GOV310L Fall 2017 Student Version


For many Americans, the extent of their political engagement begins and ends with political discussions with friends and family. For others, a trip to the voting booth once every four years. As a professor who intends to teach introductory American government courses, it is my goal is to provide every student with the basic skills and confidence needed to participate in American public and civil society. Ideally, I hope to foster an interest in continuing their coursework in political science and related fields.

In my experience, the best way to push students to develop their own points of view is through class discussion. During class discussions, students are faced with evaluating new and conflicting beliefs. For many students, particularly first year undergraduates, college is the first time they are given the space to develop their own political opinions and explore the politics outside the influence of their family. Just as important, they learn how to engage in debate with their colleagues in a respectful manner.

I design my courses to prepare students to think critically about how the lecture topics relate to current political discussions taking place in the United States today. To emphasize the relevance of a topic, I make sure to include real life examples or realistic hypothetical scenarios. When possible, I employ a variety of media clips (often times humorous in nature) to further demonstrate why they should care about the course material.

Class discussions can be a meaningful activity even in large classes (greater than 100 students) when the topics address real concerns facing college-age Americans. By allowing students the opportunity to submit proposals for course discussion topics and by allowing the students to collectively decide what they would like to discuss, topics were tailored to fit the interests and concerns of the students in the course. Topics which ignited a great deal of participation included gun control on college campuses, rights of children, solutions to DACA, vaccination, and affirmative action.

Given my emphasis on critical thinking in terms of how the course material relates to real life, I include open-ended responses on all major assignments. In terms of a liberal arts education, it is a disservice to students to base their evaluations around their ability to regurgitate the lecture notes and the textbook on the exam. My evaluation of students focuses on how well students are able to use relevant theories and factual information in support of a well-articulated argument. In general, I use the short essay format for open-ended responses. Short essays force students to be judicious in their selection of evidence. I make it explicit that the arguments themselves are neither “right” nor “wrong”, but rather “supported” or “unsupported” by evidence. By stressing the support of an argument, students are forced to evaluate the merits of a particular point of view relative to competing perspectives.

In designing my course, I draw upon examples from the courses and the professors who encouraged me to become a political scientist. For me, a successful course was when the professors gave me the space to explore ideas without fear of repercussions. In my opinion, creating a stifling setting does not foster good citizenship skills nor does it encourage an academic interest in political science.