Presidency Workshop / Cooperative Learning in Mass Lecture Halls

Teaching in Mass Lecture Halls w/ Cooperative Learning

I specifically seek to understand if scholarly literature as a supplement to the textbook creates more learning than simply lecturing from the textbook. Indeed, as Phelps (1994) relates; “thematic supplementary print materials motivate students to explore content in a manner that not only builds and extends textbook concepts but also provides grist for writing about them” (p. 110).

The basic design of the cooperative learning projects is (e.g., public opinion workshop, presidency workshop):

Part I: Distribute handouts. Students read the one page summary and then write down answers to the questions: (1) in two-three sentences, what is the author’s main point—contribution to [public opinion] research? (2) What is the best quote from your reading? Why? (10 Minutes).

Part II: Find your group members—others in class who also read and wrote on same summary. Do a 1 minute interview: name, major, place on campus to go eat… Group talk about your answers (5 Minutes). Group discussion about “Why this research is meaningful” and create an integrated “Best Answer” for questions 1 and 2 (5 Minutes).

Part III: Group Names announced and each group spokesperson addresses the center of the room and explains: (1) the main point of the summary and (2) the best quote. After the student speaks, the teacher connects the student’s comments with the textbook, with wider theories and explanations of subject matter (e.g., public opinion). The teacher wisely leads the lecture / debate from one group to the next in order to lecture effectively (20-25 Minutes).[i] This is an alternative to PowerPoint.

An American philosopher wrote more than a century ago said, “Civics is often taught as if it were a descriptive subject, ignoring the fact that laws and constitutions, like everything else in this living world, are in a constant process of change” (Bourne 1902, p. 95). Indeed, I argue that learning the main contributions of salient literature will help students see how political scientists measure many aspects of the political; and that change is often envisaged in their research—alongside the data which provides evidence of political reality and understanding.

For example, in Part III of the Presidency Workshop, I began with Group 1 (The Rhetorical Presidency by Tulis) and [students first] explained that only Presidents after T. Roosevelt and W. Wilson initiated policy views with the American public—and that it was practically anti-American to do so before these presidents. Next, students commented on Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership by Neustadt, and explained that presidential leadership is about persuasion and persuasion is based on bargaining. Then I called on Group 5 (Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership by Samuel Kernell), and [students and I] explained how T. Roosevelt argued for the Hepburn Act (Tulis) and that Presidents may bargain with the Congress by “going public,” which was inconceivable before T. Roosevelt (Tulis). I follow this with Group 8 (On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit, by Edwards), whereby going public may not work at all! Thus, students understand The Presidency by understanding the change and debates in the professional literature. And, I hypothesize, students gain a better understanding of what political scientists do as researchers because of this workshop.
Works in Workshop:

1. The Rhetorical Presidency:  Jeffrey K Tulis. Review by: Richard A. Brody, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 103, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-577.

2. Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership:  By Richard E. Neustadt. Review by: Lucius Wilmerding, Jr.  Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), pp. 597-599.

3. The Presidency and the Politics of Racial Inequality: Nation-Keeping from 1831-1965. Riley, Russell L. 1999.  Review by: Philip Abbott Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 574, The Supreme Court’s Federalism: Real or Imagined? (Mar., 2001), pp. 222-223.

4. The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush Stephen Skowronek, Review by: Barbara Kellerman, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2, Eisenhower and Governance (Spring, 1994), pp. 420-421.

5. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership:  Samuel Kernell. Review by: Robert A. Vitas, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, Leadership, Management and Organization (FALL 1986), pp. 775-777.

6.  The Presidency and the Political System: Michael Nelson.[partial] Review by: Gerald De Maio. Presidential  Studies Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4, Perspectives on the Presidency (Fall, 1985), pp. 836-839.

7. The President’s Agenda:  Paul C. Light. Review by: John F. Manley Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 98, No. 2 (Summer, 1983), pp. 312-313.

 8. On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit: George C. Edwards, III. [abridged] Review by: Jeffrey K. Tulis Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Dec., 2004), pp. 838-839.



4 thoughts on “Presidency Workshop / Cooperative Learning in Mass Lecture Halls

  1. John, I appreiate you actually teaching political science in a political science class. As counter intutive as this sounds, we both know it does not happen as often as it should. Especially in an introduction course! I know well-known professors teaching junior/senior level classes who simply do not teach political science in their courses. They claim its too hard, the students don’t care about it, and they won’t get anything out of it. My reply is, then why did they sign up for a political science class? They obviously have some interests (maybe not so much in an introductionary course which is likely to required but anything beyond that) because after all they did sign up for it! And I do not care if the students will think the work is hard! Too often we set the bar too low. If our students do not think the course is hard, they will not push themselves and they will never become better students or develop better skills (writing, analyical, reasonings).

    As a younger generation of scholars, we can change this!


  2. My approach is to teach the students advanced statistics in the first week or two so they can hope to understand the material. Usually after this, all the students drop the class and I have the semester off.

  3. lol. Here is an Edgeworth Box, which is how we shall begin to examine potential Pareto-optimal solutions in the midst of partisan disequilibrium-in light of bilateral monopoly…. NEXT.

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