Tag Archives: student engagement

Pedagogy: Maintaining Student Engagement

Word Cloud on Student Engagement from the Berlin Fang's North Institute blog.

Word Cloud on Student Engagement from Berlin Fang’s North Institute blog.

Faculty Focus’ Teaching and Learning blog this week listed their top 12 teaching and learning articles for 2012. The list covers some great topics, including strategies for engaging students, developing effective online assignments, helping students move from surface to deep learning, addressing the challenges of group work, and debating the pedagogical effectiveness of PowerPoint.

But the one that struck me the most dealt with student perceptions of multitasking. Unless you’ve been teaching on a remote desert island (and even then, I’m not sure) you’ve had to deal with students texting, surfing the web, or engaging in other activities which distract from the learning process. Among my colleagues, some have banned electronic devices outright, some attempt to manage it on a case-by-case basis, and others take a permissive attitude, concluding that students are only hurting themselves through their actions.

But Marellen Weimer’s post on her Teaching Professor blog cites several studies showing sharp declines in student performance among multitaskers. Faced with this evidence, do we have an obligation to intervene and help students avoid this pitfall?

For me, a similar question arises with respect to class attendance. Should we require class attendance, penalizing those students who choose not to come regularly?

Here’s my solution. On the first day of class, I share a scatterplot diagram with my students. The figure, based on data collected from my classes over the past few years, graphs class attendance against final grades. I also tell students I don’t grade based on attendance. Yet in these classes—particularly in the larger sections—there is a clear correlation between the two. While there a few outliers—students who come regularly but nevertheless struggle, and the occasional student who can do well without coming regularly—the graph shows that, on average, every class missed after the first leads to a one step decline in final grade. In other words, students who miss one class over the course of the semester perform at the same general level as those who miss none. But students who miss a second class generally earn a grade one step lower (a B- rather than a B, for example) than a similar student who missed didn’t miss class. This continues in a straight linear regression all the way down. Interestingly (perhaps alarmingly), students always seem to be surprised by the data.

From my perspective, this solution provides students with the data they need to make an informed decision while leaving them the agency to actually make that decision. Now I’m considering a similar graph on multitasking.

What do you do to address the challenges of maintaining student engagement? How do you manage classroom attendance and multitasking issues? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.


Pedagogy: Facilitating Student Engagement—Making It Relevant

Making international politics relevant to our students presents an interesting challenge for political science instructors. While those teaching American politics face a similar dilemma in fostering student engagement, instructors in the IR and Comparative classrooms have the additional burden of “relevance.” Students intuitively feel that American politics is at least tangentially relevant to their lives. They understand that the taxes they pay support particular programs which reflect the priorities of the current and previous administrations and the ability of particular groups to mobilize in support of them. Getting American students to understanding how the United Nations, the European Union, or the International Monetary Fund relates to their lives, or why they should care about the political structures of Iran, India, Brazil, or Nigeria creates additional challenges.

This challenge is frequently compounded by the lack of international experience. While we teach diverse student bodies, our students have no real frame of reference within which to situate their understanding and analysis of international politics. Consequently, they often have difficulty drawing connections between the abstract theories and cases they are exploring in classroom and the real world of global politics. For the vast majority of our students, the European Union is an abstract political institution they’ve read about in class, not something they’ve experienced in person. The same is true of development, global inequality, war, international trade, and nearly all the other topics considered in the typical introductory course in international and comparative politics.

So how do we make our courses more relevant?

Perhaps the easiest way is by drawing out the connections for your students. Try starting with everyday items or experiences, then connect them to the world of global politics. When I teach the international trade and the WTO, I start with a T-Shirt, working backwards through the global trade system to explain how tariffs, nontariff barriers, relative currency values and exchange rates, and agricultural subsidies all influence global textile productions. (Pietra Rivoli’s Travels of a Global T-Shirt  is an outstanding resource for this discussion). For homework, I often ask students to keep track of where the clothing they wear every day for a week is produced. I then have them map their findings and write a short paper reflecting on how the patterns they see reflect dynamics of globalization and international trade. You could do the same thing with just about anything your students come into contact with in their daily lives: their food choices, their electronics, and so on.

Do you have an effective assignment or way of approaching the topics that connects students’ experiences with the abstract theories of global politics? Leave a comment and share your ideas below.