April 2009

Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: Canadian Politics - Part 2
By John von Heyking on April 02, 2009

Like the subjects of Brave New World who think their history begins in 1 A.F. ("After Ford"), the youth of Canada tend to regard 1982, the year the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced, as their Year 1 in the era of freedom. Before 1982, Canadians lacked liberty. This, of course, is nonsense, and reading the Founders enables them to see the genuine origins of their regime.

The ignorance of Canadians for the ideas and beliefs of the Founders, as well as the character of the founding act, has bred a lot of confusion. Canadians have been taught that their Founding was simply a pragmatic act by pork-barrel politicians who, if they could barely arise to articulating principles, certainly could not implant principles into their constitution. They were too partisan. Even our Prime Minister gets caught up in this confusion…

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Why I Never "Curve"
By Alex Tokarev on April 03, 2009

Grade inflation is just as bad for the character of the student as is monetary inflation for the health of the economy. Results from my tests early in the semester are often low. Some students see me as unnecessarily cruel. I tell them that it is for their own good. In the long run. They can thank me later. That's the closest a Bulgarian comes to hugging.

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: Canadian Politics - Part 3
By John von Heyking on April 08, 2009
See also Part 1 and Part 2.


In reading the Canadian Founders, my first year students have a case study in the basic meaning and functioning of liberal democracy. They consider the meaning of liberty (is an end in itself or does it serve a further goal, such as human happiness?), equality (of opportunity or result?), economic opportunity, ambition (many Founders thought Confederation would expand the sphere for talented ambitions), representative government versus direct democracy (they debated whether the Constitution ought to be ratified by legislatures or in referenda in the provinces), and responsible government.

…Contrary to the popular image of the Founders as dedicated to statism, they thought their system of responsible government offered greater individual liberty than the U.S. system…

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The Idea of Economics in a University - Part 4
By Gabriel Martinez on April 15, 2009

Economics has been bad news for fields like politics—we have taught everyone else to quantify reality in order to manipulate it. Does this mean we need a new economics? Or are we wrong precisely because we are right? Are abstraction and disciplinary specialization bad things? Should we teach economics integrated with everything else to describe people as more than self-interested maximizers?

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Assessment and Student Learning Outcomes
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on April 16, 2009

According to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, “College standards are becoming diluted and there is a fuzziness about what faculty teach and what is expected from students.” This has led much of higher education to move to “outcome-based education,” the practice of beginning with “a clear picture of what is important for students to be able to do, then organizing the curriculum, instruction, and assessment to make sure that this learning ultimately happens.” Outcome-based education, then, focuses a lot on SLOs – Student Learning Outcomes. These are defined differently in the literature but the general consensus appears to be that SLOs involve “skills, knowledge, and attitudes that students are expected to acquire in a program and be able to demonstrate upon course and program completion.”

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Some Characteristics of Effective Teaching: A critical learning environment
By Gerson Moreno-Riano on April 20, 2009

Please consider the following question as a prelude of what is to come in this post: Can learners/thinkers be created or are they simply born?

Sometimes faculty are expected to be superheroes. We are to be experts in teaching, service, administration, assessment, research, counseling, mentoring, technology, social networking, development, and the list goes on and on. It is almost as if we are to be able to walk on one hand while perfectly balancing numerous and often mutually irreconcilable responsibilities. The highly celebrated book “What the Best College Teachers Do” (Harvard, 2004) helps one to focus on one of the most important responsibilities of university faculty – teaching (hopefully faculty reading this have not forgotten that teaching, after all, is one of our key responsibilities). The author, Ken Bain, sets out to demonstrate some common characteristics of excellent college faculty and college teaching. The findings of Bain’s study should not be surprising...

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Introducing the Subfields of Political Science: International Politics - Part 1
By John von Heyking on April 21, 2009

Having considered politics from above from the Socratic perspective, and from within from the perspective of my students own regime, Canada, we now move slightly outward, to the international arena.

I can think of no better way of introducing students to the fundamentals of international politics than by reading The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and To Perpetual Peace by Immanuel Kant. Because of the length of the History, I usually assign a useful abridgment that arranges the book thematically. This volume allows first-year students, reading this work within a two-week time frame as part of a more general introduction to political science, greater access to the great themes within the work.

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The Idea of Economics in a University - Part 5
By Gabriel Martinez on April 23, 2009

Economics, contrary to popular belief, is not a practical discipline. It's not intended to make you rich, and we don't have a crystal ball. But precisely because economics is a liberal art—disinterested in practical application—economists easily forget the partiality of their approach. This has made economics simultaneously very successful and very dependent. Its method has been applied with great fruit in many disciplines; and we need the input of other disciplines for our own field. Economics is better studied, then, in a university, in the midst of a universal seat of knowledge that instills the philosophical habit of mind in its teachers and students.

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Teaching the Senior Capstone Course
By Phil Hamilton on April 26, 2009

This semester I’ve been teaching our department’s senior capstone course – History 490 – with mixed results. At my institution, every senior seminar has a general topic and mine has been the American Revolution (defined broadly). Although I have some outstanding history majors in the class who are superb writers and are producing some very interesting papers, I’ve been struggling with how best to help my weaker students. In particular, I’ve been frustrated by their lack of researching skills as well as their inability to construct a coherent thesis and analytical argument. I’m pretty hands-on with my students and I’ve try to help these students every step of the way. (I will likely post my Senior Seminar syllabus shortly in the Resources Catalog). But the results have not been encouraging.

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End the University as We Know It?
By David Kidd on April 28, 2009

A colleague alerted me to Mark Taylor's piece in the NY Times, "End the University as We Know It," and I think it worth considering here.

Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities.

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