My teaching philosophy emphasizes understanding rather than knowledge. I believe that students in an information age can quickly access any “facts” they may not know or may have forgotten, but will be unable to make sense of this information without an understanding of the underlying history, structure, or logic which provides the context for interpreting facts. I am also convinced that students retain course material far better when they have a personal involvement in the subject matter. I strive to create this personal involvement through exercises where students must apply what they have learned. While this philosophy inspires my overall approach to my courses, practical experience has shaped the details of each class. I continually change, and hopefully improve, each of the courses I regularly teach.
My most frequently taught undergraduate courses are European Politics (4068/4075); the European Community (4074); French and Francophone Politics (4076); and Research Methods in Political Science (4001). At the graduate level, I often teach Introduction to Quantitative Methods (7962); and Comparative Political Behavior (7975).
In the research methods courses, I emphasize the logic of research design and hypothesis testing, rather than the details of statistical formulae. The ability to calculate a correlation from a memorized formula is worthless if a student cannot explain the meaning of the resulting statistic. I assign a number of homework exercises, as well as an original research paper that afford students the opportunity to apply the statistics they have learned. It is in the application of methods to a practical problem of their choosing that they really come to understand the uses and misuses of quantitative methods. Over the years I have changed textbooks and homework assignments in order to find the optimal set of course materials, but the basic approach has remained the same.
In the undergraduate courses on Europe, I employ in-class simulations of political processes both to increase student interest in the material, and to develop an awareness of the intangible factors that influence political decision making. The course on national politics now uses a simulation of politics in a hypothetical multi-party United Kingdom. The focus on the Anglophone UK facilitates student research on current events and policy disputes. The fictitious proportional representation election system brings home the importance of electoral law, and creates opportunities for coalition formation and very intense negotiations. This exercise has grown from a manifesto writing assignment into a four class period project of manifesto writing, strategic calculation, inter-party negotiation, and coalition maintenance during two mock sessions of parliament. The course on the European Community generally involves two simulations. One covers the current institutions of the European Union (EU), with students acting out the roles of the Commission, the Council, and the European Parliament (EP). The second simulation is an Inter- Governmental Conference where students represent EU member nations, and renegotiate the treaties which under gird the EU. Often the students will deadlock on the same institutional questions which are preventing agreement in the actual European Union.