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Engaging the Unengaged: Using Visual Images to Enhance the 'Poli Sci 101' Experience of Non-majors
Unformatted Document Text:  Political Science instructors across the nation frequently face the formidable task of engaging students in lower-level, general education courses outside students’ primary domain of interest. Their students typically have little incentive to enjoy the course and often resent being required to take the class. Additionally, the frequently large size of such classes can make the instructor’s task of personally engaging every student even more overwhelming. As a consequence, students frequently have a difficult time understanding the course material and emerge from the course with very negative impressions of the discipline of Political Science in general and little interest in or knowledge of politics or public affairs. Those of us in the Political Science profession are not alone. The United States is witnessing an alarming trend of civic disengagement among young adults of traditional college age (see e.g., Furlong and Scherberle 2006; Mann 1999; Mattson 2003). For more than a decade, educators across the nation have taken on the task of reversing this trend through programs such as Campus Compact, the Carnegie Foundation’s Political Engagement Project, and APSA’s Task Force on Civic Engagement. These programs have shown the benefits of certain innovative pedagogical approaches, but only recently have the benefits more traditional, lecture-style political science courses been examined. The research presented here investigates the possibility that incorporating simple visual images into presentations of lecture material can serve to enhance the engagement of non-majors both inside and outside the classroom. Results from an experimental research study confirm that the use of low-cost, simple visual images can enhance students’ willingness to consider Political Science as a major or minor as well as boost their involvement in, and knowledge of, politics and public affairs outside the classroom. BOOSTING CIVIC ENGAGMENT THROUGH CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES The connection between a number of innovative classroom activities and heightened civic engagement among young people (as young as middle school-aged) has been well documented. Service learning programs stand as one of the best studied of these pedagogical approaches, with many studies confirming that student participation in service learning activities increases civic engagement (Battistoni 2002; Hunter and Brisbin 1999; Levine 2007; McCartney 2006; Markus, Howard, and King 1993; Prentice 2007; Spiezio, Baker, and Boland 2005;Walt Whitmam Center 1996). It also appears that 2

Authors: Ulbig, Stacy.
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Political Science instructors across the nation frequently face the formidable task of engaging
students in lower-level, general education courses outside students’ primary domain of interest. Their
students typically have little incentive to enjoy the course and often resent being required to take the
class. Additionally, the frequently large size of such classes can make the instructor’s task of personally
engaging every student even more overwhelming. As a consequence, students frequently have a difficult
time understanding the course material and emerge from the course with very negative impressions of the
discipline of Political Science in general and little interest in or knowledge of politics or public affairs.
Those of us in the Political Science profession are not alone. The United States is witnessing an
alarming trend of civic disengagement among young adults of traditional college age (see e.g., Furlong
and Scherberle 2006; Mann 1999; Mattson 2003). For more than a decade, educators across the nation
have taken on the task of reversing this trend through programs such as Campus Compact, the Carnegie
Foundation’s Political Engagement Project, and APSA’s Task Force on Civic Engagement. These
programs have shown the benefits of certain innovative pedagogical approaches, but only recently have
the benefits more traditional, lecture-style political science courses been examined.
The research presented here investigates the possibility that incorporating simple visual images
into presentations of lecture material can serve to enhance the engagement of non-majors both inside and
outside the classroom. Results from an experimental research study confirm that the use of low-cost,
simple visual images can enhance students’ willingness to consider Political Science as a major or minor
as well as boost their involvement in, and knowledge of, politics and public affairs outside the classroom.
BOOSTING CIVIC ENGAGMENT THROUGH CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
The connection between a number of innovative classroom activities and heightened civic
engagement among young people (as young as middle school-aged) has been well documented. Service
learning programs stand as one of the best studied of these pedagogical approaches, with many studies
confirming that student participation in service learning activities increases civic engagement (Battistoni
2002; Hunter and Brisbin 1999; Levine 2007; McCartney 2006; Markus, Howard, and King 1993;
Prentice 2007; Spiezio, Baker, and Boland 2005;Walt Whitmam Center 1996). It also appears that
2


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