Design a midtermThis was inspired from a brainstorming session about student self-assessment. Only a person who has a strong grasp about the course material can design appropriately calibrated midterm questions. Such questions have to address core concepts and do so in a way that compels the test taker to use them. So I figured, why not give the students the task of designing a few midterm questions? I instruct them to do fourish multiple choice questions and two short answer questions. The assignment works really well - not a few students design better questions than I would have, and the exercise quickly reveals which students are still struggling with the material.
One of the problems of academic paper writing exercises for students is to get the needed feedback to improve. One of the problems for instructors is to get papers with relatively elementary issues, like grammar, punctuation and the like - writing issues that are really on the secondary level of schooling. At post-secondary, instructors (in my experience) would prefer to deal with the structure of the paper, or the strength of the argument and research.
This assignment is designed to address both of the above problems. It has students switch papers with each other before handing in the draft to the instructor. They read a peer's paper and comment on it constructively - what was strong, what can be improved? For the student, it has the benefit of having them reflect on the writing process as a reader, so when they go back to their own paper they can use that perspective more effectively during editing. Also, they get some feedback from a peer who can hopefully catch the most glaring grammar issues. The instructor on average gets papers of higher quality.
Flip the classroomFirst, I decided to remove the planned lecture series from the course design. Since I was using a webtool to deliver the course assignments anyway, I felt that any material that would have been presented through a traditional lecture series could just as well be done through YouTube-videos. Thus I started my channel. I upload all the lecture material there. In my experience, the material presented through the traditional 50 minute lecture can be presented through a 10-15 minute video just as well. The shorter time frame requires being more concentrated with the information and the fact that students can re-watch the video an infinite number of times effectively avoids the problem of wondering whether students will remember what you said in a lecture six weeks ago.
These videos become mini-assignments for students to watch and then I use the classroom time for exercises that compel the students to use the concepts introduced in the videos. The time saved through this method cannot be overestimated.
The role-playsAnd that's where the role-plays come in. These are design to provide a simulation of the institutions and political contexts the students are studying in the readings and are inspired by edu-larps (educational live action role-playing) and Model UN. In short, this is game-based learning. Students take the roles of politicians, journalists, civil servants or clients and act within the incentive structure of the institution in question. The debriefs they have to do after each simulation shows how effective the tool is. These are some of the models designed (there is more):
Introduction to Comparative politics
- US Congress - pass a budget
- UK House of Commons - Question Period
- German Parliament - build a government coalition post-elections
- French Unitary State - build a budget in the contest between regional, departmental and municipal governments who all want state funding
Introduction to Canadian politics
- First Minister Conference - interaction between federal and provincial governments re: Senate reform
- The Newsroom - an exercise in media news triage
- An election campaign - pitch your platform and then win the televised debate. Next time I do this one, I would like to broadcast the debate live through my YouTube-channel to give the students a group of voters, too.
In my last incarnations of this, I took a cue from Sheldon's The Multiplayer Classroom, and made the role-playing continuous. That is, students took the roles that they played through the entire term, from five different "character classes", like in computer games. For Comparative Politics, these were Politician, Civil Servant, Journalist, Activist, and Academic. The idea is for each of these to have their own motivations and goals, and together, the students create a story line that probes the concepts at hand. I will be exploring this model further in the future.