Tips from the McMaster Community

Some of my students show little interest in, or commitment to, a major course assignment.
Will Coleman, Department of Political Science

The following exercise was an attempt to integrate personal learning objectives of students with the principal learning objectives of a course introducing students to statistics and research methods in Political Science (enrolment 85 students). About midway in the course, I reminded students what the six principal learning objectives of the course were. I then asked them to think a little bit more about those objectives and then to consider what they thought their own personal learning objectives might be in relation to the course objectives. I then asked them to write out for me a statement of what they personally wanted to focus upon most strongly in terms of their own learning.

After the students had handed in to me their personal statements, I undertook to design research projects for them that would emphasize learning in the areas most important to them. These projects were worth 25 percent of their final grade. For example, some students wished to gain practical experience in designing a questionnaire, administering it, and analyzing the results. So, I formed these students into groups, discussed with them some possible topic areas for the surveys, and then arranged for them to administer the surveys they designed in some classes. Other students wanted to improve their critical abilities in evaluating the presentation of statistical and polling information in the mass media. So, I designed a project for them that had them examine five different newspapers and magazines and evaluate and rank which presented polling information in the most open and informative ways.

It is always difficult to assess whether such an exercise is "successful." I did note that students were more committed and interested in the research project than in past years when I had simply provided a list of topics and asked them to do a computer analysis. And, performance on the final examination was better than normal. Perhaps students did a little better because they had become involved in projects that were directly related to their own learning objectives and that thus had a greater personal importance to them.

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