissions are not due until the end of the semester. I occasionally play a student submission to kick off a new topic at the beginning of class, inviting students to discuss and share their thinking.

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Spring 2024: The Midterm Check-in

I enjoyed Cathy’s post from last week, in which she presented UCL’s approach to engage in student dialogue rather than receive “consumer feedback” at the end of the semester – aka the classic student evaluations. Earlier check-ins regarding our teaching are more useful than reviewing the game tapes over winter break. Our future students will benefit from it, but our past students just had to sit with it. As the new semester approaches rapidly (at least for me, Monday is rapidly approaching), and as I looked over my feedback from last semester, I can’t help to add even more things to my list of new semester resolutions: a midterm check-in with my students on what is working and what is not.

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How to handle Student Evaluations

Happy New Year! As we all slowly make our way back from the holiday coma, I thought I‘d briefly speak about student evaluations, which I am assuming most of us receive at the end of each semester. There are varying schools of thought that speak to the necessity of these evaluations. I am staying out of this debate.

It‘s hard to separate yourself from these evaluations much – at least that‘s the case for me as an ECR. After all, if you care about how you teach and you put effort in it, then it is a personal thing – to a degree. But it should not be something we measure our entire self-worth by. During my graduate student days our Center for Teaching and Learning held a session on how to handle these evaluations. 

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Course Planning for Spring 2024: A Mandatory Office Hour Visit

On a recent episode of Teaching in Higher Education, “The Ones Too Often Left Behind”, Todd Zakrajsek, PhD, author of many pedagogy books, spoke about his journey uncovering the many different obstacles and challenges students encounter in their learning that make succeeding in class – not because of lack of trying – harder than their peers.

Having taught at various types of higher education institutions, this resonated with me immensely. None of us are omniscient and all-powerful to anticipate all the things, and so when trying our hardest we still encounter each year plenty of unknown unknowns about our students, their lives, and their learning. Here is another attempt of mine to adjust my syllabus accordingly.

This past week, my campus had its finals week, including one review day on which I decided to offer an additional office hour session, providing my students one last opportunity to check in with me face-to-face regarding the final paper that was due at the end of this week. I had a steady flow of students coming and going.  But I realized after that they were my steady “customers”, who had come in frequently throughout the semester. Approximating, I would say they account for maybe 20 – 25% of my students. Where have three quarters of mine students been this semester?

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