I’ve finally to attending a networking event for Early Career Researchers at the conference I’m at, having decided that I’m far enough down the line to have something useful to say.
(Why yes, I have recently had a birthday. Why do you ask?)
The idea is a pretty standard one: speed-dating round the room to make some contacts and share some ideas. It’s a really good format for semi-structured getting-to-know-yous.
Of course, me being me, I’ve spent a couple of days talking through ideas with my partner, who’s also an academic: what is the most useful advice you could give someone if you only had a couple of minutes?
Since I don’t see why I should limit my unburdening to the ECRs at the conference, here’s my shot.
I recently presented at nearly back-to-back conferences that were not, strictly speaking, devoted to my areas of expertise. While I think it’s always good to go beyond one’s comfort zone, the experience again illustrated a principle upon which Simon and I have occasionally commented: academic conferences often don’t reflect workplace realities. To wit:
The first conference, of the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA), was held in Washington, DC. Until you found out it wasn’t. I had immediately noticed from the call for proposals, unlike my wife/colleague, that the conference site was actually a 30-minute drive south, in Maryland. Public transit, including from the airport, took 90 minutes. While the hotel itself was gorgeous, its location represented additional expense and inconvenience for attendees, especially for those with limited or no financial support from their home institutions.
But the greater problem, in my opinion: it was the usual routine of presenting obscure research, completely unrelated to teaching, to mostly empty rooms. Hardly anyone who attended the conference has or will have a career that is entirely research-focused. In other words, the conference was organized to serve an audience that doesn’t exist.
The second conference, Eastern Regional Campus Compact, was a bit better in this regard, as one might expect from an organization whose mission is community engagement. But it still demonstrated the disconnect between conference format and audience. My contribution was an interactive workshop on teaching techniques, which drew a crowd of about fifty people, with some spilling out into the corridor — a clear sign of interest. The other sessions I attended, organized as traditional panels, attracted a half dozen or fewer people.
As I mention in the post at the link shown above, the economics of these kinds of conferences are backwards and not sustainable.
Today we have a call for proposals from Jeffrey Bernstein at Eastern Michigan University.
I am working with Edward Elgar Publishing to produce an
edited volume, tentatively entitled “Teaching Political Methodology,” that will
focus on teaching this subject at the undergraduate level. Such a collection, I
believe, will fill a hole in the literature.
Most of our departments offer such a class; however, it usually proves
to be a hard course to teach. I’m excited about the possibility of a book that
articulates rationales for what this course should look like, and for how it
can be done well.
The publishers are looking for fairly thin (200-250 page) book, most likely with around twelve contributors. The volume will likely consist of two parts. Section One will focus more on the larger, theoretical questions involved in teaching research methods to political science undergraduates. Why do we see this as an important topic for students to learn? Do we want to approach the course as teaching mostly research design, statistical analysis, or programming and using Big Data? How much should we focus on qualitative versus quantitative tools? While quantitative methods have traditionally dominated, scholars have noted the limitations and biases in both the questions asked and the tools used to answer these questions. To what extent should our courses reflect this?
Section Two will focus less on the theoretical and more on
the applied. Once we have determined the
sort of methods course we want to teach, how do we do it effectively? What are the best means to get across the
central lessons from methods classes?
What does it look like when students achieve our learning goals? Papers for this section should move beyond
assertions of what we should be doing, or what we believe will work, and
present evidence of student learning drawn from their work. They should include things such as sample
assignments to help other instructors build on successful approaches to the
If you are interested in contributing to this collection, please email me as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of the idea you are proposing, as well as a CV. The proposal deadline is May 1. Completed chapters will be due to me by May 31, 2020; this extended time frame will allow people to develop ideas for teaching these classes and test these approaches against data during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Today we have a guest post by Matteo Perlini. He can be contacted at matteoperlini [at] gmail [dot] com.
In a post from August of last year, Nathan Alexander Sears wrote about a simple game he designed that teaches students about IR theory. Based on Sears’s idea, I created “Perpetual Anarchy,” a two-player game where the goal is to maximize the wealth of one’s state. Unlike Sears’s game, mine does not eliminate players or involve diplomacy.
Each state must choose an action every turn: defense, attack or
production. The choice of attack starts a war with the other state. Defense
allows a player to better resist an attack by the opposing player. Production
is an entirely peaceful action that helps increase wealth. The game has weak
intransitive preference orderings: it is usually preferred (but not always!) to
play defense against attack, attack against production, production against
Defense vs. attack: as in the real world, defending is easier than
attacking, so the defender has a bonus in the war (higher probability to win
the war), but attacker must pay reputation costs for her belligerence.
Attack vs. production: attacker has a bonus in the war (higher
probability to win the war) but she must pay reputation costs for her
belligerence. By contrast, if the producer wins, she earns points without reputation
Production vs. defense: both states score, but only the defending state
has reputation costs, so the producer generally scores more.
The game is not strictly intransitive because the final outcome depends
also on the second strategic level.
Second Strategic Level
States must choose how to allocate their budget across two dimensions: war/peace and long-term/short-term. A player must decide whether to give more prominence to one of the following strategies:
Short-term war: armament allocation helps the player win an urgent war,
but the player will not use this allocation in the future.
Short-term peace: wealth allocation helps a player score points during
Long-term war: military technology allocation does not increase the
likelihood of winning an actual war, but increases marginally the player’s military
Long-term peace: civilian technology allocation does not increase the actual
points scored by a player, but increases marginally the player’s production efficacy
As an example, a player who chooses a short-term war strategy will be more likely to win if a war occurs and will also prevent the opponent from capitalizing on long-term strategies, because the opponent loses any technology allocations in that turn.
This guest post is part of a series linked to the publication of G. Pleschova & A. Simon (eds.) Learning to teach in central Europe: Reflections from early career researchers. This post comes from Ulrich Hamenstädt
In her chapter, Ludmila Kašpárková discusses several methods to make a
relatively unpopular university course more attractive for the students. The
chapter presents first the challenge of teaching a course for which the students’
motivation is low. Kašpárková then outlines three changes she made to improve students’
motivation and learning outcomes. Finally, she presents the results of her
evaluation on how the new teaching style has helped to improve the course and
For me, this chapter
is a good example on how to deal with a challenge that a university lecturer
faces from time to time: taking over a course that is part of the compulsory curriculum,
but is unpopular among the students for different reasons. While the content of
this course was relatively fixed, the approach to teaching offered many
opportunities for improvement. In this sense, this chapter presents three ways to
improve learning that can be easily applied to various university courses.
The first approach Kašpárková
used was to implement John Bigg’s concept of constructive alignment in the
didactic design of the course. To ensure that the students understand the
syllabus, the learning objectives and develop ownership of learning she discussed
with the students their possible takeaways of the course. This may seem
obvious, but since it takes time, it is often neglected or shortened out in
practice. The second change of the course was the introduction of new learning
activities such as role plays and peer discussions to replace passive learning
from lecturing. This was a key element of this innovation, since learning in
social sciences is not about imparting knowledge but it implies – above all – enabling
the students to develop their skills. Thirdly, the examination at the end of
the semester was replaced by continuous assessment to enhance the quality of
Overall, it is
interesting to read how all these changes together influenced students’
learning outcomes. Ludmila Kašpárková’s work presents a valuable approach to
transforming and improving a course for students. The series of changes reported
in the chapter can also be applied individually to course sessions or teaching
So last week was our final teaching week before the Easter break. For reasons we don’t need to go into here, it’s not the end of our teaching block for the semester, so it’s a bit of a breather.
As such, my usual expectation is that class attendance takes a bit of a hit.
However, my lecture of 120 students only saw 15 turn up, which – even by my standards – isn’t good. At all.
Obviously those who came didn’t have the answers for their fellow students’ absence, so I decided to gather some data.
Using a quick SurveyMonkey poll, I offered students a range of options to choose from. As you can see, I got about 40% of the class (including a couple who had come) to respond, so reasonable enough to make some observations.
The first is that timing does matter. My lecture is 1000 on a Thursday, and the night before had been a big sports night, so there was certainly a bunch of students incapacitated by that. Also, a couple of students noted that Thursdays are solid with classes for them, abetted by some deadlines for other modules due at the same time.
However, while those factors explain part of it, I was also rather curious about whether our experiment in flipping plays a role.
My module is a first-year introduction to European integration, and I’ve been trying out a flipped format. This involves a pre-recorded lecture online, with the conventional lecture time being given over to Q&A on the recording and elaboration of key themes: there’s also a seminar session, which runs on more conventional lines.
So far, that Q&A part has not been running as well as I would like: only a small number of students ask questions and there’s evidently a block who haven’t watched the lecture beforehand, so can’t ask.
Part of my concern in trying out flipping was that students might see it as a way to disengage with the face-to-face element of the module. My efforts to tackle this including highlighting that the recording doesn’t have enough in itself to give all the material and framing students need to do well in the module: the Q&A always includes stuff that relates much more directly to the final exam (and I say as much).
Clearly, the survey highlights that this isn’t resonating with the students.
Even if we allow for a degree of “what might look like the answer least likely to cause offence”, there’s a big block covering the lack of utility of the (Q&A) lecture element.
Certainly, I can see that if you’ve not watched the video, then the lecture isn’t that useful, but I’m more concerned about those who feel that the recording suffices.
All of which leaves me in a quandry.
Part of me wants to rework the remaining sessions after Easter to be much more explicit in leaving material out of the online stuff, with the lecture picking it up instead.
But another part of me wants to stick with my approach to date and then we see how it goes with the exam.
Right now, I don’t have the answers to this one. I need to explore some more to see if attendance was similarly down in other modules, to better triangulate what’s happening here.
Below is an example of a recent in-class exercise that I used in my comparative politics course, created in collaboration with our crack staff of librarians. The exercise is designed to teach students that the scholarly journal articles they are reading represent an ongoing conversation between experts. I have included the information students were supposed to locate in italics. Feel free to modify the activity to meet your own needs.
Which former president of the American Political Science Association was one of Dr. Raymond’s professors? (Lucian Pye) First person to submit the correct answer before time expires earns 10 points toward their final course grade.
Locate this article: Larry Diamond, “Why Are There No Arab Democracies?” Journal of Democracy 21, 1 (January 2010): 93-112.
In this article, find citations for academic journal articles about democracy in the Arab world. Locate these articles. Write their citations:
Alfred Stepan and Graeme B. Robertson, “An ‘Arab’ More Than a ‘Muslim’ Democracy Gap,” Journal of Democracy 14 (July 2003): 30–44.
Mark Tessler and Eleanor Gao, “Gauging Arab Support for Democracy,” Journal of Democracy 16 (July 2005): 82–97.
Amaney Jamal and Mark Tessler, “The Democracy Barometers: Attitudes in the Arab World,” Journal of Democracy 19 (January 2008): 97–110.
One of the above articles (Jamal and Tessler) contains a citation for an academic journal article written by another former president of the American Political Science Association. Locate this article. Write the citation:
Samuel Huntington, “Will More Countries Become Democratic?” Political Science Quarterly 99, 2 (Summer 1984): 193-218
In the above article, find citations for these two works: the original version of an academic journal article that you have read for this course, and a book that you have read about for this course. What are the citations for the two works?
Seymour Martin Lipset, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review 53 (1959): 75.
Barrington Moore, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 418.
How do the ideas contained in the scholarly works listed above relate to the ideas presented by Diamond in the initial article?
Your Own Research
Choose a research topic of interest (does not have to be related to this course). On the back of this paper, track citations of academic journal articles about the topic through time. What do the authors of these articles say about the topic? How do their ideas correspond or differ?
ALPS has been awarded a Ducky for best group blog from the International Studies Association’s Online Media Caucus. This is our first officially-bestowed honor, and we greatly appreciate the recognition.
The Ducky inspired me to take stock of the work we’ve done here. ALPS content first appeared way back in February 2011 with a post replete with now-dead UW-Madison links (check out the phrase in the URL) — a sign that we have enjoyed greater longevity than much of what has been put on the internet. Since then, we’ve published more than 1,200 posts, mostly on teaching, with many written by contributors from different parts of the world. Our readership continues to expand; last September we exceeded 10,000 page views for the month.
I’m very happy with what this project has achieved.
I’m still enough of a kid to be excited to see the place I work at mentioned in the news, especially if it’s in an outlet my mum might see.
Of course, it’d be better if the context of this particular mention were different, but I guess you can’t have it all.
This all comes off the back of the on-going debate in government about grade inflation.
I wrote about all this last summer, and I’m not sure I’ve gotten much further in my thinking about this, except to note the shift in framing to combating ‘artificial’ grade inflation.
While this might seem to start to take account of the other factors at play, what it singularly doesn’t do is set out a means of calculating this in practice.
Obviously, there are changes in student characteristics that have a direct bearing and these are relatively simple to capture: socio-economic status; entry grades; progressive performance in each year of study.
However, there are also obviously changes in the teaching environment: staffing changes; changes in pedagogic approach; changing curricula (we’ve made our final year dissertation optional thus year, for example); changing provision of learning resources outside the degree programme, at the library or in welfare; changes in programme regulations.