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Faculty: Reynolds, Hudson - Political Science: Active Learning Practices

This Faculty Profile contains information about Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. Political Science, Department of Social Science, Division of Arts & Sciences, University Campus, Saint Leo University

How to Read a Book

Flipping the Classroom

Flipping the Classroom

The concept of "flipping the classroom" requires that students bring basic information to class, generously share that information with other students, and work collegially in small groups to connect significant facts, define general ideas, and evaluate personal beliefs and opinions in the light of an increasing understanding.  It is therefore expected that each and every student will come prepared for class by researching the assigned topic, viewing relevant video clips, and reading the assigned texts beforehand. 

The task of the instructor is to orchestrate the class to insure (1) that each student is equitably provided with an opportunity to contribute, (2) that discussion concentrates on integrating the material supplied by the students, and (3) that higher level skills of critical thinking are brought into play.  In short, the course instructor acts as "a guide on the side" rather than "the sage on the stage".

Moreover, in a flipped classroom instruction in process takes precedent over delivery of content.  Transparency of purpose is paramount. Considerable time is given to thinking about how information is collected, sorted, evaluated, and usefully applied, so that the students leave the classroom carrying with them the necessary skills for lifelong learning.  Reflective assignments are de rigueur for the course.  Instructor feedback, both verbal and written, is continuous.  And periodic peer evaluations are implemented throughout.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D.

Annotating Internet Sources

Annotating Internet Sources

The purpose of making an annotated bibliography is two-fold:

1.  Taking a minute or two to compose an annotation causes you to reflect on the textual material that you have read with regard to whether the information may prove useful to your research in the future. 

2.  A well-composed annotation looked at several weeks later may loosen a mental log-jam and send you off in an entirely new research direction. 

A good annotation is pithy, consisting of only a few thoughtfully composed sentences. 

  • Topics & Evidence
    The first sentence outlines the contents, primarily the topics covered and the kinds of evidence presented. 
  • Message & Point of View
    The second sentence summarizes the author’s thesis, intention, and/or point of view. 
  • Relevance
    The third sentence expresses the possible importance of this material to you or your research.

An example of a properly annotated online article:

[Title, URL, Date]

This article compares modern democracy with ancient democracy.. The author believes that there are important differences between the government of the United States and that of ancient Athens: the most important being civic participation.  This article provides a wealth of information with regard to how the Athenian assembly actually functioned, quite useful for understanding the day to day performance of ancient democracy. .

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Evaluating Online Videos

Evaluating Online Video [such as video clips from YouTube]

Evaluating Internet video clips in terms of purpose, content, authority, currency, and accuracy can be a daunting task. To simplify this process, do the following:

  • Source       - Identify the source of the video.
    • Who created the video, and who posted it to the site? 
    • Is the author/creator an established expert in the field or merely a student doing a report for class?
  • Message     - Summarize the thesis or message in a single sentence or two.
  • Reliability   - Assess the Quality, Currency, and Accuracy of the information.
    • This is best discovered by comparing the information in the video with other sources, including standard online encyclopedias <like Wikipedia or> that provide similar information.
  • POV             - Give thought to the point-of-view or bias of the author.
    • Is the presentation blatantly one-sided?
    • Have important, well-known facts been ignored or suppressed?
    • Is the appeal primarily emotional or logical?
    • Is this part of an online sales pitch?

In time, as the process of evaluating video clips becomes habitual, the mental activity will become less time-consuming and far more rewarding.

TEXT: Consult the Berkeley Librarians' Guide to Evaluating Internet Sources

POWERPOINT: Take an Online Tutorial in Evaluating Internet Sources

An example of a properly annotated video source:

This is an audio accompanied slide presentation on evaluating Internet sources composed by the staff of the Western Oregon University library. It is aimed at instructing undergraduate students to be skeptical about information obtained over the Internet when doing academic research or making a personal decision. The information is not especially detailed; the audio accompaniment is annoyingly disjointed; but some of the tips on ascertaining reliability are useful.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Participating in Civic Discourse

Participating in Civic Discourse

Civic discourse requires that each participant bring something to the table. Without abundant and reliable information, conversation will be thin, unproductive, and boring!  Civic discourse also requires cultivated talent, especially in listening attentively to others. Attentive listening teaches one to parse an argument -- that is, to separate a line of reasoning into its constituent parts, distinguishing that which constitutes a valid presentation of fact from what is nothing more than a mere assertion of opinion.

Respect is the controlling core value of civic discourse. Each contributor to a discussion must be allotted adequate time to develop an idea and take a position in regard to that idea, without being discouraged by distracting signals or rude interruptions. On the other hand, repetition is not argument; and no one has the right to hold the floor indefinitely through filibuster.

Each participant in a discussion has an obligation to link what they have to say with the conversation that has gone before. This can be done very simply by summarizing the discussion up to that point, or echoing a previous discussant's contribution, or explaining the need to take up another topic, after demonstrating that the current topic has been exhausted. Each participant also has the obligation to invite others to join in the discussion, usually by suggesting where further inquiry needs to be made.

Towards the end of every discussion, someone must summarize the entire conversation, a task frequently committed to an official note-taker or to the discussion leader.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Contributing to Discussion Boards

Contributing to Discussion Boards

A simulation of civic discourse can be achieved using asynchronous discussion boards by posting comments to other students' work.  Care must be taken not to insult or denigrate the work of others, even in a joking manner. "Flaming" is an offense best kept to online gaming. A good comment is more than a thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoticon.  It usually begins by restating or echoing the relevant portion of the original post and then providing new, pertinent information before taking a position or stance, or even signifying approval. The best comments are generally those that link information so that any reader of the posting may follow the lead to supplementary source material.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Reflective Journaling

Reflective Journaling

Journal entries are not intended to serve as class notes, but as opportunities for students to reflect privately on what they have learned during class discussion, particularly from other students. A good journal entry focuses on a particular question raised in discussion and demonstrates the ability to actually hear and respond to what other students are saying, as opposed to simply regurgitating what the journalist thinks and feels. Good journaling carries the conversation beyond the walls of the classroom. Obviously, to be effective as a learning experience, journaling should be done shortly after the discussion, not at the end of the week, nor the end of the month for that matter. Freshness makes a difference.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D


Preparing for Debate

In preparing for a public debate, each side should organize information as follows:

  1. Define and outline the issue that is the subject of debate.  If the parties to a debate are not addressing the same fundamental issue, no debate can occur.  Also, if both sides are in agreement about how that issue should be resolved, there will be no real debate. A conversation, maybe, but no debate.
  2. Identify, list, and arrange in logical order the principal arguments that are to be presented.  Debates are conducted poorly when one side or the other keeps repeating arguments, particularly if they present those arguments as assertions free from supporting facts or data.  Arguments need to be carefully differentiated from one another, so that the audience can see when one argument has been completed and a new argument is being introduced.
  3. Each argument must have attending support in the form of factual information or reliable data.  The same facts or data should not be presented as support for multiple arguments.  Each set of facts and data should be connected to a separate argument.
  4. Each side needs to comment on the other's arguments in a way that weakens the opposing argument, mainly by presenting conflicting facts and contradicting data.  This means that each side needs to predict what the other side may say and prepare a counter-assertion.  It is never sufficient to shout down an opponent or repeatedly deny an opponent's arguments merely by asserting the contrary, without more.
  5. Each side must propose a clear resolution of the issue regarding what must be done, undertaken, or attempted. The audience must not be left in the dark with regard to the speaker's intentions.  A debate is a discussion, but a discussion that proposes a clear line of action.  This should always be the last thing mentioned by each set of speakers.


Conducting a Debate

An informative debate might be held as follows:

The PRO side:

[1] defines the issue,
[2] identifies their chief arguments and
[3] presents supporting facts and data for each argument. Then the PRO side
[4] speculates with regard to the chief argument the CON side might bring forward against them and dismisses it with counter facts and data.  Next, the PRO side
[5] clearly states their position with respect to the issue and calls for some immediate action.

Next, the CON side (being given a little more time):

[1] defines the issue,
[2] identifies their chief arguments and
[3] presents supporting facts and data for each. Then the CON side
[4] seizes upon one of the arguments made by the PRO side and refutes it using relevant facts and data.  Finally, the CON side
[5] proposes an alternative course of action.

The PRO side may then briefly (using the difference in time between the two statements):

[6] refute the facts and data used by the CON side to undermine the PRO sides argument.  Previous arguments that went unchallenged by the CON side are not restated but left to stand unanswered.

The debate ends and a vote is taken.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Preparing the Position Paper

Preparing the Position Paper

There are seven steps involved in preparing a position paper.

  1. Define and outline the nature of the problem.
  2. Identify the central issue to be addressed and resolved.
  3. State what you believe others, or your opponents, would propose.
  4. Set forth your most forceful arguments in a well-organized fashion.
  5. Supply any relevant information supporting your position, including sourced facts and organized mathematical data.
  6. Restate your conclusion as a solution to the central issue.
  7. Describe the probable outcome of applying your solution to the problem.

Preparing a position paper will help you (1) understand the often complex nature of public problems, (2) penetrate unfamiliar points-of-view, and (3) discipline your own thinking. When you are facing a personal crisis, or being compelled to make a tough decision regarding finances or social relationships, the act of preparing a position paper on that issue may well give you the insight you need.

Copyright © 2013 - Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D.

Writing the Formal Policy Paper

Writing the Formal Policy Paper

A policy paper consists of five parts:

  1. identification of the policy issue, including evidence of its importance, relevancy, and immediacy;
  2. a history of the actions taken or legislation dealing with the issue;
  3. the presentation of alternative solutions to the problem, either proposed by an identified authority or already in operation elsewhere;
  4. a weighing of the relative political, social, moral, and economic costs and benefits of these solutions, employing relevant data; and
  5. the selection of one alternative based upon the aforementioned criteria plus the transparent application of core values. 

In brief, a policy paper essentially formalizes the critical thinking process, underscores the core values in play, and requires the author to make a decision, even though the decision may not be acted upon.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

Composing the Thesis Abstract

Content of a Thesis Abstract and Order of Presentation

  1. The first part of the abstract should identify the topic and its importance.
  2. The second part should state the underlying and unifying thesis.
  3. The third part should present the methodology and introduce the main sources relied upon.
  4. The fourth part should indicate the order of the subtopics.
  5. The fifth part should mention any new or remarkable findings, such as those which run counter to widely held opinion or established experts.
  6. The sixth part should reiterate the importance of the research.

A Few Things to Avoid

  1. Don’t use the present tense; keep it all in the past.
  2. Don’t use the first person; third person is a must.
  3. Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms.
  4. Eliminate wordiness; don’t repeat sentences, phrases, or thoughts.
  5. Fix all errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  6. Drop all unnecessary information.
  7. Don’t introduce any information not provided in the complete work.
  8. Don’t extend the abstract to more than one paragraph or 50% of a page.

Copyright © 2013 -- Hudson Reynolds, Ph.D

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