Government & Law
Bytes & Books, Spring 2018 (Volume 32, no. 1)

Q: What motivated you to apply for an IL grant for GOVT 332 Globalization & Security?

Govt 332: Globalization and Security is an upper-level elective course for Government and Law majors. It also fulfills the Global Conflict and Cooperation thematic concentration for International Affairs majors and serves as an elective course for Policy Studies majors, among others. I typically offer this course once a year, and recently redesigned its content and structure as a Writing [W] course. In its current state, the course contains four major graded assignments, two of which require skillful selection, evaluation, and use of information from both scholarly and media sources.

One of my primary goals for the IL grant application was to develop this course further as a writing-in-the-majors course that could better equip students with the tools to research and write independent term papers in upper-level political science (and social science) courses. With the grant, I wanted to devote more time to enhance some existing assignments, add a specific session on the significance of a literature review as a critical component of the research process, and encourage students to monitor their own progress and setbacks in conducting independent research projects. I also wanted to highlight IL consistently and systematically throughout the semester by introducing these enhanced research and writing assignments, with the help of an embedded librarian.

Q: You put strong emphasis on the use of evidence and the importance of situating research in existing debate in this course. Could you talk about why?

The literature review is a basic, but often daunting, task for students who may not have a lot of experience in writing independent research papers. I have found that too often, students make the mistake of simply summarizing different books or journal articles without understanding the important of the intellectual exercise of doing a literature review. I also wanted to encourage students to recognize the importance of citing evidence from multiple (and often contradictory) sources.

For this reason, at the very beginning of the semester, I started with a Literature Review assignment, which was an updated assignment that I crafted with the help of Research Librarian Lijuan Xu. We developed a library session, where she and I led a discussion of: (a) why it is important to situate our research in existing theoretical debates; and (b) how we might organize existing scholarship into foils or building blocks for our own arguments.

Q: What was the research project for this class?

 As a writing course, each student was required to complete a research paper (18-20 pages) due at the end of the semester. The research process occurred in stages, starting with a brief description of the proposed research topic within the first few weeks of class. After consulting with the instructor, students were asked to further develop their research and submit a fully developed research proposal, with a more specified research question, a paper outline, and an annotated bibliography (of 8-10 sources) by mid-semester. I then collected draft research papers and asked students to present their research-in-progress to the class. Students received peer and instructor feedback both during and after their presentations, which they were able to incorporate into the final version of the paper due at the end of the semester.

Q: The assignment handouts you gave include details such as whom students could turn to for research assistance and where they might look for sources. Why?

I have found that clear and detailed guidelines can effectively frame student behavior. For example, instead of giving generic advice such as “We have a wonderful library with amazing research librarians. You should go to the library and take advantage of it,” I found that detailed explanations of why it is important to speak to a research librarian, especially if we have an embedded or designated librarian, and what specific outcomes students can gain in terms of improving their research projects, can persuade students to actually follow through with face-to-face meetings with librarians. For example, I clearly state that students are expected not only to meet with the librarian, but also go over possible days and times with the librarian in class as well as our shared expectations from these meetings. I also have students follow up with meeting notes and a list of future tasks generated from that meeting with the librarian. These detailed instructions and concrete outcomes help signal the importance of putting together a source list with the help of a librarian.

Q: One of the four research workshops you incorporated in your class was on developing a good research question. What did the workshop entail?

 In Spring 2016, I piloted a new format whereby I embedded short “research workshops” throughout the semester that dealt with the nuts and bolts of conducting political science research: formulating good research questions; selecting and conducting case studies; and responding to peer reviews of research in progress. These workshops were very successful, as evident in the quality of student papers and student feedback at the end of the semester. Students have shared with me how much they appreciated learning the importance of starting with good research questions, citing evidence from multiple sources (and knowing where and how to acquire them from the library in the first place), and placing their research within an existing body of scholarship and/or debates. I have continued to rely on this format for Govt 332 since then and have been very pleased with the results.

Q: How did you prepare them for the final presentation and how did it go? Why eight minutes?

One of the first things that I do every year is to get buy-in from students on the importance of doing research presentations. In addition to providing clear guidelines about the format, I take time to speak to the importance of clear, coherent, and concise research presentations and the ability to explain to a room full of peers their research questions and objectives. I emphasize how this can be a useful skill for any situation beyond the classroom.

I insist on eight minutes for a couple of reasons. First, time constraints. With at least eighteen students in the class (usually more), we need to do brief presentations if we want to hear from each student within a reasonable time span. Eight to twelve minutes is also the typical allocation for a conference paper presentation at major conference venues for political scientists and international relation scholars (e.g., American Political Science Association, International Studies Association). In other words, I’m introducing to students some disciplinary conventions – how to think, write, and present like a political scientist/IR scholar. The Government and Law honors thesis proposal presentations follow a similar format of about 5-8 minutes.

Q: In your application, you specifically asked that a librarian embed in your course. Why? What were the advantages of collaborating with a librarian?

In my proposal, I noted my strong interest in working with an embedded research librarian in order to add a librarian-led workshop and librarian-guided assignment on writing literature reviews. This particular assignment requires the expertise and assistance of a research librarian, who would have knowledge of the students’ research topics and their progression in narrowing down their research questions as well as the scope of their research.

The IL Grant also allowed me to collaborate with a research librarian to help students effectively evaluate their own progress in becoming better informed and skilled users of information. Having an embedded librarian provided students with the opportunity to receive individualized feedback on not only the content and structure of their research paper, but also on evaluating the validity of their information source. My hope was that it would encourage students to become more proactive and informed users of the library (both physical and online) and understand the responsibility of entering a scholarly conversation. The value-added of having a designated research librarian for the course in the classroom was immeasurable. It allowed for a shared knowledge base among the students, faculty, and the librarian, given that Lijuan attended almost every class, as well as contributing to a sense of shared investment in the students’ progression throughout the semester.

Q: Would you continue to incorporate IL into future versions of this course or other courses?

 Absolutely. I will continue the enhanced research workshops I’ve already incorporated into Govt 332 and will work on other IL assignments to my other courses using what I’ve learned from this past semester working with Lijuan in Govt 332.

Q: What do you think professors and librarians could do to help students develop their critical thinking and IL skills?

I’ve had great success with the learning-by-doing approach—in other words, through hands-on assignments and projects that incorporate IL. Faculty can also signal the significance and value of IL via a number of means – library sessions, components of coursework, allotment of course time devoted to IL, etc.

Q: Do you have any advice for faculty who are interested in integrating IL into their classes?

I would suggest that faculty have ongoing conversations with a research librarian – before, during, and after the grant process. I think of pedagogy as opportunities for collaboration: learning successful techniques and building on other models. I myself am constantly engaged in discussions with my colleagues on and off campus about pedagogical tools and often borrow shamelessly from other successful teachers. In that sense, the IL grant allows for very focused and exciting collaboration. I was exposed to new ideas for structuring IL pedagogy, and Lijuan helped me decide what types of assignments would be most effective and appropriate for my particular course.