Improving Student Engagement in Political Science Courses Through Application of Active Learning and Digital Learning Technologies

Improving Student Engagement in Political Science Courses Through Application of Active Learning and Digital Learning Technologies

Victor B. Eno (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9331-7.ch007

Abstract

This chapter explores the experiences and benefits gained from participation in Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Provost's Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) Fellowship. Participants were equipped with relevant tools for re-designing courses for increased student engagement and attainment of student learning outcomes. The program promoted expertise in retooling courses to promote student-centered learning by exposing students to digital learning tools that reflect current and emerging technology trends in higher education as well as best practices in implementation of active learning strategies. The focus was on application of technology and implementation of active learning practices in two political science courses: a research methods and general education course. These insights have improved the author's professional development competencies; importantly, the implementation of technology-based learning has resulted in improved student achievement as evidenced by summative and formative assessment measures, and the acquisition of research and analytical skills.
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Introduction

This chapter serves two purposes: In the first place it is a reflection on my experience as an inaugural Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) Fellow. The DLI Fellowship program was established by the Office of the Provost of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in 2017 in an effort to promote more student-centered learning by retooling existing courses to better reflect current and emerging technology trends in higher education.

Secondly, it sets out how my application of learning from the program to re-design and change teaching and delivery in two political science courses: POS 4703: Scope & Methods of Political Science and POS 2112: American State and Local Government. Scope and Methods of Political Science was the course I chose for re-design as a requirement of the Fellowship; however, in the course of the DLI training and following insights gained from a best-practice conference, I decided to incorporate new techniques and modalities into the American State and Local Government course.

A number of active-learning tools and strategies were introduced into the political science research methods course in efforts to re-design it. In the same breath, innovative digital learning tools were introduced into the American State and Local Government course. Students were not only exposed to but also assisted in the application of the tools in exercises and course projects.

The primary goal of course re-design and implementation of new technologies in teaching was the enhancement of student engagement with content material. The DLI Fellowship program provided valuable opportunity to learn about tools for improving student engagement with the course in general; and in particular, ways to assist students to gain mastery of content knowledge. In addition, new learning from the Fellowship workshops afforded opportunity to redirect my teaching toward achievement of student learning outcomes with regard to communication. This relates to assisting students to learn the language and registers of the political science discipline in a way that they can communicate ideas effectively while undertaking written assignments and research tasks.

As well, participation in the fellowship program has placed me in a better position to assist students to think critically and acquire critical thinking skills which they can utilize for career readiness and problem solving. In sum, the program has equipped me with relevant skills and preparation to contribute to the attainment of our university, college, and departmental-level student learning-based assessment goals of mastery of content knowledge, communication, and critical thinking (http://www.famu.edu/index.cfm?Assessment&ALCStatusReports).

The fellowship program featured an emphasis on pedagogy, meaning the ‘how’ of the teaching process. Student learning should not just be about content knowledge but also about how the content is delivered. This relates to teaching styles, modalities, the thinking that underpins teaching, and how it should be implemented; that is, teaching philosophy (Montell 2003). The program challenged me to do a re-think of my concept of teaching and my role as a teacher and facilitator of learning (National Research Council, 2000; Wilson, et al, 1987).

In other words, the program afforded me opportunity, for the first time, to formally develop a statement of teaching philosophy consistent with my aspirations and unique to my subject matter and teaching specialization. Through that experience I am able to place my teaching efforts within a particular context for the purpose of advancing pedagogy in my field of specialization. The context not only deals with issues of pedagogy but also the application of cutting edge digital, virtual, and active learning innovations to advance student grasp of content knowledge. These innovations enhance students’ acquisition of competencies and preparation for the work force and other professional pursuits.

In sum, the entire teaching and learning process can be seen within the context of the interlocking relationships among pedagogy, grasp of content knowledge, and the application of technologies for a better student learning experience. These concepts are encompassed in the TPACK framework. The TPACK framework underscores in some ways my aspirations and motivations for teaching and the quest to attain excellence in facilitating student learning and achievement. The TPACK model is highlighted briefly below.

Key Terms in this Chapter

TPACK: TPACK stands for technological pedagogical content knowledge. It is a theory that was developed to explain the set of knowledge that teachers need to teach their students a subject, teach effectively, and use technology.

Course Redesign: The intentional redesign of a course in terms of realigning course instruction and materials to student learning outcomes.

Summative Assessment: The process of evaluating student learning at the end of a learning cycle by comparing student performance to benchmarks and standards.

Formative Assessment: A range of formal and informal assessments used by instructors to evaluate student performance and make instructional adjustments as indicated.

Technology Application: Software programs that run on computers or smart devices.

American State and Local Government: The American government is a federal one in which authority and jurisdiction are divided among national, state, and local governments.

Student Learning Outcomes: Statements that specify what a student should be able to know and do at the end of a course or program.

Political Science Research Methods: Research methods promoting rigorous scientific approaches to the study of politics.

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