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37 students completed a voluntary survey in my Fall, 2012, Political Science 1010 course. The survey consisted of 20 questions (14 substantive and 6 demographic). Because the survey was administered via the course Blackboard site; students (only) were invited to complete the survey via the Blackboard class email tool and via announcements. This voluntary survey was completed outside of class time at the students’ leisure.
According to the survey respondents, 40% were male and 60% were female. Ethnically, 43% responded as African-American, 5% as Asian, 30% Caucasian, 5% Latino/a/Hispanic, and about 14% Other. About 57% described themselves as Democrats, 8% as Republicans, and 27% as Independents. 73% of my class respondents were under 20. None responded as 31 or older. 78% of the respondents were in his or her first year in college (freshman) or second year (sophomore).
Questions 1-14 (see appendix B) all carry the same format. They all begin with: “How likely are you to agree or disagree with the following statement,” and then the statement is given. The purpose of the questions is to provide voluntary feedback on my experimental class lectures. Should I continue to teach with scholarly articles in lecture and essays? Indeed, questions 1-14 all have the same answer option:
- Agree completely with the statement
- Agree sometimes with the statement
- Disagree with the statement
- Completely disagree with the statement
The next few paragraphs will relate the general negative or positive feeling towards each particular statement. I collapse the two “agree” into a positive attitude regarding the question, and I collapse the two “disagree” choices as a negative attitude.
Hypothesis: Educators should teach / lecture Introduction to American Government with a demonstration of the depth within top-tier scholarly research.
At first glance, the data suggests weak positive results regarding how effective my teaching experiment was regarding the usefulness [to student learning] in utilizing excerpts or reviews of top-tier professional political science literature in class lecture (henceforth workshops); and the review of three professional journal articles to be Page 2 of a 3 page essay. At the time of this essay, the students had turned in two essays (see Rubric in Appendix E) and two lectures (Appendix C). The rest of this section will discuss the general data analysis.
For example, regarding the statement: “The 2 group work assignments on the ‘Presidency’ and ‘Public Opinion’ [i.e., read the one page summary, get in groups to write thesis statement and best quote] gave me a much better understanding of what political scientists do” resulted in 51% of the respondents to answer positive; while 41% remained neutral and only 8% responded negatively. Similarly, 54% said that the workshops “helped me to understand the textbook material at a much deeper level” with 16% responding negatively.
Conversely, a few questions compared the workshops to other classroom time activity or to the context of learning reflection. For instance, students said that the workshops “made me more interested in reading professional political science articles” positively by 43%, 27% neutral, and about 30% responded negatively. Regarding: “The 3 Essays based on reading professional journal articles (50% of my grade) helped me understand American government much more than 3 multiple choice Tests based on the textbook reading”; almost 60% responded positively, 21% responded neutral, and 19% responded negatively.
However, to better understand how using professional essays contribute to learning political science in an Introduction to Government course, I said: “The class should be made of 6 essays, so that the Tests (the 50 question online multiple choice tests) could be eliminated.” Most disagreed! Only 11% positively responded and 3% were neutral, while 86% responded negatively! To be sure, I asked, “The graded essays should be at a 6 page minimum, not the 3 pages currently set.” In this case, only 8% positively affirmed, 11% remained neutral; but most, 81%, responded negatively!
I attempted to see if students would prefer scholarly material from analysis of historical or contemporary research. I asked, “I prefer that the Professor spend much more lecture time talking about ‘the real world’ (like Obama / Romney videos and websites—do more of this); instead of talking about the history of politics (like George Washington, the Federalists and Cincinnatus—do less of this)”; 50% were positive, 19% were neutral, and 29% responded negatively.
I sought to see if introduction to government students would affirm or deny the need to struggle with top-tier research in lecture or via essay. In Question 9, I said, without the workshops, “I would know much less about political scientists as researchers in general.” 38 responded positively. 37% were neutral. And 24% responded negatively (they disagree or completely disagree with the statement). Following, I said that the workshops “should be expanded to cover 8 chapter topics (instead of the two).” Accordingly, 24% answered positively, while 30% were neutral and 46% responded negatively.
The overall balance of the class is meant to be reflected in the following four survey question answers / answers (Qs 11-14). First, only 24% agreed that the workshop lectures covering 5-10 scholarly works (see Appendix C and D) “…were much more helpful than the PowerPoint Lectures,” while 48% responded negatively (with 24% neutral).[i] Second, 86% of the class positively affirmed that: “The PowerPoint lectures outlined the chapter content extremely well,” with only 5% negative response. Third, about 10% of the respondents agreed that: “The PowerPoint lectures were much less informative than the group work assignments,” while 67% responded negatively—suggesting that the PowerPoint lectures were more informative than the group work assignments (i.e. workshops). Finally, 62% of the respondents positively affirmed: “You should continue the 2 Group work assignments (i.e. public opinion and presidency analysis with group speeches) with future classes,” and only 19% responded negatively to the former statement.
This quasi-experiment was designed to help answer the hypothesis: Educators should teach / lecture Introduction to American Government with a demonstration of the depth within top-tier scholarly research. The initial results are positive. The data suggests that the students, overall, positively at 60%, said that the 3 Essays based on scholarly articles (see Appendix E), “helped me understand American government much more” than the 3 multiple choice Tests; while only 19% found the statement negative. Conversely, 62% of respondents think that I should use the workshops in future class, with only 19% disagreeing (Appendix B).
The evidence suggests that students prefer a multi-method approach to teaching and learning. It is clear that the PowerPoint lectures were important to student learning (i.e. not collaborative learning). Roughly 86% of the respondents were negative to the idea of replacing the 3 multiple choice Tests with 3 essays (assessment based on 6 essays). Approximately 81% of the responding students were negative to the idea that the graded essays should be at a 6 page minimum, and not the 3 pages as noted in the syllabus.
When students were asked: If the professor never gave the workshops (i.e. public opinion workshop), then I (the student) would know much less about political scientists as researchers in general; 38% provided a positive response, 38% remained neutral, and about 24% answered negatively. To the point, 24% of students agreed with the following statement: “The group work assignments on the “Presidency” and “Public Opinion” [i.e., read the one page summary, get in groups to write thesis statement and best quotes] should be expanded to cover 8 chapter topics (instead of the two).” About 30% were neutral. And, importantly, 46% responded negatively.
[i] This question had one unanswered.