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Political Participation Exercises as a Means to Teach Civic Skills, Engage Students and Recruit Majors

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Abstract:

Scholars from Aristotle to Putnam have asserted that political participation improves the character of the individual and the society. As instructors of political science, we often find ourselves drawing on such notions of both societal and individual benefits, either to more fully engage majors or in an attempt to make the subject seem more pertinent and interesting to non-majors.
We explore the following questions:
1. Why do political science instructors design courses with political participation as a learning outcome; in other words, why do we value participation to such an extent? And is it the proper role of instructors to teach civic skills as a means to this end?
2. If we agree that instructors ought to teach civic skills, what is the best way to teach civic skills to both majors and non-majors? Does it help to make concepts more relevant? Does it help non-majors to find our classes more interesting? To what extent do political participation assignments retain and engage majors and perhaps more importantly, convert non-majors into majors?
To answer the first set of questions, we explore theories regarding the importance of political participation and the development of civic skills. To answer the second set of questions, we adopt an interpretivist approach to analyze our own experiences of teaching political participation in the classroom. To do so, we collect data via course evaluations, a survey of class participants, and instructor observation, drawn from 5 classes taught during the 2006-2007 academic year. These courses were taught by two different instructors at two different universities in Southern California. In these classes, we each experimented with participation assignments. Our learning goals and learning outcomes established at the start of each course involved students choosing a political science topic of particular interest to them and acquiring the tools to further research it, students drawing relevant connections between classroom discussions and their participation experiences, students increasing their confidence in their ability to continue to develop their civic skills even after the course was complete, and finally, students, both majors and non-majors, discovering political science as an interesting field of social science.
In general, we find that our assignments, despite a number of similarities, produced different outcomes. Specifically, at one institution the students were excited and engaged, while at the other, they were disengaged and at times hostile to the assignment. At the same time, it was not immediately clear in any of the classes if the assignments were helping to convert non-majors to majors.
We find these differences to be puzzling because we were both adjunct professors at Southern California universities, trained at the same graduate school and by the same pedagogical program. In all five classes, the assignments were similar, although presented in slightly different ways. One university was very diverse, large, public, secular, and research-oriented. The other university was not very diverse, but instead small, private, liberal arts, religious, and teaching-oriented.
One possible explanation for our different outcomes is the differences in our institutions and student bodies. A second possible explanation is that the assignments were not as similar as we thought. It might be possible that, whether in design, grade value, or timing, the assignments were different enough to produce different outcomes. And finally, a third possible explanation is that the classes differed in terms of enrollment of majors; if these assignments are more engaging for majors, then the assignment will be more successful – in terms of achieving learning goals and outcomes – if there are more majors enrolled. With this last point, we seek ways in which to make these assignments engaging for both the major and the non-major.
Political science departments have a number of goals in mind when it comes to teaching, learning and assessment. Three that often come up are: teaching students to think critically, teaching students to become civically engaged, and retaining and recruiting majors. We believe that hands-on political participation assignments contribute to all three goals and therefore, we argue that these exercises should be more fully explored. We as a profession should specify what makes for a better participation exercise, with the goal toward building better assignments. At the same time, we must discuss ways to design political participation assignments in ways that incorporate the specific characteristics of the institutions and student body. Finally, we must also distinguish political science majors from non-majors so that we can determine if these assignments are engaging the non-major and if so, how we might build more of these assignments into our curriculum.

Most Common Document Word Stems:

polit (203), student (125), particip (111), assign (107), major (94), scienc (75), learn (64), civic (63), educ (43), engag (38), servic (37), ask (37), cours (36), non (35), interest (33), non-major (33), class (31), exercis (28), yes (26), activ (25), said (24),

Author's Keywords:

political participation, major, non-major, recruitment, civic engagement, service learning
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MLA Citation:

Lupo, Lindsey. and Griffin, Rebecca Brandy. "Political Participation Exercises as a Means to Teach Civic Skills, Engage Students and Recruit Majors" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, San Jose Marriott, San Jose, California, Feb 22, 2008 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245639_index.html>

APA Citation:

Lupo, L. J. and Griffin, R. , 2008-02-22 "Political Participation Exercises as a Means to Teach Civic Skills, Engage Students and Recruit Majors" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference, San Jose Marriott, San Jose, California Online <PDF>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245639_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Scholars from Aristotle to Putnam have asserted that political participation improves the character of the individual and the society. As instructors of political science, we often find ourselves drawing on such notions of both societal and individual benefits, either to more fully engage majors or in an attempt to make the subject seem more pertinent and interesting to non-majors.
We explore the following questions:
1. Why do political science instructors design courses with political participation as a learning outcome; in other words, why do we value participation to such an extent? And is it the proper role of instructors to teach civic skills as a means to this end?
2. If we agree that instructors ought to teach civic skills, what is the best way to teach civic skills to both majors and non-majors? Does it help to make concepts more relevant? Does it help non-majors to find our classes more interesting? To what extent do political participation assignments retain and engage majors and perhaps more importantly, convert non-majors into majors?
To answer the first set of questions, we explore theories regarding the importance of political participation and the development of civic skills. To answer the second set of questions, we adopt an interpretivist approach to analyze our own experiences of teaching political participation in the classroom. To do so, we collect data via course evaluations, a survey of class participants, and instructor observation, drawn from 5 classes taught during the 2006-2007 academic year. These courses were taught by two different instructors at two different universities in Southern California. In these classes, we each experimented with participation assignments. Our learning goals and learning outcomes established at the start of each course involved students choosing a political science topic of particular interest to them and acquiring the tools to further research it, students drawing relevant connections between classroom discussions and their participation experiences, students increasing their confidence in their ability to continue to develop their civic skills even after the course was complete, and finally, students, both majors and non-majors, discovering political science as an interesting field of social science.
In general, we find that our assignments, despite a number of similarities, produced different outcomes. Specifically, at one institution the students were excited and engaged, while at the other, they were disengaged and at times hostile to the assignment. At the same time, it was not immediately clear in any of the classes if the assignments were helping to convert non-majors to majors.
We find these differences to be puzzling because we were both adjunct professors at Southern California universities, trained at the same graduate school and by the same pedagogical program. In all five classes, the assignments were similar, although presented in slightly different ways. One university was very diverse, large, public, secular, and research-oriented. The other university was not very diverse, but instead small, private, liberal arts, religious, and teaching-oriented.
One possible explanation for our different outcomes is the differences in our institutions and student bodies. A second possible explanation is that the assignments were not as similar as we thought. It might be possible that, whether in design, grade value, or timing, the assignments were different enough to produce different outcomes. And finally, a third possible explanation is that the classes differed in terms of enrollment of majors; if these assignments are more engaging for majors, then the assignment will be more successful – in terms of achieving learning goals and outcomes – if there are more majors enrolled. With this last point, we seek ways in which to make these assignments engaging for both the major and the non-major.
Political science departments have a number of goals in mind when it comes to teaching, learning and assessment. Three that often come up are: teaching students to think critically, teaching students to become civically engaged, and retaining and recruiting majors. We believe that hands-on political participation assignments contribute to all three goals and therefore, we argue that these exercises should be more fully explored. We as a profession should specify what makes for a better participation exercise, with the goal toward building better assignments. At the same time, we must discuss ways to design political participation assignments in ways that incorporate the specific characteristics of the institutions and student body. Finally, we must also distinguish political science majors from non-majors so that we can determine if these assignments are engaging the non-major and if so, how we might build more of these assignments into our curriculum.

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