Yesterday was our first day of teaching in the new semester. The late summer heat both made the classroom for my session on ‘negotiating politics’ too muggy and the playing fields outside too attractive a proposition. So we decamped.
Changing your physical environment is great for reshaping the learning environment: sitting and standing in a field means that the conventional semi-static arrangements of the classroom have to go. From a lecturer’s perspective, you can move much more easily around the group, and you are more conscious of how your voice carries (or not), forcing you to be porperly responsive to people’s engagement. From the student’s point of view, it stresses the ways in which learning is a universal process, rather than just one that happens in classrooms, and it forces them to think much more about how to balance (sometimes literally) listening, note-taking and participating.
As the shadows lengthened in the afternoon sun, we played Victor’s infamous rock-paper-scissors game: the space made moving around very easy, especially when we played a second time and people very clearly moved away from the one person enthusiastically challenging people. We even had someone hide behind a tree.
The British weather probably means I won’t get my students outside again (bustery rain, mud and laptops don’t really mix), but it really set the tone for the rest of the module. So go try it.
I have used online simulations with my students for a variety of different pedagogical goals – something I am planning on blogging about later – but today I came across an online simulation that seems very appropriate for the current economic environment. (I found information about the game here). The game is called Spent and the idea is that you are trying to manage a budget for your family on a very small income. The organization that sponsors the game, the Urban Ministries of Durham clearly has a political agenda – as well as a desire for donations. Because of this I am reticent to use this in class but I felt it did a very good job of illustrating the challenges of the urban poor with families for people who may not have a real sense of how hard it is to live on a tight budget. Have other people used this simulation with their students? Did it work well?
I have noticed in the past that every so often people will put up a list of songs that match certain International Relations theories. One list that I like is by Michael J. Tierney which you can find here: http://mjtier.people.wm.edu/teaching/irplaylist.php.
Tierney for example cites “One is the Loneliest Number ” by Three Dog Night” as an illustration of Polarity and Imagine by John Lennon as an example of Norms and Ideas. While lists like this are fun I have thought about how this hobby might be used in the classroom to engage students. I have done so in a couple of different ways that students have enjoyed. The first has been to play a song in class or list it on blackboard and have the students debate briefly which theory is best tied to the song. This has had unusual outcomes. For example I had one student tell me that they struggled with what Post Modern analysis was getting at until we talked briefly about the song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung. Really. What got them thinking were the lyrics:
Turn up your radio
The words we use are strong
They make reality
What I thought of as a fun little game made the light bulb light up for this one student. I have also had students send me songs and their lyrics with a theoretical explanation about why that song is a useful primer on one theory or another. I have gotten passionate expositions on the NeoMarxist assumptions behind Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” , (of course) Pink Floyd’s “Money”or the Hobbesian logic of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil.” Realism also led a student to recommend a song by No More Kings I had not heard before but ended up really enjoying (note it is a lot better if you have seen the Karate Kid) called “Sweep the Leg.” Has anyone else used music in class in this way or others?
While I have not used their products, I have been very impressed with what the online textbook publisher soomopublishing is doing in terms of sharing information about pedagogical tactics. Clearly some of this is oriented towards marketing their own products but a lot of it is not – and also very useful. they send out an email related to their blog- poliscilounge -which often has very useful suggestions and one I saw this morning I wanted to pass along. They discuss a Satirical Resource Repository put together by Rebecca Glazier, Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. While many of the links that Rebecca Glazier lists are not related to international or comparative politics – a lot of them are – and are excellent resources. One of my favorites is from the Onion entitled Northern Irish, Serbs, Hutus Granted Homeland In West Bank. The only thing missing (for someone as lazy as me) is that Rebecca Glazier gives you the names of the articles and the links to the general websites but not direct links. Still a lot of fun though and something that I think is a useful tool to use with students.
P.S. one of the favorite things of mine produced by soomopublishing is a video called Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration (while related to American History) is fun to use when teaching about revolutions. Plus it is a pretty good cover.
I often have students work in teams for different projects as diverse as team based learning, simulations or working together on a paper. Students have repeatedly told me one of the challenges have is that keeping up with what other people are doing (or not doing as the case may be) is challenging. Last semester I came across a website that allows you to create your own virtual cork board called http://corkboard.me/ [2015 update: the website no longer exists]. While the name is not original the website itself is pretty useful. There are other websites out there that do similar things but what makes corkboard so useful is that it is so darn simple. it allows you to post notes – and that is it. if you put the url into your browser it generates a new corkboard just for you. if you save that you can go back to the same corkboard. more importantly anyone else can as well and people can make changes at the same time in real time. an example of what it looks like can be seen below:
I have not had used corkboard a lot yet with students ( I am planning to do so in the fall) but I have used it with people I collaborate with and have found it to be very useful for brainstorming ideas and organizing thoughts and responsibilities. For one project each collaborator has a “nag” note for things they need to get done. It has become a real pleasure to remove other people’s nags from my note – and also a pleasure to add nag notes to other people. Of course every software has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side it is:
2) easy to use
3) useful for brainstorming and task assignment
On the minus side:
1) it is very simple
2) unless you pay for an upgrade it if someone gets the URL they can see and change what ever is on the cork board.
3) It can only paste non formatted text into a note (so if i want to paste something from word I need to first paste it into notepad or google or somewhere else)
All in all though it has proven to be very useful and I am looking forward to using it with my students.