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2010 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference Track Summaries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2010

Kimberly A. Mealy
Director of Education, Professional Development and Minority Initiatives
Dennis Roberts
University of the District of Columbia
June Speakman
Rogers Williams University
Sarah E. Spengeman
University of Notre Dame
Elizabeth A. Bennion
Indiana University South Bend
Tim Meinke
Lynchburg College
Bobbi Gentry
Millikin University
Erin E. Richards
Cascadia Community College
Vanessa Ruget
Salem State College
Tina M. Zappile
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Masako Rachel Okura
Columbus State University
Christopher Whitt
Augustana College
Kristen Obst
American Military University
Nancy Wright
Long Island University–Brooklyn
Heather Edwards
Howard University and University of Texas at Arlington
Katherine Brown
Kings College London Joint Services Command and Staff College
Anita Chadha
University of Houston–Downtown
Derrick L. Cogburn
American University/Syracuse University
Shane Nordyke
University of South Dakota
Renee Van Vechten
University of Redlands
Mark Sachleben
Shippensburg University
Deborah Ward
Rutgers University
Candace C. Young
Truman State University
Brian K. Arbour
CUNY–John Jay College
Jill Abraham Hummer
Wilson College
Sharon Jones
Columbia College
Mark Johnson
Minnesota State Community and Technical College
Sharon Spray
Elon University
Richard W. Coughlin
Florida Gulf Coast University
Marek Payerhin
Lynchburg College
Robert W. Glover
University of Connecticut
Melinda Kovács
Sam Houston State University
Michael T. Rogers
Arkansas Technical University
Leland M. Coxe
University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College
Brooke Thomas Allen
University of Michigan
Ethan J. Hollander
Wabash College
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


The seventh annual Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from February 5 to 7, 2010, with 224 attendees onsite. The theme for the meeting was “Advancing Excellence in Teaching Political Science.” Using the working-group model, the TLC track format encourages in-depth discussion and debate on research dealing with the scholarship of teaching and learning.

The Teacher
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2010

The seventh annual Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from February 5 to 7, 2010, with 224 attendees onsite. The theme for the meeting was “Advancing Excellence in Teaching Political Science.” Using the working-group model, the TLC track format encourages in-depth discussion and debate on research dealing with the scholarship of teaching and learning.

In addition to the 12 working groups, there were workshops on various topics. The 2010 Teaching and Learning Conference also featured three plenary events, including a presidential round table on “Teaching Political Science during Hard Economic Times,” with APSA president Henry Brady as moderator. Rogers Smith of the University of Pennsylvania delivered the Pi Sigma Alpha Keynote Address, entitled “Teaching as Redemption,” and former governor of Florida and current Senator Robert Graham delivered the opening session address, “Salvaging Citizenship: A Partnership for Pols and Scholars?”

The 2010 TLC included a number of new features: the aforementioned plenary roundtable, which also included a lunchtime discussion and question/answer period for the attendees, and the use of remote participation technology. Through the use of this technology, the three plenary sessions were broadcast live via the Internet for an additional audio and visual component. Therefore, individuals who were not able to attend the meeting were able to join us virtually. This technology was made available by Derrick Cogburn (former chair of the APSA Information Technology and Politics section and 2010 TLC moderator) and his lab, the Center for Research on Collaboratories and Technology Enhanced Learning Communities (COTELCO; at Syracuse University and American University). The sessions are currently available for viewing at Finally, one new workshop track, Strategies for Teaching at Community Colleges, was introduced, as was a new paper track, Teaching Political Theory and Theories.

APSA would like to thank the following individuals who served on the 2010 Teaching and Learning Conference Programming Committee: Tim Meinke, Lynchburg College, chair; Marcus D. Allen, Wheaton College; Mitchell Brown, Auburn University; Erin Richards, Cascadia Community College; Stephen Salkever, Bryn Mawr College; and Deborah Ward, Rutgers University. These six committee members, along with the following six individuals, also served as the 2010 Track Moderators: Alison McCartney, Towson University; Chad Raymond, Elon University; Derrick Cogburn, American University and Syracuse University; Daniel E. Smith, Northwest Missouri State University; John Ishiyama, University of North Texas; and Candace C. Young, Truman State University.

The following track summaries were written by 2010 TLC track participants and detail the key themes which emerged in each track.


  • Dennis Roberts, University of the District of Columbia

  • June Speakman, Rogers Williams University

The 22 participants in the Civic Engagement I track at the 2010 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference prepared 12 papers on a broad range of topics, from the benefits of a week-long celebration of global learning at one campus and the difficulties of organizing field work for adult learners at a commuter campus to the ways that a classic text does or does not embody the concept of citizenship. The participants brought a variety of experiences to the discussion, but no shared definition of civic engagement.


The track moderator underscored the definitional problem by presenting dozens of definitions of civic engagement culled from the political science literature. Some focused on participation, others on “doing good,” and others on engagement as a pedagogical technique.

From these discussions, the track participants concluded that APSA should develop, adopt, and endorse a definition of civic engagement to guide curriculum development and assessment of student learning.


Assessment was another issue that emerged repeatedly during track discussions. Of the many approaches to civic engagement discussed, we debated how to best determine which ones work to foster meaningful, lasting engagement with the political system. Are reading and writing about theory and practice sufficient? Must students practice civic engagement in order to learn it? How do we measure the educational value-added of experiential contact with civic life? How can we structure internships and role-playing exercises (e.g., Model United Nations) to ensure that students learn by doing?

Track participants agreed that more qualitative and quantitative data are needed to determine the impact of experiential activities in particular on students' political knowledge, level of partisanship, sense of efficacy, career goals, openness to alternative perspectives, and propensity to remain involved with civic life. Pretests and posttests using CIRCLE surveys and comparisons of campus programs with national standards were recommended.


Several track participants raised the issue of access to experiential opportunities that foster civic engagement. Adult students, part-time students, and commuters often have difficulty accommodating the time commitment and financial burdens of internships and role-playing exercises. These students also rarely take advantage of opportunities to engage with the civic life of their campuses through involvement with student groups or student government. Furthermore, it is challenging for these students to take advantage of international study and service opportunities that are also an element of civic engagement. Track participants confronted the troubling possibility that civic engagement in the curriculum may be available primarily to upper-income, traditional-age students. The consequences of this for participation in the political system were discussed, and the possibility that APSA could become a clearinghouse for research on this bias was suggested.

Structure and Content of Civic Engagement in the Curriculum

Much track discussion focused on best practices for embedding civic engagement in the political science curriculum. There was agreement on the following:

  • Field experience without a classroom component is not sufficient

  • Information without experience is not sufficient

  • A global dimension deepens students' understanding of civic engagement

  • An interdisciplinary approach enhances student learning

  • The focus of the fieldwork can be on policy, process, or both

  • Field experiences must be carefully selected, designed, and monitored to:

    • Ensure that students have meaningful work

    • Avoid a paternalistic approach to the work

    • Ensure that students understand the purpose and outcomes of their work

    • Ensure a connection between the work and other course materials

Institutional Commitment

There was broad agreement among track participants that, in many cases, institutional support for teaching that fosters civic engagement is insufficient. As APSA President Henry Brady said in his closing remarks, “In hard times, we [political scientists] are the wisest investment you can have to invigorate democracy and to redefine common purpose.” If faculty are to serve this important social function, we must design curriculum that is pedagogically sound. Achievement of that goal requires disciplinary standards that take into account the diversity of approaches, materials, and students involved. Universities and colleges must provide sustainable institutional support for these efforts, including administrative support for the often monumental task of developing meaningful experiential opportunities, especially in the global arena. Finally, meeting this goal requires acknowledgment in the tenure and promotion process of this kind of teaching, which always entails more preparation, more monitoring, and more complex assessment strategies than the typical political science class.


Although track participants did not reach consensus on a definition of civic engagement, we did agree that encouraging engagement is one of the obligations of the discipline. To fulfill this obligation, political scientists must work to develop standards that enable systematic evaluations of curriculum and assessments of student learning in civic engagement classes and activities. Faculty must also demand that their institutions, most of which claim civic engagement as a core value, provide the institutional and financial support required to encourage and reward ongoing faculty work in this area.


  • Sarah E. Spengeman, University of Notre Dame

  • Elizabeth A. Bennion, Indiana University South Bend

  • Tim Meinke, Lynchburg College

The 22 political scientists who participated in the Civic Engagement II track at APSA's seventh annual Teaching and Learning Conference agreed that promoting civic engagement among all students, both political science majors and nonmajors, should be a goal of undergraduate political science programs. The participants also agreed that the scholarship on civic engagement is limited by the lack of consensus on the terminology of the field, so they started their conversation by discussing key terms such as civic engagement, political engagement, service learning, and civic education. The discussion of these core concepts led the group into a conversation on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students must develop in order to engage their communities. Finally, the group also spent considerable time talking about the next steps for political scientists who aspire to promote civic engagement among their students and what APSA could do to support that pedagogical goal.

Participants discussed the difference between civic engagement and political engagement. The general agreement was that civic engagement is a broader category that includes political engagement but also encompasses other forms of citizenship, such as participation in a community organization or club and volunteering. Political engagement is a narrower category of citizenship, understood as direct participation in the activities of government and politics, such as voting, working on a campaign, and lobbying. Participants noted that as college campuses increasingly emphasize service learning, there is growing enthusiasm among undergraduates for volunteering or other activities perceived as civic engagement, but that participation in these activities does not necessarily translate into participation in the political process. Furthermore, there has been a tendency to devalue other forms of experiential learning, such as political internships, in view of other experiences that are seen as directly giving back to the community. It is the responsibility of political science departments to make explicit the connections between the goals of a student's service, and the ways in which these interests could be pursued by political means. When these connections are made explicit in the classroom, students are more likely to see democratic political processes as a means by which effective and lasting change can be made. Toward this end, the papers and discussions suggested that focusing on state and local governments could be effective, because many issues of concern to our students can be addressed at these levels. Participants also emphasized the role of experiential learning. These pedagogical techniques can help students develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to engage our communities politically.

Based on their experiences in the classroom and the relevant literature in the field, these 22 political scientists suggested that students need a broad base of knowledge, a variety of skills, and certain dispositions to ensure that they will remain engaged after graduation, when grades and course credits are no longer earned through the experience. Participants agreed that the knowledge required to be engaged includes understanding of the basic political processes and institutions, including knowledge of the power structures in the community and the importance of developing social capital. However, the group also agreed that this knowledge should include an understanding of how to gather information and can be enhanced by knowledge in disciplines outside of political science. Obviously, the student interested in engaging the community on environmental issues is aided by knowledge of environmental science. The participants also agreed that students need to develop a wide range of skills, such as those related to quality research, leadership, communication, critical thinking, deliberation, and listening. Civic engagers are also well served by organizational skills and an ability to build coalitions. Finally, participants agreed that students need to develop certain dispositions, such as interest in their communities and a sense of political efficacy.

During these conversations, track participants suggested that APSA could take the lead in encouraging political scientists to move to the forefront in civic education. Track participants agreed that the publication of a volume on civic engagement would be a good first step for APSA to showcase the importance of civic engagement in our discipline and to provide a primer including theories, seminal literature, case studies, and assessment strategies that could be broadly applied and used. Models and examples of best practices could also be shared on the Web site to encourage more experiential learning, civic skill development, general education integration, and internationalization of the curriculum. Model courses devoted to the development of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions should be posted on the APSA Web site, along with syllabi for other disciplinary courses that successfully integrate civic education and engagement. Model curricula developed by exemplary departments and model general education requirements for colleges and universities that place civic and political engagement at the core of their mission should also be shared on the Web, along with corresponding assessment rubrics. A collaborative annotated bibliography would allow political scientists across the nation to contribute to our shared knowledge and encourage additional scholarship on the topic of civic education and engagement. In addition, APSA could take the lead in encouraging enhanced civic knowledge and skill development at the K–12 level. The publication of model opinion editorials and letters to state legislatures could help APSA members demonstrate the central importance of citizenship development in a democratic nation.


  • Bobbi Gentry, Millikin University

  • Erin E. Richards, Cascadia Community College

  • Vanessa Ruget, Salem State College

  • Tina M. Zappile, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

The participants in the core curriculum/general education track engaged in lively discussion about topics including the role of political science in the general education curriculum, what constitutes general education in political science, and the balance between teaching skills and content. Further, the participants represented a variety of institutions, which contributed to the richness of the discussion. We agreed that the field of political science has many responsibilities that also present many challenges for the future.

What Makes Political Science Unique?

One theme was what makes the content we offer in lower division courses different from other disciplines. As part of the core curriculum, for which students can take any of a number of courses to fulfill requirements, we must answer the question of “Why political science?”—especially in hard economic times. Henry E. Brady (Reference Brady2010) defended political science as a “master-discipline for higher education,” teaching students “more skills in more important ways,” such as “how to write, how to think critically, how to use quantitative methods, how to use numbers, how to use formal models, (and) values and political philosophy.” Rogers M. Smith (Reference Smith2010), the conference's keynote speaker, also suggested that political scientists bring unique approaches to the academic table, including asking hard questions, challenging the ways in which societal views are shaped by political leaders, calling into doubt the claims of the powerful about whom their actions benefit and harm, in addition to teaching critical thinking and skills for political participation. Connecting our discipline to current political events and public policy is also a way to further engage the increasing number of students seeking a value-based education.

What Constitutes the Core Curriculum?

Another major theme of the discussion centered on what constitutes the core curriculum of our discipline. One of the papers noted that introductory American government textbooks differ widely in how they present basic material (Evans and Lindrum Reference Evans and Lindrum2010). Although such theoretical and methodological pluralism is reflective of almost all subfields in political science, it may, however, be a challenge as students come away from our courses with different skill sets and experiences. The diversity of approaches in teaching concepts is one area that merits further discussion and research to determine whether, in fact, there is a “core” to which all students in all introductory political science courses are exposed. However, several participants did indicate that this lack of agreement on core concepts may be what leads us back to discussions of the importance of civic engagement as a key, core concept. Notably, civic education is a key issue for APSA that has been addressed in many different arenas.

Equipping Students with Core Skills

Equipping students with the skills they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond also contributes to the core curriculum and is especially crucial in hard economic times, given that students and parents increasingly value skill training over content-based learning (Brady Reference Brady2010). Track participants agreed that there are skills—such as writing, reading comprehension, collaboration, and civic engagement—that political scientists teaching introductory courses may want to incorporate into their classroom, particularly because many students come to college without these skills but need them in order to be successful after college. There was much discussion, however, over the balance between teaching skills and content, as well the extent of our responsibility to teach these skills. One paper suggested that focusing on these core skills may allow for the inclusion of a greater amount of content (Jacobs Reference Jacobs2010), while other participants suggested that it is difficult to disconnect skills from content.

Strategies for Teaching Core Curriculum

Often, our meat-and-potatoes courses are filled with both political science majors and nonmajors, which can present a challenge for interacting with all students while maintaining high levels of course quality. Part of the solution may be to adopt unique strategies in the classroom to motivate students. During our discussion, we reviewed a variety of teaching and assessment techniques that offer promise, including team-based learning (Ruget and Mulcare Reference Ruget and Mulcare2010), course preparation assignments (Rodgers and Ewell Reference Rodgers and Ewell2010), tickets into class (Wolfe Reference Wolfe2010), in-class and out-of-class writing assignments (Gentry Reference Gentry2010), and creative project assignments (Hipscher Reference Hipscher2010). We also discussed how the content of our discipline can be presented in new, more accessible ways, such as teaching politics “from the everyday” perspective (Mosser Reference Mosser2010), integrating students into learning communities, and using student input to select special topics and examples in class time and assignments (McClellan, Dursun-Ozkanca, and Selcher Reference McClellan, Dursun-Ozkanca and Selcher2010). Further, the presence of students of different levels of motivation in our classes allows for teacher scholars to think outside the old assignment and find new opportunities for student work.

However, the concern was raised that we must be mindful of assessment, given its growing prominence in higher education. Our group discussed strategies to assess student learning, including student reflection, ex-ante and ex-post tests, products of individual and collaborative student work, and portfolio assignments. However, although we recognize the role that assessment will inevitably play in education, track participants expressed some concern that too much focus on assessment could have negative outcomes, including sacrificing learning (i.e., teaching to the assessment), discounting long-term learning for immediate assessment (e.g., sometimes students do not realize what they have learned until later), and forgetting about the responsibility that students have in their own learning. We can only teach students who are willing to learn, and there was some concern that assessment in its current form does not address this point.


For all the challenges ahead, we have suggestions for the field at large: (1) be role models for our students, political science colleagues, and colleagues in other disciplines in our own research and civic engagement; (2) share strategies for classroom engagement, assessment, and teaching within departments but also reach outside your home institution; (3) provide an environment for faculty that encourages them to take risks and try new pedagogical approaches by expanding the definition of and expectations for good teaching; (4) discuss challenges as well as successes in teaching (we learn just as much from both); and (5) open a dialogue about the skill sets that we expect students to attain at each level of political science education. We must also continue to have meta-conversations about our teaching. In hard economic times, we will continue to be challenged to validate the value of a political science course or education. However, the conclusion in our track was that the wide breadth of the political science discipline is well positioned to continue to serve as a foundation of general higher education.


  • Masako Rachel Okura, Columbus State University

  • Christopher Whitt, Augustana College

As is often the case with the Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Inequality (DIIE) track at the Teaching and Learning Conference, the track participants collectively embodied much of what diversity and inclusiveness are supposed to entail. Faculty from various ethnic, racial, and international backgrounds who were both male and female and native-born Americans from all sorts of institutions including HBCUs, small liberal arts colleges (SLACs), bigger state universities, and community colleges came together for common goals. The main goal was to work together and devise methods by which diversity can be promoted in the curriculum and the environment of political science education while serving a desperate need in the discipline. Specific points of interest were:

  1. 1. DIIE in the workplace: What can women, minority, and international faculty members do to survive a professional environment of higher education that is not always welcoming to people who are not members of the traditional majority of white males? How can these scholars overcome the feelings of isolation that can come with being numerically outnumbered and sometimes being made to feel like “others” while being excluded from professional and social networking, resource distribution, and voices in institutional governing?

  2. 2. DIIE in the classroom: What can all faculty members do to connect with students from ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and class backgrounds that are different from their own, as well as with different genders? What strategic pedagogical approaches can be used to break down walls of difference and genuinely connect with students while establishing credibility and trust to help foster intellectual curiosity? How can open and productive classroom discussions of difference, diversity, and inequality be established in a positive manner while maintaining the attention and trust of the students?

  3. 3. DIIE in the curriculum: What can faculty members do to establish environments in which they can engage in positive dialogues with colleagues of all backgrounds who are hesitant to reformat the curriculum of the school or department or even their individual syllabi to seamlessly infuse important elements of DIIE? Why is it so important to incorporate DIIE issues into political science curriculums?

Track participants reported that women and minority professors face additional problems that their male or white counterparts do not usually experience, even though almost all new professors face hurdles in their transitions from graduate school—in particular, they experience a double bind, which refers to the burden of having to negotiate one's identity and “do one's gender” or “do one's race and ethnicity” (or both, if you are a minority woman). Due to the heavy service demands, the double bind faced by all the professors in question, and the demands of motherhood faced by many women, research likely becomes secondary to immediate needs (i.e., teaching and services), which in turn affects eligibility for tenure, grants, and/or merit-based raises. Likewise, faculty members of color in environments devoid of diversity are usually expected to informally mentor minority students as well as surrogate-mentor other minority students, regardless of advisor-advisee ratios; additionally, they are expected to participate in campus and community events seemingly relating to diversity. The extra efforts expected of and conducted by women and minority faculty members are seldom seriously considered in the tenure review process. Presenters were encouraged to conduct further qualitative and quantitative research on the issues enumerated above.

DIIE in the Classroom

Although addressed at previous Teaching and Learning conferences, the presentations and discussions this year made the inadequacy of graduate programs in political science in regard to preparing their Ph.D. students for their future professions as educators more evident. The model in which graduate students learn to teach by acting as teaching assistants in majority white research institution environments does not account for the fact that many Ph.D. students end up in teaching-oriented positions at institutions including SLAC, research-IIA, BA-only, or open admission community colleges, where student bodies may be significantly different from those at the research-I institutions where they earned their degrees. New professors of all colors are usually inadequately trained in relating to diverse groups of students; this lack is especially the case when the students and the professors do not share race, ethnicity, or other factors of identity. A future collaboration with the Graduate Education and Professional Development track at the Teaching and Learning Conference would be the next step toward creating a system to support junior faculty members in the process of transition.

DIIE in the Curriculum

Track participants reported that even though a few institutions have begun establishing task forces and encouraging faculty members to create DIIE-related courses or diversify existing curricula, the greatest problem lies in motivating colleagues who are satisfied with the status quo to take time to reformat their instructional materials. The usual tactics of appealing to empathy or reframing DIIE as an issue of fairness and justice is a rather slow process and may be more effective if institutions are able to give financial incentives to encourage the creation of diversity-related courses in the same way that some institutions provide funding for the development of new online course material. Over the next year, the DIIE track will continue to explore a variety of incentives to motivate our colleagues to join us in promoting diversity and inclusiveness in political science education.


  • Kristen Obst, American Military University

  • Nancy Wright, Long Island University–Brooklyn

  • Heather Edwards, Howard University and University of Texas at Arlington

  • Katherine Brown, Kings College London Joint Services Command and Staff College

Given the dynamic nature of education and trends in technology and classroom formats, faculty need to develop better professional development programs and opportunities for graduate students. Much of our previous attention has focused on professional development for undergraduate students, but anecdotal reports indicate that these programs are not as well suited for graduate students, nor do they prepare them for the unique academic job market. More research needs to be conducted on how best to support graduate students to prepare them for academic careers.

The 2010 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference offered a track addressing the unique and often underserved professional development needs of graduate students. Papers in the “Graduate Education and Professional Development” track addressed the impact of courses preparing graduate students for the professoriate, the teaching of theory in military education, support for graduate students in their writing, construction of a series of courses in leadership and diplomacy, and the role of a political science honor society in education and professional development. Track presentations highlighted varied aspects of the skills, opportunities, challenges, and strategies facing this generation of graduate student.

John Ishiyama's (University of North Texas) paper “Do Graduate Student Teacher Training Courses Affect Placement Rates?” argued that while taking a graduate course in teaching may augment students' professional skills, it only marginally affects academic job placement rates. The study shows that the Hix ranking (Reference Hix2004) of institutions' publications in political science journals serves as a better predictor of placement rates. As a result, graduate programs intending to prepare new faculty for teaching positions, which make up about two-thirds of all new jobs, should consider course apprenticeships or other nontraditional training models without the expectation of improving placement. If the focus is placement, programs should continue to prepare their students to publish frequently and in high-impact journals.

Katherine Brown's (University of London, King's College) presentation “Teaching Theory in Professional Military Education (PME)” addressed the dynamic environment of military education in the United Kingdom. Brown elucidated the distinction between military “training” and “education,” addressed why the distinction is important in educating the military, and discussed the belief that education is political. She argued that current justifications and conceptualizations of PME rely on assumptions about international relations that reflect the immediate post–Cold War world, rather than the postmodern complex warfare that military officers currently face. Given this new “strategic reality,” it is of strategic importance to the military that they and we develop reflective practitioners (Schön Reference Schön1983, Reference Schön1987) and flexible learners who can adapt to complex situations; consequently, the delivery and conceptualization of PME is in need of review.

Furthermore, while military education is a long-standing tradition, universities and military education institutions on both sides of the Atlantic need to be better prepared to manage and utilize the operational experiences of former and current military among their students. In the United States, this goal is additionally relevant as increasing numbers of members of the military take advantage of the new opportunities offered in the G.I. Bill. This body of students brings alternative identities, experiences, expectations, and values to higher education that present new challenges to educators in the classroom, institutional student support services, and disciplinary knowledge of politics.

Heather Edwards' (Howard University and University of Texas at Arlington) paper “Writing Circles: Empowering Students to Support and Improve Their Own Writing and Research” addressed the psychological and intellectual barriers to writing that students face. She also highlighted the need for a shift in graduate education pedagogy to assist students in overcoming these barriers. The presentation provided an overview of several effective programmatic interventions, including therapeutic support groups, writing retreats, and one-on-one consultations.

The intervention that received the most attention in the discussion, writing circles, differs from the other strategies because the circles empower students to address their own identified needs. In other words, writing circle participants can structure their group goals and meetings uniquely. Some groups may meet weekly, while others may meet monthly. Some group meetings may include time for writing, presentation of research project progress, or feedback on written documents. In addition, these circles require few resources, because they do not require the addition of a course, additional funds, or faculty support (although faculty can be critical contributors). While these circles would be ideal additions to programs with few resources for students and overworked faculty, they could also be useful in any setting as a result of their flexible nature. The writing circle used at Howard University to support students in their writing was presented as an example.

Nancy Wright (Long Island University–Brooklyn) presented “Transformational and Diplomatic Leadership in the Americas that Became America: A Series of Proposed Course Options Teaching Leadership through Biography,” a series of proposed courses emerging from a previously taught graduate seminar that focused on potentially transformational leaders in nineteenth-century America. Inspired by the rhetorical and policy change that the election of President Obama brought to American leadership and diplomacy, this series of courses presents indigenous American and African-American leaders along with the more traditionally recognized leaders of European descent at different periods in American history, including eras that predate the United States as we know it today. Thus, students can view the United States as “the other,” somewhat as it may have been seen and experienced through the eyes of indigenous Americans during colonization, by European ambassadors during and immediately after the American Revolution, and by African Americans up to the Civil War. While some of the proposed courses place a greater emphasis on diplomacy, others focus on the emergence and consolidation of norms, such as abolition and women's suffrage, during the early years of nation-building.

Rosalee Clawson's (Purdue University) presentation “Pi Sigma Alpha: The Honor Society's Role in Student Education and Professional Development” addressed how this traditionally undergraduate group can be used to benefit graduate students. Clawson described the structure and function of the undergraduate honor society and the track members explored ways in which it could be adapted and augmented to meet the unique needs of graduate students. The paper argues that activities such as faculty panels, speaker series (perhaps asynchronous and/or online), conferences, and travel grants may enable Pi Sigma Alpha to expose graduate students to academic culture, the mechanics and process of writing and conducting research, and other professional development skills and opportunities.

The presentations by Ishiyama, Brown, and Edwards underscored the fact that graduate education has a responsibility to prepare students to succeed in their postgraduate environments. Ishiyama revealed that addressing this goal through teacher training alone may not be the best approach. Brown supported the notion that development of students for professional service should focus on facilitating the “reflective practitioner” (Schön Reference Schön1983; Schön Reference Schön1987) through education and training. Edwards added that proper preparation involves the inclusion of professional writing within a curriculum. Wright further addressed the need for a pedagogical shift in higher education in her discussion of a new course focused on leadership and diplomacy. While previous presenters discussed the role of educational institutions in the educational process, Clawson contributed to the track by identifying a novel resource to aid graduate students during their matriculation. All presenters and discussants agreed that the new Graduate Education and Professional Development track is a vital addition to the Teaching and Learning Conference and the discipline of political science.


  • Anita Chadha, University of Houston–Downtown

  • Derrick L. Cogburn, American University/Syracuse University

  • Shane Nordyke, University of South Dakota

  • Renee Van Vechten, University of Redlands

As information and communication technologies continue to expand the capacities of the political science classroom, how might instructors and students benefit from these technologies while minimizing their challenges? How do we ensure that technologies that are integrated into the classrom achieve stated learning objectives rather than simply creating another distraction from content and extra work for students and their instructors? These were some of the questions that drew a large and varied group of participants to the Integrating Technology into the Classroom track. Four main themes emerged from presentations, discussions, and related workshops: (1) integration, (2) collaboration, (3) evaluation, and (4) trade-offs. These themes, which yielded the convenient acronym ICE-T, include key issues such as instructional costs, copyright and access, and effective assessment of usage and outcomes. This report summarizes these themes and discusses next steps for the track.


One of the earliest themes to emerge in our track was that of integration. This theme included strategies for the successful integration of the wide array of new technologies into our classrooms and the degree to which they can be integrated into our pedagogical strategies.

Integrating technology into the classroom bears unavoidable costs for students, instructors, departments, and institutions. Our discussions revolved around who bears responsibility for these costs and how to minimize them. Counted among those costs are the time required to discover, compare, and learn to use new hardware (e.g., Clickers), programs (CourseTools vs. Blackboard?), platforms (Ning vs. Wetpaint?), or software (which game or statistical package?) as elements in an ever-changing set of possibilities. Instructors must develop strategies to effectively implement that technology, whether they are teaching in a traditional classroom or fully online, or are teaching a hybridized course that combines online and face-to-face applications. We discussed the necessity of institutional support that may take the form of training workshops, course relief, teaching assistance, or grants. Still, it was clear that individual instructors shoulder most of the indirect costs of integrating technology, because online environments add scheduling and communication challenges, and the preparation of relevant documents, film clips, videos, Internet resources, or any other audio or written materials simply takes time that is in short supply. Using these tools requires flexibility within a syllabus or across course formats, the ability to adjust when technology fails, a commitment to understand differences across learning environments, and a willingness to keep abreast of technological improvements. We feel that it is important to view technological tools as an integral part of a course, rather than a replacement for course content. We also feel it is important to use technologies and platforms with which students are already familiar. In some cases, this approach may mean that we, as instructors, have to spend time playing the simulations and games to get a feel for them before integrating them into our classrooms. Unless we become more familiar with these tools, we may not be able to generate the insights necessary to determine out how they could best be included in our pedagogical strategies. Another interesting byproduct of using these technologies in the classroom is that we can integrate insights from multiple classes, as well as provide a way for our classes to engage with the world outside the university.


Another strong theme that emerged from the 2010 track was collaboration. This focus includes collaboration among faculty colleagues on the same campus and across multiple disciplines and campuses, as well as among our students. Many of our students will be working in one type of geographically distributed team or another after graduation, and we should play a role in helping prepare them for that reality in the classroom.

Most instructors have been reluctant to learn new technologies and ways to integrate them into the classroom, given that there is little time and support from the department or university to develop a course that needs that level of attention. However, there are many kinds of support structures that do exist for those teachers who are willing to experience the community of online teaching strategies. Now, several workshops and tracks exist at conferences (such as the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference) to support and inform those people who do want to integrate and collaborate online. In our track, several presenters shared experiences they have had in the classroom with using Facebook, Twitter, podcasting, YouTube videos, and game simulations. Track participants argued that many of these tools allow us to expand the learning environment beyond the confines of the scheduled class time, and even to reach out to students—again, where they are—on their mobile devices (e.g., Blackberrys and iPhones). In some instances, colleagues suggested that these tools enabled some students who would normally not engage in class or class discussions to become active participants.

Other participants used other forms of technological enhancements, such as a blended learning environment in which one class is conducted face-to-face and the other is held online; others shared the benefits of interdisciplinary cooperation, either across disciplines or within the same discipline; still others used electronic town hall meetings and Web-conferencing tools to connect campuses across the United States and around the world in distributed collaborative learning. By using these various forums of collaboration and sharing resources, colleagues can minimize the fixed costs associated with integrating technology into the classroom.

One additional important cost is the cost of learning. Collaboration can help to address these costs as well by facilitating collaborative learning amongst the faculty as well as the students. We can learn from each other as we prepare to teach and learn with our students. In addition to minimizing costs, collaborative learning with colleagues can help to facilitate interdisciplinary cooperation. We had a few excellent examples of very broad interdisciplinary collaboration, which seemed to have provided substantial benefits to students.

These unique means of integrating technology into courses have been effective and meaningful. Through the use of these tools, we can go a long way toward making students feel part of an active learning process. Given that students are adult learners with a variety of learning styles, the inclusion of online learning activities has created greater opportunities for participation and engagement of those who may not generally participate as much in a face-to-face class. While the size of the class does matter, any form of Web enhancement in the course encourages active learning. Online forums where students can post feedback encourages others to respond and engage in the discussion. In several instances, students use current events to explain and demonstrate understanding or application of materials that further enhance the learning process.


As with other areas of teaching and learning in political science, evaluation and assessment of the integration of these new technologies into the classroom is of paramount importance. This concept emerged as another strong theme in our track. We have to consider how we evaluate outcomes and maximize the benefit to our students. What do students get out of classes that use these technological approaches, and how do they enhance pedagogy? Almost all of the presenters on our track provided innovative examples of evaluation mechanisms. The track spent considerable time discussing these evaluation strategies and various forms of measurement of outcomes. Some of our participants highlighted the importance of an active, learner-centered, problem-based approach. In this approach, which requires students to work throughout the semester, students learn from each other through multiple drafts and peer feedback. In addition, other colleagues highlighted the importance of measuring program outcomes and the need for control variables. There was a clear consensus about the importance of this area, how much progress could be made collectively as we develop standards for assessment, and the need for work across disciplines and campuses to accumulate knowledge about what does and does not work.


Finally, the participants in our track realized that the integration of technology into the classroom and the development of new teaching strategies is not without substantial trade-offs. Technology is rapidly changing and so are the applications available to us in the classroom. Acquiring and experimenting with all of these technologies can be costly for the students, faculty, and university. This area of the track fostered perhaps the most animated discussion. For example, we dealt with issues such as: Who has copyright privileges and ownership of the intellectual property if the instructor puts material they created into an online learning management system? Is this material monitored by the university or another entity? How does the faculty member retain control over their courses? Do these technologies stifle discussion and change the classroom dynamic, or is the monitoring a good thing? Can students be held more accountable, given that one can track how much time a student spends on a topic, thereby inferring student success in the course? Does tracking a student's time commitments provide information that can help support grievances, if needed? What if technology fails or has down time? Do we have back-up plans for likely instances of technology failure?

Some of these trade-offs focused on the potential of differential access to technologies among our students. For example, is technology a way to reach more students or is it a deterrent for those who do not have as much access? One cannot assume that students are conversant with these technologies, and instructors must include sufficient time and opportunities for training and allow students to become familiar with new technologies.

In addition, there are the substantial trade-offs we make when choosing technologies and delivery platforms. We have to decide between open-source and closed proprietary tools, as well as between stable, mature technologies and innovative tools that are constantly being updated. We have to decide between standardized approaches with limited options and highly customizable options that come with increased complexity. This is especially relevant when choosing learning management systems.

We also encounter trade-offs in terms of economies of scale. Universities may push us to take on larger classes, arguing that these technologies can accommodate more students. However, as faculty, we have to decide how we feel about those approaches, and perhaps push back when necessary.

Next Steps for Integrating Technology into the Classroom

This article represents only a brief summary of the rich discussion generated in the track. Given the energy and enthusiasm among the participants and the number of resources and ideas being shared, we agreed to keep our discussion alive by engaging actively in the new working group created for the track on the APSA Connect social network. All track participants have been added, and this working group will allow us to stay connected and share even more links, articles, and other resources with like-minded participants. We encourage all interested parties to consider participating with us in this important social network.


  • Mark Sachleben, Shippensburg University

  • Deborah Ward, Rutgers University

Participants in this track wrestled with the idea of what it means to internationalize the curriculum. The track began with a discussion of why internationalization is important to APSA and the discipline at large. Deborah Ward provided the history to date of activities undertaken by APSA, the Teaching and Learning Committee, the Task Force on Internationalization, and the Teaching and Learning Conference to address the internationalization of the discipline. A task force was established by APSA leadership in 2005 to examine the current state of internationalization in the discipline. A report and general findings were presented at a panel at the 2006 Annual Meeting, and plenary panels on internationalization were held at the 2007 and 2008 Annual Meetings. The 2007 plenary was titled, “Is American Political Science Too Parochial,” and the 2008 plenary was titled, “Global Challenges to Categories in American Political Science: Should the Discipline Eliminate the Subfield of American Politics?” In addition, Internationalizing the Curriculum has been a track theme at the last five Teaching and Learning Conferences. This year's track participants recommended following up our discussion with a working group and short course at the upcoming Annual Meeting.

As the conference progressed, the track used the papers and research to facilitate the discussion and add nuance to the barriers to internationalizing the curriculum. A general consensus developed within the track that internationalizing the curriculum uses different methods and takes on different meanings, depending on context.

Some presentations focused on evolving curriculums to reflect concerns. For example, Alexander Dawoody noted that much of the current university curriculum is the product of Western civilization, which has the tendency to alienate itself from other understandings of the world. Dawoody argued that the Western approach has been to treat education as a top-down approach in which the instructor is the font of knowledge and the students are blank slates. Thus, ignorance is not a lack of knowledge but is instead engagement in selective knowledge. Dawoody calls for a new model that incorporates students' experiences rather than engages in the arcane notion of trying to achieve objectivity; further, he suggests that internationalization would include a decentralization of the curriculum as well as an infusion of diversity.

In a paper presented by Gerson Moreno-Riano, Lee Trepanier, and Phillip Hamilton, the authors argued that using the paradigm of what students know best—American government—and expanding to world politics is an advantageous way to help students begin to think about the wider world. The authors pointed out that many of the ideas and phrases used by Americans (e.g., “all men are created equal”) are not owned by the United States, but are the product of influences from aboard. Similarly, American ideas have been influential in other parts of the world. The key, according to the authors, is to highlight to American students the interchange between the United States and the world to demonstrate that Americans are not isolated from other countries.

Other presentations focused on the need for internationalization and the problems that arise by not adopting this outlook. John Hall argued that the lack of knowledge about world events has led to dangerous impacts. Rather than teaching international politics, his approach has been to use international examples to make points about American politics. By not making links, Hall argues, Americans have been blindsided by events that occur in the world. Similarly, Joseph Roberts highlighted some of the difficulties in developing a service learning project abroad. Many universities tout the importance of developing service learning projects as part of revising the curriculum; however, the difficulty often lies in the failure to understand cultural practices. Roberts cites his university's attempt to develop a program in East Asia by using e-mails to make contacts rather than developing personal contacts.

Finally, some presentations focused on the pedagogical values and barriers within the classroom. John Anene discussed his strategy of using a United Nations simulation as a way to develop global education at a community college. Anene asks students to assume the role of the voice of their country and engages students throughout the semester so that they can connect concepts learned in the classroom to their specific case. Mark Sachleben presented information derived from student performance, which found that performance in an international politics classroom was correlated with a student's prior knowledge about world politics. Sachleben questioned the utility of teaching advanced theories of international relations when many students do not have an understanding of the basic structure of the international system, and he called on APSA to develop a strategy to engage with high school students to promote interest in international politics before arriving at the university level.

Taken together, the papers, presentations, and discussions yielded some common ground. The general theme of the track was how the internationalization of the curriculum occurred depending upon the context in which it was used. For some institutions, internationalization occurs at the institutional level, whereas other institutions might consider revisions to the classroom or the curriculum. Nevertheless, however the internationalization of the curriculum is defined—whether by having students consider different cases, developing new methods of analysis, or creating new emphases—the process does not rely solely on the accumulation of factual knowledge, but rather rests on the incorporation of different ideas and experiences.


  • Candace C. Young, Truman State University

  • Brian K. Arbour, CUNY–John Jay College

  • Jill Abraham Hummer, Wilson College

Program assessment should be designed as a means to better tell our story as political scientists. This statement was the overarching conclusion of participants in the program assessment track. Assessment gives us an opportunity to ask what it is that we do as political scientists, how well we do it, and to whom we want to communicate it. Over the last decade, program assessment has made progress in its strategic sophistication, methods employed, and the types of outcomes assessed. However, panel participants raised a number of provocative suggestions that will challenge us to tell our story better and thus do even more effective work in assessment in the future. We need to expand assessment beyond more traditional knowledge and skills outcomes to incorporate the more challenging outcomes of our programs such as citizenship, academic efficacy, and cultural diversity. We also need to help craft ways to use assessment to advance the interests of political science and the broader higher education community. This goal means that it is necessary to make assessment results more accessible to and relevant for the community outside of the academy.

The faculty members, chairs, assessment coordinators, deans, and students that composed our track offered varied perspectives and degrees of experience with assessment. The track's discussions also complemented and incorporated the larger concerns—citizenship, public cynicism with higher education, and declining resources—expressed by several of the conference keynote speakers. In each of these areas, assessment has the potential to make important contributions. For example, while assessment requires resources, it can also produce evidence to strengthen resource requests. At the department level, assessment of instructional approaches may be used to help make choices that will increase our efficiency while minimizing negative effects on student learning and satisfaction. Using assessment results to show academic program effectiveness and improvement may help persuade citizens and public officials of our contributions and effectiveness, thereby increasing public confidence in the discipline and higher education as a whole. Similarly, expanding assessment approaches to focus on complex behavioral outcomes, such as enhancing citizenship and embracing cultural diversity, should be a priority for those involved in political science assessment. In short, assessment can and should be used to communicate, both inside and outside of academia, the good story of what our students are learning.

While panel participants acknowledged that assessment prompts important departmental activities (e.g., discussion of student learning objectives), participants also expressed concerns that faculty members are expected to conduct assessment activities alongside their traditional workloads. Thus, even when faculty members are supportive of the need for assessment, time and department resources limit their potential investment in the enterprise. To accommodate these realities, chairs and faculty members discussed strategies to make assessment more manageable. For one chair, accommodation meant that faculty members were given wide latitude to create their assessment projects, and those professors who were “eager beavers” were supported but encouraged to keep their annual reports administratively feasible in order to meet university deadlines. Other participants endorsed the use of annual assessment reports to facilitate preparation for the more substantial assessment requirements of periodic program reviews and accreditation. Another time-saving strategy involved using scoring rubrics aligned with department learning outcomes to lessen the amount of time required to grade student work and to provide numeric measurements for the assessment of student learning outcomes. Several panel participants emphasized the importance of starting small, but in a way that produces information that faculty members are likely to find valuable. This strategy of incremental steps, if tactically implemented, can create something much more substantial over a five- to ten-year period of time. Assessment can also double as an opportunity to involve students in undergraduate research projects using varied social scientific methodologies.

These important pragmatic issues and departmental assessment projects garnered substantial attention, and papers that compared two or more pedagogies, course delivery systems, or class sizes offered ideas for faculty to take back to their campuses. Finding the sharing of assessment projects to be helpful, track participants concluded that APSA should expand its posting of assessment instruments and reporting strategies to assist political science programs that are seeking assessment assistance. As important as these projects are, we believe that the discipline should regard assessment not just as a defensive mechanism (e.g., holding off potential funding cuts), but also as a potential tool for offensive action.

Using assessment externally and internally offers opportunities to make evidence-based arguments and elevates attention to the heart of the faculty enterprise—teaching and learning. If well constructed, assessment programs can serve as lobbying and advertising tools. Data should be both incorporated into arguments to administrators for more resources and used as a tool to help recruitment and fundraising initiatives with alumni and other stakeholders. Ultimately, political scientists working with program assessment can make their most significant contributions to the field by developing methods to evaluate the complex phenomena associated with the discipline and identifying ways to use assessment to enhance the public's confidence in political science and higher education.


  • Sharon Jones, Columbia College

  • Mark Johnson, Minnesota State Community and Technical College

  • Sharon Spray, Elon University

The 2010 Teaching and Learning Conference Simulations and Role Play I track drew a variety of presentations that demonstrated the diversity within this particular area of political science pedagogy. The presentations covered a broad range of approaches, from online games to model role play, such as Model United Nations, and model decision making in both the local and international arenas, and from single class to multiweek simulations. The variety of presentations and the shared goal of facilitating students' comprehension of complex ideas and concepts led to discussions on three general issues related to the use of nonlecture pedagogies, as well as the articulation of two concerns regarding professional development opportunities and faculty incentives.

Portability of Design and Ease of Use

The evaluation of role play and simulation activities continues to suggest that these types of pedagogies enhance student learning outcomes to varying degrees. Yet, many role play and simulation activities require extensive preparation for one-time classroom applications or particular course applications. Given the demands on faculty time, this requirement raises questions of whether or not student learning outcomes should be assessed in relation to the overall cost of development of these pedagogies. Accordingly, participants suggested conscious development of role play activities and simulations in ways that facilitate portability across both courses and the curriculum to better align marginal student learning outcomes with marginal costs of development. This consideration may prove most important as simulation development moves into the world of virtual simulations that require considerable investment in faculty learning, institutional investments in hardware, software, and training.

For example, in their presentation, Nina Kollars (Ohio State University) and Amanda Rosen (Webster University) used the children's fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears as the “facts” of a fictional case. By using familiar stories, class time does not need to be used to expose students to large amounts of preparatory material. The Goldilocks story could also be made portable by applying the same fact pattern to discussions on various topics, such as rules of evidence, trial procedure and strategy, and even issues of gender and power. John Bublic (Barton College) manages the class resources issue by using current events and news stories to guide students in the creation of mock newspapers in his media and politics course. The value for Bublic and his students primarily lies in the process itself, in which the necessity to create a timely product leads to a greater understanding of the pressures, constraints, and relationships that reporters and producers face when analyzing and reporting on political events.

“Value of the Experience” and Active Learning

Several participants in the track noted the advantage of real-life experiences, even simulated experiences. Most track members noted that students report high levels of interest and satisfaction with role-playing games and simulations. For most of the track participants, a debriefing session, or some other post-simulation assessment, was found to be greatly beneficial in determining whether the activity had the intended effect, especially in terms of facilitating student learning.

Dan Smith (Northwest Missouri State University), for example, uses short “mini-moot court” sessions in which students play the roles of either justice or counsel and engage in the activities of oral arguments and questions. Even when the simulation does not fully track the formal process, students still see measurable gains from the exercise, because they must confront important social issues and participate dynamically. Neal Allen (College of St. Benedict and Saint John's University), who uses moot court simulations as well as role-playing recreations of historical events, states that these activities pull students out of the present and force them to confront decision making with a view toward how one choice can affect subsequent events.

Jeffrey Lindstrom (Claremont Graduate University) and Sharon Jones (Columbia College) both discussed Model United Nations (UN), but in two completely different settings. Lindstrom evaluated Russian students' satisfaction in democracy when exposed to democratic practices. For Lindstrom, the question of how one becomes a citizen can be answered through simulations. For Jones' students participation in the American Model UN in Chicago is the active learning experience in itself. Students achieve empathy for people from different backgrounds and demonstrate an increase in communications skills and self-esteem, and the experience creates a valuable assessment tool.

Applying Theory in Practice

The final major pedagogical theme that emerged from the track is the importance of using simulations and role play to teach theoretical concepts to students and provide real-life applications. Ann Marie Mezzel (University of Georgia) uses an online simulation game called Cyber Nations, in which students take on the role of the head of state of a fictional nation. Besides taking a personal stake in the outcome of the game, students also internalize certain strategies in an attempt to achieve positive outcomes for their own nations. Katsuo Nishikawa (Trinity University) reports that person-to-computer games can be ideal to teach a specific set of concepts, especially given the small amount of time needed to set up and discuss the games. A lab setting reinforces learning objectives and is conducive to student recall of the concepts being presented in the play. He believes that the game is equally as good as a lecture, especially in the teaching of abstract theory, and as a venue for discussion.

Development of Role Playing and Simulations

The investments required in the development of new teaching pedagogies also raised issues of how these new approaches to teaching could be shared throughout the field. Collaboration and sharing of ideas among faculty at different institutions, while valued by all participants in this year's track, does present some practical challenges, especially when trying to apply what has worked in one type of institution to a different student body. Although it was noted that there are a growing number of outlets for the publication of research on the scholarship on teaching and learning, there are few publications that focus on the development and application of simulations and role plays for political science courses. This lack of printed material may be attributable to the increasing presentation of these materials in alternative formats, such as community Web sites, newsletters, or software development, and the added time it takes to translate these materials into a format conducive to traditional peer review. In addition, many participants have moved their simulations into the virtual world. This shift raises practical questions about the future of publishing for political science pedagogical materials. Are publishers ready to adapt current publishing models to accommodate the need to disseminate this information effectively? As some aspects of role-play and simulation work move into the paperless world, will the publishing community be prepared to support the dissemination of materials, and how might a peer review of these materials take place?

Pedagogical Development and Valuing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

A lingering question concerns how the development of role plays, simulations, and other innovative learning pedagogies play into the reward system of our discipline. Despite the benefits discussed previously, faculty members must balance investment in teaching innovation with institutional requirements for promotion, review, and tenure processes. At many institutions, these processes still follow long-established norms of scholarship and reward in the discipline when granting tenure and display an orthodoxy regarding the traditional lecture format. This system may still discourage pre-probationary faculty from investing their time in this form of professional activity and scholarship.


  • Richard W. Coughlin, Florida Gulf Coast University

  • Marek Payerhin, Lynchburg College

Simulations are among the most popular forms of experiential education used in political science. Whether they take the form of the massive Model United Nations (MUN), an over-the-Internet exercise, or an in-class role play, simulations captivate students, transforming them from an audience into participants in the educational enterprise. A well-designed simulation illustrates and puts in perspective political concepts that otherwise might appear abstract and perhaps uninspiring. With the tradition of policy “gaming” stretching back to Thomas Schelling (Reference Schelling1960), simulations have achieved respectability as educational tools, and some schools even experiment with them as part of their general education core requirements.

The Simulations and Role Play II track highlighted some recent advances and reflections on the use of simulations in the classroom. Presenters discussed the use of educational role playing in political socialization and service learning, as well as in learning about a wide range of topics, from democratization processes to presidential races, world wars, ethics, and poverty.

Several presenters echoed John Dewey's concern with the need for experiential education to create an informed and engaged citizenry. For example, Richard W. Coughlin from Florida Gulf Coast University discussed MUN as a socialization venue for future policymakers. His ongoing research project investigates whether MUN prepares participants through communicative rationality practices to function in a global society founded on consensus building and mutual understanding. In the process, Coughlin notes that despite the MUN rules that favor procedural equality and cooperation, gendered patterns of political participation emerge that often also exist in the real world. Thus, female students may be socialized to see politics as a male-dominated, competitive realm unsuitable for them.

Participation in a simulation is required of all students at Loras College as part of the general education course Democracy and Global Diversity. Peter Doerschler of Bloomsburg University presented his paper (coauthored with Christopher Budzisz and John Eby, both from Loras College) on the use of a simulation to illustrate the complexity of the process of democratization. Part of Barnard College's “Reacting to the Past” series, the game is set in post-apartheid South Africa. It engages students in creating a new institutional order and reconciling conflicting interests of major stakeholders while applying relevant theories and concepts such as modernization, legitimacy, and the rule of law. Despite its challenges for novices, the assessment of the class and its learning outcomes has been very positive.

Teaching international relations with seminar games was the topic of a presentation by Margaret McCown and Tim Wilkie. Their decision-making exercises are carried out in the context of group discussion settings often involving foreign policy professionals. The authors observe that the game setup reflects certain theoretical expectations of its creators, such as a realist perspective or a bureaucratic politics model. For example, while seeking a more nuanced understanding of Russian foreign policy, participants in the “Imperial Pursuit” game may act either as members of a monolithic team with no role differentiation or be assigned individual and potentially competing bureaucratic roles. Seminar games attempt to collate and leverage the expertise of their participants, who are asked to produce policy options in response to various twists in the scenario.

Although there is some evidence that simulations contribute to learning (see Frederking Reference Frederking2005), scholars have paid less attention to “microsimulations”—short, simple games offered either alone or in combination with a lecture. Ryan Korn of American University reported on his experiment with the effectiveness of such a game related to electoral politics. Results of his pilot study suggest that when participants are exposed to a new subject, a brief simulation improves their understanding and short-term recollection of facts better than a 40-minute lecture on the same topic. On the other hand, an even better learning outcome occurs when the lecture and the simulation are combined, a result many practitioners will find gratifying.

If Korn's study demonstrated enhanced student learning from the simulations, Chad Raymond, of Salve Regina University, offered a more equivocal picture. Raymond devised a simulation for his Introduction to International Relations class focusing on interactions between European states in the run-up to World War I. He found that while many of the students regarded the simulation as an invigorating learning experience, the extent of student collaboration within delegations was limited. Students proved unwilling to use a peer review process to critically evaluate one another's work. Raymond also found that students in the simulation course scored significantly lower on exams and final grades than did students in an honors section that did not include a simulation. He concludes that simulations are not, by themselves, sufficient conditions for student learning. The challenge for instructors is how to integrate effectively simulations and role playing exercises into the learning outcomes of a particular course.

Another challenge for international relations instructors is how to address service learning. Marek Payerhin of Lynchburg College observed that high school students rarely encounter the complexity of world politics because their schools' international relations curricula are sharply constrained by standards-testing requirements. Payerhin sought to overcome this problem by offering a service learning course through which college students organized a computer-assisted role playing simulation for high school students. High school teachers who participated in this project reported that their students developed communications and problem-solving skills and increased their substantive understandings of world politics. Payerhin also found that the simulation greatly enhanced the academic performance of his own students by creating a demanding public for their work—namely, the high school students engaged in the simulation.

Role playing simulations can cast light not only on international politics but also on poverty. Understanding local manifestations of poverty offers an important way of building empathy between universities and their surrounding communities. With this objective in mind, Paula Consolini of Williams College discussed her institution's adaptation of the Missouri Community Action Poverty Simulation. This simulation places students in the role of members of impoverished households with limited income, dependent children, and bills to pay. As students struggle to make ends meet, they encounter poverty as a stressful and frustrating situation and begin to understand not only what poverty is, but also how it feels. Consolini's assessments of the simulation found that 80% of respondents reported increased understanding of poverty. Consolini has promoted the use of this simulation in conjunction with a wide range of curricular and extracurricular activities.

As Consolini's work suggests, role playing simulations can expand the conceptual and moral horizons of students by providing them with access to situations that they do not experience directly. Victor Asal and Marcus Schulzke of the State University of New York reported on their use of simulations to engage students with the ethics of political violence. In presenting this material, Asal outlined several techniques of ethical deliberation (utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and Aristotelian virtue ethics) and presented several scenarios that pose ethical dilemmas about the use of violence. Students are often divided about which ethical approaches to apply to these scenarios and what the “right” response to them may be. Their debates nonetheless yield important results that help students develop the capacity for structured ethical reflection and appreciation for the ethical dilemmas that confront leaders and military personnel engaged in the use of violence.

This second panel on simulations and role play concluded by reflecting on the place of simulations within particular departments and the discipline as a whole. Greater disciplinary recognition for the pedagogical techniques discussed in this panel can be secured by creating more outlets for peer reviewed research on role playing simulations. Such research would directly benefit the core teaching missions of the political science discipline.


  • Robert W. Glover, University of Connecticut

  • Melinda Kovács, Sam Houston State University

  • Michael T. Rogers, Arkansas Technical University

This year marked the first time that APSA's annual Teaching and Learning Conference has devoted a track specifically to teaching within the subfield of political theory. The participants involved in this track unanimously agreed that its addition was valuable, generated significant insights, and should be included in subsequent incarnations of the conference. However, participants also noted that greater interaction among theorists and members of other fields can produce mutually beneficial results and suggested that future efforts be made to foster these types of intradisciplinary discussions as well. The track brought together a diverse collection of scholars who were united in their shared commitment to enhancing pedagogy within the field and willing to set aside intellectual differences to engage in a thoughtful discussion of how to achieve this vital end of collaboration. The collegial atmosphere and shared purpose of the track led to numerous thought-provoking suggestions and discussions.

Political Theory's Role within the Pedagogy of Political Science

A recurrent theme in our sessions was that of “cross-pollination.” Several of the papers dealt with the role that political theory can play in shaping students' understandings within other areas of the discipline—notably American political thought's relationship to American government and political theory's role in courses within comparative politics, international relations, and the politics of gender. While offering insightful discussions of the ways in which theoretical texts and conceptual discussions can enhance our students' understanding of concrete, political phenomena, these papers also generated a broader discussion. Such work forced us to consider the roles, identities, and potential futures of political theory within the discipline of political science.

In general, the experiences shared within our track suggest the potentially positive pedagogical dialogue that accompanies the re-bridging of intradisciplinary divides. As one participant suggested, political theory is the unique realm of the study of politics that “teaches us about teaching.” The preeminent texts upon which we draw are not simply of dusty, antiquarian interest in understanding political history. These writings are also teachings. In the resonant effect they have had and continue to have on our collective lives, such texts constitute perhaps the most influential lessons ever produced. Given that our field is embedded within such writings, perhaps the most significant contribution of political theory to the discipline is its millennia of excellent pedagogical exemplars. Yet the track emphasized that, as theorists, our scholarship and teaching is are enhanced by engagement with the empirical substance of politics. Such exchanges foster imaginative redeployment of our canon, challenge us to reinvent prior conceptualizations, and force us to rethink our ever-changing political world. Some of the most rewarding exchanges to emerge from this track were those that brought together theorists with political scientists in empirically oriented fields such as international relations and comparative politics.

Innovation and Imagination in Presenting the “Great Conversation”

Additionally, many track participants analyzed the methods used to engage students in the complex, yet eminently rewarding, intellectual realm that is political theory. A general concern shared by many was that, as educators, we may be employing methods of transmitting knowledge to the students that are markedly different from the ways in which they receive and interpret knowledge. There was a general desire to discuss and uncover modes of teaching political theory that incorporate new mediums of transmission while maintaining a rigorous treatment of the texts in which our concepts and debates reside. A variety of innovative suggestions dealt with how this balance might be achieved within the classroom. Among the many suggestions offered were the use of film, art, literature, pop culture, in-class simulations, and alternative pedagogies that actively involve the students in the search for foundational understandings and the process of meaning construction. All of these approaches were suggested as means to create “conceptual disequilibria” and provoke within the student critical reflection on their settled and conventional political understandings. It is important to note, however, that such innovative methods should be conceptualized as starting points for subsequent critical thinking and imaginative investigation of political theory and thinkers, not their culmination.

Likewise, the suggestions and insights encapsulated here suggest that this track is itself a starting point for a broader conversation about the pedagogy of political theory. Participants agreed upon the need to continuously revise and rethink our methods and seek new strategies to effectively reach our students. Track participants noted a general dearth of forums in which the challenges associated with teaching political theory can be thoughtfully discussed. The creation and preservation of such settings is essential. We are continually encountering an ever-changing student body with different lived experiences than preceding generations, yet we must attempt to inspire in them the same passion for ideas that has driven us to the theoretical tradition. To rise to this task is no minor challenge, yet, if this scholarly gathering is any indication, it is one that we are well-poised to meet.


  • Leland M. Coxe, University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College

  • Brooke Thomas Allen, University of Michigan

  • Ethan J. Hollander, Wabash College

The sixth annual meeting of the Teaching Research Methods track at the 2010 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference featured both the development of topics examined by the section in previous years and presentations of new and innovative questions and perspectives. Among the topics of longtime interest that were addressed were student anxieties toward course material and constructive and appropriate use of the Internet for student research. Newer topics included the possibility of using departmental assessment data in gauging the impact of research methods and teaching students the complementary uses of both quantitative and qualitative research.

Several presentations addressed the topic of student anxieties toward research methods. One presentation regarded evidence that various teaching techniques can help alleviate these anxieties, although survey responses revealed that some students still lacked confidence in their ability to use statistics at the end of the semester. These findings led to larger debates among track participants about the material to which undergraduate students should be exposed and the inherent tradeoffs when deciding what to include (and what not to include) in a given course.

The discussions of student anxieties contributed to a consensus on two important strategies for teaching research methods. One was awareness of the factors that may affect student learning such as class size, institutional constraints, student backgrounds and abilities, whether the students were political science majors, and class level. While there is no one best way to teach research methods, options include in-class group work and the use of Blackboard and other Web-based resources in addition to lectures and textbooks. Another strategy for reducing student anxieties is to integrate the teaching of research methods into other political science courses to allow students to become familiar with these techniques in a more comfortable setting.

Some presentations introduced new approaches intended to make research methods more readily understandable for students. For instance, one presenter examined the application of philosophical insights to the teaching of research methods and emphasized Dewey's distinction between empiricism and scientism. Another suggestion was to provide students with a guided tour of Internet research emphasizing flexibility in accommodating different learning styles. The importance of presenting research methods as a developmental process that yields results compared to the approach of focusing on a particular matter was also examined and compared to the difference between hunting and farming

Presentations regarding new topics for the research methods track included an exploration of the possibilities for analyzing departmental assessment data for insights regarding the impact of research methods. While departmental research data is usually gathered for the purpose of assessing departmental goals, they also offer opportunities to analyze the performance of students who have taken research methods as compared to the performance of students who have avoided the subject. One insight that emerged from this discussion was the importance of assessment procedures that provide meaningful examination of student learning rather than tested knowledge of political trivia. The linking of qualitative and quantitative methods for a particular research question was related to the development of senior theses.

Several recommendations emerged from discussion of the presentations at the conference. One was the need for rigorous analyses of how particular methods of teaching research methods can be made accessible to students with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests. Such research should assist faculty members in designing curricula that engage and effectively teach their particular student populations. In addition, methods courses should strive to represent the diversity within our field instead of privileging the methods and topics of one subdiscipline at the expense of others. This goal requires an emphasis that quantitative and qualitative methods are complementary rather than mutually exclusive approaches to political inquiry. A second recommendation is for continuing exploration on the integration of research methods into the larger political science curriculum. This approach would partly address concern for student anxieties, as these techniques would be more familiar to students.

The third recommendation was for assessment of the effectiveness of various teaching strategies. Although several participants had ideas on best practices for the classroom, few studies formally evaluated the impact of these techniques. More work that empirically links teaching practices to student outcomes is strongly encouraged.


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