back to news Aug. 28, 2020

Department of Political Science embraces online learning with new masterclass

When the United States Naval War College’s Naunihal Singh made a Facebook post suggesting political science professors come together and lecture in each other’s classroom, no one could have predicted the end result — no one except Ohio State’s Bear Braumoeller and the University of Maryland’s Sarah Croco.

These two political scientists, wanting to make the most of the virtual learning necessitated by COVID-19, put their heads together to provide students with a unique and high-quality educational experience during the pandemic.

“Faculty were worried that parents would have the same reaction to online classes that they have for online newspapers — that it’s not what they’re used to and that it’s worth less,” Braumoeller said. “We wanted to show people that an online class can actually be better.”

“Topics of International Relations,” as it is referred to at Ohio State, is a political science masterclass co-taught by professors at 15 colleges and universities across the country. With Braumoeller and Croco moderating discussion each week, students welcome a different lecturer into the virtual classroom. Students are able to learn about a wide array of international relations topics from experts in the field. Pre-recorded lectures are online prior to each weekly discussion and students have the opportunity to from world-renowned political science professors virtually, then log into weekly Zoom rooms to have discussions with them based on the week’s lecture and assigned readings.

“I found the structure of this class very appealing because it's essentially a combination of these professors' most researched topics,” said fourth-year political science major Destiny Brown. “When professors are passionate about a particular topic, their energy makes the class more exciting. An entire semester of lecturers who are passionate will keep me engaged.”

At Ohio State, the course has been so popular the department raised the enrollment cap four times.

Braumoeller is no stranger to online learning. Under his direction, the Department of Political Science offers students the opportunity to study data analysis and learn the programming language R through a blended education model.

Originally having taught the data visualization course as a traditional lecture, Braumoeller found that students struggled to grasp the complex topics covered during the lectures and in turn had difficulty completing their assignments.

Rather than continuing with this traditional method of education, Braumoeller decided to “flip” the classroom structure. Now, students listen to videotaped lectures at home and attend recitations where they can complete the class projects and assignments under the direction of a professor or teaching assistant who can answer their questions.

“Some things lend themselves better to online learning,” Braumoeller said. “For my data analysis course, I think this format is brilliant.”

Some of this model can be seen in the department’s new one-time-only political science superclass through which students will learn from Harvard University’s Alastair Iain Johnston, Columbia University’s Page Fortna and the Naval War College’s Singh, among others. 

Still, Braumoeller said even though he’s more familiar with teaching online, he’s still constantly learning how to optimize his courses for this mode of delivery.

“One thing I found out last semester is it’s impossible to predict what my students are going through; some have jobs, care commitments, connectivity issues,” Braumoeller said. “Just the fact that I posted high and low bandwidth lectures for my students went a long way. I thought I was being paranoid, but students wrote in saying they appreciated those options. You just never know what students are dealing with.”

That intentionality when it comes to online learning has not been lost on students.

“I chose to enroll in this course because it was built from the ground up for distance learning, a creative move that I'm glad the department was proactive in taking amid the pandemic,” senior and political science major Eyako Heh said. “I'm looking forward to the class and learning from prominent political scientists from across the country. Hopefully other courses follow suit and opt to prioritize student wellness and success.”

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