Academic Rigor in the Classroom: Time to Get Serious?

by on 2012-04-28 in Uncategorized- 48 Comments

Star Trek convention Las Vegas 2009
Charli, Dan and Patrick at ISA 2013?

The academics/educators who write this blog often locate their research and teaching interests in texts from popular culture. Dan has co-edited a book on Harry Potter and IR. Patrick teaches a course on science fiction and social science. Dan offers a course on science fiction and politics. Charli blogs frequently about science fiction and has a working paper on “Security or Human Security? Civil-Military Relations in Battlestar Galactica.” I’ve frequently taught a class on “Global Politics Through Film” and am working on a project about “the comedy of global politics.” I could go on and on, referencing most of the bloggers on the sidebar.

But you already get the idea. Nerdy Duck of Minerva bloggers like to think about popular films, television series, and novels through the lens of international politics. Resistance is futile. We are serious about nonsense, or at least that is likely how critics and skeptics would view these efforts. The other bloggers at the Duck have frequently explained why they do what they do, but I’d like to revisit the issue in light of some recent social science research.

So, here we go again: Given what we know about the ability of higher education to achieve its aims, are we letting our students and colleagues down by focusing on battle stars, death stars, dark materials, the dark side, hunger games, super-heroes, wizard worlds, or zombies?

I have sometimes heard colleagues in the hard sciences snicker at the unusual titles and subjects of courses, papers, and conferences in the social sciences and humanities. Many assume we are all practicing post-modernists, dedicated perhaps to the reification of fantasy. Many colleagues in IR want all of us in the field to spend much more time thinking about the policy relevance of our work. Even sympathetic friends in the social sciences fear that paying parents will be unhappy when they hear about the courses their offspring are taking next term. We had a big debate about this at Louisville when trying to name the new Peace Studies program.

Granted, much of this is familiar ground on this blog and elsewhere. Thus, I’d like to consider the topic in terms of basic student learning outcomes.

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by Richard Arum, one of the co-authors of Academically Adrift, the much-discussed recent work demonstrating that colleges are failing a huge portion of their students. Perhaps even worse, the work explains the problems Arum and colleagues identify by finding that too many college classes lack basic rigor. Long-time readers may recall that I previously blogged about Arum’s work with Josipa Roksa back in February 2011.

For those unfamiliar with their study, Arum and Roksa used “measures developed by the Collegiate Learning Association (CLA)” to determine what students are getting out of college. They tested students entering school and then tested them again two and four years later. The results were troubling as more than one-third of respondents ‘did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning’ over four years of college.

Keep that basic point in mind: apparently about 35% of students are wasting tens of thousands of dollars and four years of their lives to gain almost nothing from higher education.

It gets worse.

While speaking in Louisville, Arum revealed that he and his colleagues have continued to follow the student cohort that they started studying in 2005. In other words, they have data from the sixth year after entry into college and now know more about graduation rates, (un)employment, and graduate school entry.

The results are again disturbing, especially for the students who did not significantly improve in college:

Graduates who scored in the bottom quintile of the CLA were three times more likely to be unemployed than those who scored in the top quintile on the CLA (9.6 percent compared to 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home (35 percent compared to 18 percent) and significantly more likely to have amassed credit card debt (51 percent compared to 37 percent).

They also found that their results had political implications, at least for those of us interested in the responsibilities of citizenship, the state of deliberation in the public sphere, etc.

Graduates who exhibited high academic engagement/growth in college were significantly more likely to read the news and discuss politics and public affairs compared to students who displayed low academic engagement/growth. Graduates who scored in the highest quintile on the CLA in their senior year were more likely to read the news and discuss politics and public affairs compared to students in the bottom quintile.

Obviously, the students entering college in 2005 started exiting college at a particularly bad time, economically.  Indeed, the latest  news about college student unemployment is even worse than Arum and colleagues report. From the Associated Press:

According to the AP’s analysis of government data, about 53.6 percent of Americans who have bachelor’s degrees and are 25 and under are unemployed or hold lower-wage jobs, like waiting tables or serving as office receptionists, that don’t require a degree. That translates to about 1.5 million young people who have not, or not yet, gotten the payoff they expected from a college education.

Who should be blamed for all this misery?

As they do in their book, Arum and colleagues continue to argue for more rigor in the college classroom. The standard employed in the study is not all that difficult to meet — 40 pages of reading per course per week and 20 pages of writing per course. Arum emphasized in Louisville that there is nothing magic about these particular numbers, but they they found that many students had actively sought out courses to avoid anything like this kind of workload. And generally, students had no difficulty finding plenty of courses that do not require them to work very hard. This is true even at good schools as fewer than half of seniors in the sample had completed over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester.

To reiterate, colleges are failing their students because too many instructors fail to make their courses sufficiently rigorous — and many students are flocking to them so that they can complete degrees (and likely earn high grades).

In Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa point out that a liberal arts education is highly correlated with rigor and learning. Students pursuing traditional liberal arts majors showed “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time.” Oddly enough, students pursuing degrees in practical and applied fields — business, education, social work, and communications — were more likely to be at the bottom of the rankings.

So, what does this research say about the politics of popular culture? When Duck of Minerva scholars take these texts seriously, they think critically and ask their academic audience and students to do the same. Indeed, in the classroom, they ask students to read a healthy amount of material with the aim of analyzing and applying abstract theoretical ideas to texts that they might enjoy reading or viewing. The students read and write and think. Getting serious in the classroom is a matter of critical and analytical pedagogy, not a matter of studying practical and serious subjects.

According to the analysis of Arum, Roksa, and colleagues, the Duck of Minerva bloggers are apparently on the right track.

Live long and prosper. May the force be with you. Yada yada yada.

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48 CommentsAdd yours

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-28

    “40 pages of reading per course per week.” Hmpf. Last time I looked, _Dune_ is like 600 pages depending on the edition, and that PLUS a Weber essay are one week of my regular-semester sci-fi course. I can’t quite fathom assigning less than 40 pages for a week of a college-level class (in my syllabi a “light” week for an undergraduate course is 2 academic articles from professional journals); where are the people who get away with stuff like this, and how are they still employed in the academy?

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-28

    And FYI I am not going as Ensign Expendable to ISA 2013 ;-) Maybe that’s Dan.

  • Mshirk - 2012-04-28

    I wonder how much of the lack of rigor in the classroom deals with other pressures on the Professor.  While it boggles my mind that there are even classes that have less than 40 pages per week of reading (2 journal articles cover this and that seems like half of what a usually load should be), as a grad student I have never TA’ed for a course with 20 pages of writing in it.  In fact, I am not sure that it is particularly close for most of them.  Could it be that since tenure is usually decided not on the basis of teaching in any way that most decide that it is not worth their time to grade so much writing when they could be doing their own work?  Of course the schools that care less about teaching usually have grad students doing the grading anyway.

    I also have to say that the findings on the liberal arts majors (does this mean social science as well?) do better than ‘applied’ is encouraging, if only because I have this background and already am quite biased in favor of it.  Does this extend to liberal arts schools vs. larger/state-run institutions?  

  • dnexon - 2012-04-28

    Student evaluations for my SF course often note that the workload for the class is among the highest participants have experienced at Georgetown.

  • dnexon - 2012-04-28

    I’d say that higher workloads, particulary in intro classes, tend to correlate negatively with teaching evaluation scores. In consequence, greater emphasis on teaching in tenure can encourage instructors to not push their students as hard as they should.

  • Mshirk - 2012-04-28

    good point.  I guess this shows the problems with using evaluations as the sole measure of evaluating teaching.  I feel that my TA evaluations a) are tacked to how much the student like the professor or topic (i.e. students in American Politics always win the TA teaching awards) AND how high you grade vis a vis other TAs in the class.  My scores have been high when I have graded easier than fellow TAs and lower when I have graded harder.  While being a TA is obviously different from the professor, I think the same biases are likely to be present.  

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-28

    I have found that getting students to do large amounts of reading is difficult and writing assignments are more often than not plagiarized. I have found that if I assign 100 pages a week that many students will not do all of it. Maybe it is different in the US where evidently I am banned from teaching. But, getting students to do large amounts of reading or to write a paper without taking it directly from wikipedia is very difficult in places like Central Asia where I used to teach and Africa where I teach now. So since you are obviously successful in managing to get students to do these assignments, how do you do it? How can I get students here in Ghana to do the assigned 50-100 pages a week I assign for 300 and 400 level classes? I have not yet taught any intro classes here, but I am thinking that 40 pages of reading a week would be impossible to get freshers to actually do. Apparently there is some trick that all you people know that is being hidden from history professors here in Legon.

  • LFC - 2012-04-28

    I haven’t taught a great deal but I have been a student and this reply is based on that. From your (J. Otto Pohl’s) comments elsewhere, I think you’re teaching large lecture classes rather than smaller discussion-oriented courses. In the setting of a large class the problem of getting students to keep up with the reading is more difficult, but there are a few things you might consider, e.g., asking randomly selected students questions about the reading; giving unannounced quizzes about the reading; assigning ‘response’ papers (but some of these options of course would mean more work for you). You might also consider asking groups of students to lead some of the class sessions — the ones leading would have to do the reading in that case. (But I should really let the experienced professors/bloggers here answer this.)

  • anonymous - 2012-04-29

    I was hoping for there to be some discussion of instrumental rationality and communicative rationality in this post as it relates to taking scifi seriously in studying politics.  On the broader level, it would be interesting to know how Richard Arum’s study relates to political economy and bureaucratization of the academy.

  • PTJ - 2012-04-29

    I agree with LFC here — step one in getting students to do the reading is not to lecture, but to make class time more about student engagement with the reading. Of course, step two is assigning stuff that is actually engaging and relevant…

  • PTJ - 2012-04-29

    I’m not quite following your first point: what does instrumental vs. communicative rationality have to do with scifi and politics, exactly? I ask because I’m curious, not because I’m dismissive.

    Arun basically doesn’t talk about the political economy of the academy. As with most of these studies, he looks at individual professors as though they were the problem, and as though they could change things with a simple act of will.

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-29

    “Live long and prosper. May the force be with you. Yada yada yada.” Didn’t you mean, “Yoda, Yoda, Yoda…”

  • Charli Carpenter - 2012-04-29

    I second LFC’s idea of unannounced quizzes. It was the best way to both make sure they’re reading and also make sure they show up on time. In large classes (actually, also in small ones) I have these about five times a semester, on random days, always in the first five minutes of class. You ask super easy questions so the grading isn’t hard, but questions that are only easy if they did the reading. 

  • anonymous - 2012-04-29

    I directed the instrumental/communicative question to Rodger because he’s Habermasian — but perhaps less so as a bureaucrat these days (though I’m kidding). My general idea was that students come to class with particular outcomes in mind that conform to the general Habermasian idea of instrumental rationality (they pay money to take a course that gets them a degree that gets them a job through that process they memorize facts, read unpleasant and overpriced textbooks, and take tests to acquire a set of skills that reflects their ed level that really structures of process of adding on layers of the person’s ontology and affirms the power dynamic between student and ). This instrumental process is different than pushing the student reflexively from within and beyond their own universe, making their own personal ontology and the instructor’s more reflexive; scifi and other fiction and pop culture can do this from within and outside their own universe simultaneously by redefining what counts as politics and what texts can speak to this topic, in a way challenging the authority of technocracy through the medium of different texts. Furthermore, this introduction of scifi texts reaffirms the collapse that feminist asserted a long time ago between activist and theorist by collapsing entertainment and theory (aren’t the best entertainers really activists). These scifi texts go towards intersubjective understanding and role-taking (by taking a text the students know but bringing political relevance to it), and perhaps other elements of the ideal speech situation (though that can be contingent on other pedagogical choices and institutional restraints).

  • Rodger Payne - 2012-04-29

     I actually thought of that a little while after posting!

  • TheTieMan - 2012-04-29

    We undergraduates (I’m currently a junior) are really only interested in our grades at the end of the day. Sure, I want to learn, but when I send my résumé to a grad school or potential employer, they will see my GPA, not what I learned. Whatever the amount of reading, then, it needs to be made necessary. That is, actually reading the assigned texts needs to influence the student’s final grade. If our grades are dependent on reading, we will do it. In my three years of study, the class in which I learned the most required about 100 pages of reading a week. A midterm (33% of the grade) and a final (67% of the grade) were the only two graded assignments for the class. A single essay question determined 80% of each exam’s grade. On each page of the essay, we were required to cite a minimum of two different assigned readings. More importantly, the essay questions were the sort that would be extremely difficult to answer without having done the readings and understanding the material (e.g., “What have been the greatest mistakes in US foreign policy, and what policy prescriptions would you offer to ensure similar mistakes are not made again?”) Alternatively, when professors only require papers, the readings often become optional, especially when we are given complete freedom when choosing a topic.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    A small 400 level class here will have 65 students. An average 300 level class will have 115. Below that classes can be up to 300. Response papers are out of the question in that my limited experience with them here shows 0% familiarity with citations and a 50%+ plagiarism rate. I have yet to see a proper foot note or any other correct citation from anybody other than my two PhD students. Usually undergrads just copy the wikipedia entry in a cut and paste. I have no desire to read the same wikipedia article over and over hundreds of times. Hence the university policy of relying only on in class tests is actually a very good one.

    I have tried calling on students. Often they will not be able to give any type of answer. The quiz option has been suggested by the Dept. Head as a way of taking roll. But, it is limited. By university regulations the final exam has to be at least 70% of the grade. So students basically only study for the final exam and do not keep up with the reading during the semester. 

    The traditional approach here has been for lecturers to give one two hour lecture for each class. At the end of the semester there was one test worth 100% of the grade. History is unusual in having more reading. But, I think there are classes here where the average reading is considerably below 40 pages a week. 

    My current strategy has been to assign relatively a lot of reading, usually one or two narrative histories written for popular or undergraduate audiences. In total about 700-1000 pages for a 13 week semester of which ten will be lectures. I have then sought to craft mid term and final questions that deal with long term historical changes and hence require having read more than just a single chapter of the reading to answer. This has gotten lots of complaints and lots of people answering the questions they wished I had asked rather than ones I actually did ask.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    Where do you teach? Getting undergraduates in Ghana to read 600 pages in a week would be impossible. I have trouble getting upperclassmen to read 75 to 100 pages a week. I am only partially succeed ultimately by stressing that the material is indeed necessary to master to do well on the exams and get a good grade. Most courses here do not have 600 pages of reading for an entire semester. 

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    Oops I mangled that passage. The third sentence should read, “I am only able to partially succeed ultimately by stressing the material is indeed necessary to master to do well on the exams and get a good grade.”

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    This has been suggested to me, but not as a means to get the students to do the reading. But, rather to get them to show up to lectures. I may implement it next semester. I am not sure how effective it is in getting them to do the actual reading. Many of the answers I have seen given to quizzes given by other lecturers demonstrate little to no reading.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    Well I am not sure how to get away from lectures since that is all anybody has done here since 1948 and what the students expect. I would love to have seminar discussions, but with 115 students in class I am not sure how to do it. As far as reading, my syllabi are all on my blog. But, students seem to judge material on the basis of length and whether it spoon feeds them the direct answers to the exam questions not on whether it is engaging or relevant.

  • Chris Marcoux - 2012-04-29

    I can vouch for quizzes. In DoM spirit, I’ve also observed that it works on both rational and normative levels. Apparently, it changes the calculus for some students re: reading and attendance. But it also works via shame. I’ve seen otherwise bright students who think they can “wing it” (they’re usually wrong) become really embarrassed over missing a question, the answer to which was in the title of one of the readings.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-29

    The easiest way not to lecture is not to lecture. Walk into the room on day one and explain that you aren’t going to lecture, and then stat making use of small group break-out sessions with reporting back to the whole, “fishbowl” conversations in which a small group talks while others watch and then you switch places, simulation exercises, debates, etc. No, no one is expecting it. Which will make it very exciting for all involved!

    “Direct answers to the exam questions” — well, don’t give exams and don’t have exam questions…

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-29

    That’s a terrible university regulation. Can you get around it by not giving an in-class final, but a take-home essay?

    Instead of response papers, divide the class into small groups or 4-5 students and have each group build and maintain a blog. They talk to one another (build this into your syllabus explicitly as a requirement) and you don’t have to comment on everyone’s contributions every time.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    The university requires that I give a final exam worth at least 70% of the total grade for each class.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-29

    Ah, got it. My stumbling-block is “Habermas,” because what you describe sounds less to me like the kind of communicative rationality that progressively unearths consensual facts because of everyone’s conformity to transcendental standards of rationality, and more like the critical intellectual disposition that Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Foucault, Dewey, and many feminists like Butler and Harding advocate. I like what you describe and aim for it repeatedly in my courses, but I have rarely found Habermas helpful for those purposes.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-29

    Sounds like your university needs to get its head out of the past. That requirement is a pretty serious impediment to any kind of pedagogical or curricular innovation.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-29

    No, there is no way around the final exam on a particular day and place chosen and monitored by the university constituting 70% of the total grade. I had a German student who is leaving before the scheduled final and I can not allow him to take the test early. But, given that at least 50% of take home essays will just be copied directly off of wikipedia I don’t think it is actually that bad of policy.

  • anonymous - 2012-04-29

    You may well be right on the type of theories appropriate to my claims. Certainly these theorists that you mention don’t get hung up in lifeworlds or in the type of transcendental reason (that moves up subjectivity at the end for Habermas and was critiqued from a variety of perspectives like Fraser or Lyotard) or other types of normative/empirical problems that plague Habermas. Perhaps I am stretching communicative reason — in a way that counterpublic/queer theorist Michael Warner once described Foucault as out-Habermasing Habermas in some of his later works — by trying to think through claims in a way conforming to some of the values that drive Habermas, but only partially buying into his conceptual structure. Contra Habermas, the theorists you mentioned open more space for paradox in a variety of epistemic and ontological issues, which I enjoy, but it does not mean that I can’t go back to Habermas, so long as I don’t buy into all of his claims and frameworks. At moments, the public sphere/ISS in a broader sort of way (that includes people like Warner and Fraser) make sense for structuring studies of public education and individual pedagogy, but it’s not the only thing that makes sense or that should be employed to think critically about it (and thus to engage in struggles over transformative/emancipatory acts). For both of us, I think, it’s a matter of having real methodological (epistemic, ontological, scientific) diversity that requires efforts at translating within and between theory, a very apropos goal for theorist, especially if our object of study is the classroom. 

  • Mshirk - 2012-04-29

    Do your students have english as their first language (Assuming that this is the language you are teaching in)?  I wonder because I don’t seem to have this problem (albeit as a TA, but this means I do all the grading and have most of the student contact)to nearly the degree that you mention.  If they are forced to struggle more through reading and writing in a second (third? fourth?) language this may lead them to be less inclined to do so. Though you do mention some very strong institutional constraints.

    Paper or tests questions copied from wikipedia would so obviously be wrong that I can’t imagine a student doing it. Maybe this is different form History (where students seem to believe they are learniing what actually happened) to Political Science (where theory is supposed to be more at the forefront and harder to capture in a wikipedia entry). I am certain that students have copied from other internet sites and I am certain that I have not caught all of them, but you describe a situation very different from I have experienced here.  In fact if most of my students are copying from internet sites, they aren’t doing a very good job of it.

  • Guest - 2012-04-29

    It is more common than we think though. LSE for example for the most part designated the final exam as 100%, or at times 50% of the grade. Given that this seemed widespread around the institution, it leads me to wonder if it is a requirement as opposed to being at the discretion of the instructor. Not sure. I’ve heard similar experiences from friends at other UK and European unis as well. I found the US experience with different grade distribution is a very different story, esp. with grades given for “participation” and whatnot. 

  • LFC - 2012-04-29

    “I agree with LFC here — step one in getting students to do the reading is not to lecture, but to make class time more about student engagement with the reading….”

    I’m in favor of less emphasis on lecturing, but my response to J.O. Pohl assumed that he was going to continue to rely fairly heavily on the traditional lecturing model, and I was suggesting that he might be able to engage students with the reading, at least to some extent, even within the traditional framework. Moving outside the traditional model would, I agree, be even better, though I have a feeling that for a variety of reasons (including the particular institutional setting), it’s going to be difficult for him, and his replies here would seem to confirm that guess.

    I might also note, for the record as it were, that teachers/profs who are interested in science fiction have an automatic advantage when it comes to “engaging.” I have no particular interest in sci fi (I think I have exactly one sci fi novel on my shelves) and therefore, in the probably rather unlikely event I were ever to do any further teaching, nothing I would assign would match ‘Dune’ or ‘I, Robot’ (or whatever) on the “engaging” scale. The one possible exception might be a course devoted to fiction and memoirs about war and the experience of combat, but: (1) I think there’d be less student interest in that than in sci fi, and (2) despite the obvious connection betw. IR (as traditionally thought of) and war, it’s not all that easy to make the connections betw. war memoirs and the abstract IR-theory questions, whereas with sci fi it apparently is, b/c you have all this built-in stuff, so to speak, about the Alien, the Other, the Strange, the Different Civilizations, the Future-as-Possibly-Very- Different, blah blah blah blah. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist a little sci-fi-envy rant.)

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-30

    That’s fair — although I am not sure how far “back” to Habermas one can coherently go without buying into “all of his claims and frameworks.” Otherwise I think one runs the very real risk of taking the parts of Habermas that one likes out of context, and ignoring the context within which Habermas embeds them. Then again, I’m kind of a purist when it comes to theories and theorists; other people’s sensibilities differ on this matter.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-30

    There are times, not many, when I thank my lucky stars that I teach in the US. This discussion is one of those times.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-30

    Institutional adoption of or some similar service can put a dent in that number.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-30

    Not having the exams looming, I have a lot more flexibility. I never tell students at any level that a piece of reading is necessary to master for them to succeed at anything, partially because I am skeptical of the very notion of “mastering material” and partially because my goal, no matter what I am teaching, is inculcating critical intellectual dispositions. I could not care less whether anyone walks out of one of my classes feeling that they have mastered some material. Encountered, wrestled with, fought through, argued with or against: yes. But “mastered”: never.

    I have no idea how well this would play outside of the — admittedly, extremely privileged — context of a private college in the United States. But I suspect that it could be done elsewhere in the absence of mandated and parametric constraints like traditional examinations.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-30

    Most of my students speak Twi (Akan) as their first language. Others speak Ga, Ewe, or northern languages as their mother tongue. So for almost all of them English is a second or in some cases third language. But, English is the official language of the Republic of Ghana. All education from primary school on up is conducted in English except obviously for classes specifically geared to teach local or foreign languages. However, since all classes are graded on tests there is very little preparation for how to write papers. So by level 300 many of them have still never learned how to cite sources or been told that they can not take text word for word from the internet.

  • j.ottopohl - 2012-04-30

    TIA we don’t even have printers in our offices. 

  • Rodger Payne - 2012-04-30

    Excellent exchange. I’m not sure I have anything to add. My comedy project is certainly in the critical theoretical tradition, but it is not Habermasian, per se. I’m grappling with the linkage between “entertainment” and theory. Likewise, when I teach “Global Politics Through Film,” I aim for critical thinking, reflexivity, role-taking (see the Red Dawn discussion here some years ago), etc.  I don’t generally use sci-fi films as the central texts, but we frequently discuss them and many students incorporate them into their projects.

  • Mshirk - 2012-04-30

    I wanted to pose a question for a class that I am teaching this summer on Ethics and U.S. Foreign Policy.  I hope that this is an appropriate forum, the discussion thread does seem related at least.

    I am looking for a good reading on why we cannot separate value and fact, why thinking about ‘foreign policy’ assumes certain values and ethical positions. However, I am having some trouble finding readings that are easier for undergraduates to digest.  I know that Rob Walker does a good job in Inside/Outside, but it is a rather dense reading that builds off of previous chapter in the book and may not stand alone very well.   In sum, I am looking for something that is the length of a journal article/book chapter on the false distinction between value and fact in the international context that would be accessible for undergraduates.  If anyone has any ideas I would greatly appreciate it!  Thanks!

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-04-30

    Given the situation you describe I am quite skeptical that any one professor or class can make much of an impact on students’ learning styles; the outcome you are inhabiting seems grossly overdetermined. Short of a massive overhaul of the whole educational system, I am not entirely sure what to suggest — and that’s not a very helpful suggestion in any case.

  • Ariel Ahram - 2012-04-30

    On comparing social science with the hard sciences, see <> by Lawrence Krauss, currently professor of physics at Arizona State and formerly at Case Western Reserve and Yale.

  • anonymous - 2012-04-30

    Yes, context can be important, but theory has the potential to travel, as Edward Said would say, and it does. It’s a personal theoretical commitment to know how much you let theory travel and the type of meta-commitments we have to category/categories. While language games seem like a pretty explicit commitment to how categories work, I wonder if ordinary language theory pushes us to only make claims about category and context after we embed ourselves as the reader, writer, or spectator.  What I feel you’re pushing us towards is a Gadamer or pre-Gadamer-like commitment to hermeneutics on the issue of context. I am not as well versed in these writers as yourself, but I am not sure that Butler or some of the feminists/queer theorists (as Butler collapses these categories) would agree with you on commitment to reading  a pure context. While a lot of entertainment has explicit political commitments, some of it needs to be reappropriated for explicit political projects that they were not originally intended; thus, I would want us to keep a loose or grounded notion of what context means.  

  • Mjtier - 2012-04-30

    This is exactly what I do for my course International Relations in Disciplinary Perspective.  Most of the assignments on the syllabus require students to think critically, engage the material, and use their brains.  But, the quizzes do not.  If you have done the reading, you will get 100%.  If you have not, you get crushed.  This means they come to class prepared to discuss the reading and it means they develop certain habits.  I gave 11 quizzes this year.  They take between 2-4 minutes of class time.

  • MJ Peterson - 2012-04-30

    You have the small quizzes, but you design them to focus on things that you want students to know so they can do well on the final.  Use the technique of “reverse design”: start with what you want students to learn (intellectual skills; substantive knowledge) and design the exam for that, then design the quizzes to build towards the exam.

  • ProfPTJ - 2012-05-01

    Arnold Wolfers, “Statesmanship and Moral Choice,” World Politics 1:2 (January 1949), pp 175-195.

  • Rodger Payne - 2012-05-01

    I cannot speak for those in PhD programs, but our Master’s program admissions committee typically viewss GRE scores as much more important than GPAs. I suspect GRE scores are stronger in those who have actually developed critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. GPAs reflect a great deal of grade inflation and there’s far less variance among applicants.

  • TheTieMan - 2012-05-01

    Good to know. Thanks for the reply.

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