Pedagogy and Teaching

Week Sixteen: Final Examinations
By Lee Trepanier on April 25, 2012

This week is final examinations and concludes the semester. Overall I was satisfied with the Introduction to Political Science course, although there are a couple of things I wish I had done differently. First, I should have included more discussion of current events. This would have brought the relevance of the subjects we were studying to the forefront. Second, I should have set aside some time in the syllabus for revision of essays. Students learned how to read and write, but once they turned their essays in, they forgot about them and never revisited them. Setting aside time for revisions would be helpful in teaching them this habit.

Week Fifteen: Weber
By Lee Trepanier on April 18, 2012

The reading for this week is Weber, where we discuss the emergence of modern social science with its fact-value distinction. The students were able to grasp the main ideas, but they are ready to conclude the semester, as this is the last week of lecture. Overall, I am pleased with the progress of most of the students. Hopefully they will be able to retain some of the main political concepts and thinkers we discussed this past semester and use them to navigate the upcoming elections (if they pay attention to it at all).

Week Fourteen: Lenin
By Lee Trepanier on April 12, 2012

This week we looked at Lenin’s Imperialism as the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Students understood the argument and were able to connect it to our earlier readings of Marx and Smith, which was gratifying. Some of the students were sympathetic to Lenin’s diagnosis but were skeptical about his solutions, which is always refreshing. As we approach the end of the semester, my sense is that the students are finally able to make the connections from the earlier readings. This raises the question whether the semester system should be banished entirely and replaced with a nine-month term. This would enable students to understood the material in a more thorough and systematic fashion. I wonder what others think about this proposal.

 

Week Thirteen: Arendt
By Lee Trepanier on April 05, 2012

This week we read excerpts of Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism. What surprises me is how little historical knowledge students possess, which makes it more difficult to discuss Arednt's work. Not all political philosophy texts require historical knowledge, but Origins of Totalitarianism certainly does. I usually solve this problem by giving a brief historical account of the events, but I am certainly open to suggestions to others if they have better ideas to address this problem.

 

Week Twelve: Reflections on Students
By Lee Trepanier on March 29, 2012

I thought this week that I would pause for a moment and reflect upon the set of students that are enrolled in my Introduction to Political Science course. The students have reached a point in the semester where they are comfortable enough with each other to speak their own minds in the classroom and pretty much know each other’s political inclinations. The weakest students already have dropped out of the course or have given up and no longer show up in class, so I have a pretty good set of students from the B- to A+ range. I had hoped to establish a sense of community in the classroom, and I think I have succeeded in this task. In this sense, it makes the task of teaching and learning more enjoyable (or bearable to the students) because they know they are not alone.

Week Eleven: Rousseau
By Lee Trepanier on March 21, 2012

This week we looked at Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and Social Contract. I present Rousseau as an advocate of the liberal tradition but also a critic of it. What I find most interesting is how students respond to Rousseau’s critique of liberalism more so than Marx’s. I am not sure what accounts for this, but I’m always surprised by it.

Week Ten: Locke
By Lee Trepanier on March 14, 2012

This week we went over Locke’s social contract theory. I always have found students instinctively agree with Locke’s ideas and arguments, which comes to no surprise given his influence on the American character. The challenge I find in teaching Locke to American students is to make them understand how new his ideas were during his times. Students take them for granted – it was always like this and always will be – an attitude that they shouldn’t assume given the difficulty of sustaining self-governance.

Week Nine: Spring Break
By Lee Trepanier on March 07, 2012

This week is spring break – a tradition in the American university system that I don’t understand. It interrupts the semester for a week to give students an excuse either to work, volunteer, or engage in decadent behavior. Personally I would rather have the semester finish a week earlier than take a break mid-semester, which interrupts the flow of the course. For myself, I use the time to grade paper and get caught up on publication projects that need immediate attention.  I am curious what other people think of spring break. Any thoughts?

Essay Assignments
By Lee Trepanier on March 05, 2012

This is the week before our spring break where I meet with students to go over their second essay assignment. What I thought I would talk about was how I design my essay assignments. The actual question I assign to students is pretty vague, but in the classroom I spell out specifically what I am looking for in their essays. Essentially what I want to see is whether students have understood the material (summarize the readings with proper citations) and can analyze it with respect to the argument itself and its application to a contemporary political issue. Obviously the second part of the essay depends on the first part. What I find fascinating is how many students have misunderstood the material or missed major points in some thinker’s argument. It may be partially due to my lectures, but I also suspect that students are not used to reading difficult texts; or, if they have to, they are used to teachers telling them what the text means rather than finding out for themselves.

Week Seven: Rawls
By Lee Trepanier on February 24, 2012

 This week we went over Rawls, which the students found difficult to understand but ultimately agreed with his argument probably because the end result is so familiar to them. The students have reached a point in the semester where they are familiar with each other and their political perspectives, so there is a nice exchange of ideas transpiring in the classroom. Interestingly, I find most of the students to be libertarian in their politics, although they may not know it themselves. I have noticed this trend recently, and I haven’t been able to figure out why this has been the case.

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