New Pedagogies in Graduate Program


THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE – REFLECTIONS ON A TEAM TAUGHT GRADUATE SEMINAR

In the Spring of 2016, Professors Alan Gibson and Jennifer Wilking co-taught a graduate seminar titled, “The American Constitution in Comparative Perspective.” The team teaching experience was funded by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, as well as the College of Behavioral and Social sciences. Professors Gibson, Wilking and two seminar participants, Robert Alvarez and Ginger Alonso, reflect on the benefits and challenges of a team taught graduate seminar.

This was a really exciting opportunity to be able to experiment with a new pedagogy, team teaching, and to be able to teach (and learn from) a colleague I admire very much. This course allowed us to combine our relative areas of expertise – mine in Comparative political institutions, and Alan’s in American Political Thought, to present students with a really comprehensive picture of U.S. institutions, why they were selected, and the alternatives to these institutional arrangements. This allowed us to have deep and informed discussions about how countries should select institutions, and whether the US should reform the constitution. In addition to the course material, team teaching the class allowed us to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, and professional and courteous scholarly debate and disagreement for our graduate students.

For my part, my teaching in all of my courses has benefited from the collaboration with Alan. While I have worked collaboratively on research projects, we often take for granted how many different decisions go into designing and teaching a class. Alan and I worked together to select the topics, readings, and assignments; we debriefed after every class on what was working, and what was not, and we met together to assess student grades. In discussing these issues with a respected colleague, I put much more thought into my choice, and have been more conscientious in my classes since. 

The experience also felt like a luxury -  allowing us both to be students as well as professors. Sometimes I would take the lead on the material, and vice versa. When Alan was presenting, I had the opportunity to go back to being a student. I learned so much from his perspective on the American foundation and institutional selection, and have been able to apply these ideas to my comparative classes.

~ Jennifer Wilking

I derived many benefits from my team teaching experience with Professor Wilking but three remain particularly salient in my mind. First, put concisely, I simply learned a tremendous amount from having the opportunity to hear my colleague lecture and engage students in conversations about issues and matters that I know far less about than her. My colleagues’ teaching was both substantively enriching and provocative. It provided me with a store of ideas that I will later draw upon. Second, team teaching gave me a mirror or perhaps a backdrop from which to see my teaching anew. Both Professor Wilking and I obviously wanted the best possible experience for our students. She was at once highly sympathetic to my teaching style and the content of the material that I taught, but also willing to talk about my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and offer constructive criticism. This provided the best of all worlds. So I guess here the lesson is team teach with the right person – an intelligent colleague on a shared mission who has your interests in mind. Third, I felt like the students got so much more from our combined efforts than they would have from either of us. Many of the students directly told me that the exchanges between Professor Wilking and I – our questions and comments for each other – were a highlight of the course for them. So in this case, one plus one became more than two.

~ Alan Gibson
 

Having the IR perspective while learning about the U.S. Constitution, and vice versa, was invaluable. The comparative aspect of the class really brought our discussions to life. Obviously, there were people who were more knowledgeable about one side or the other, so being able to bounce ideas off of one another allowed for some of the most fruitful dialogues I have been a part of at CSU Chico.

The greatest benefit of the dual professor format was the comprehensiveness. By this I mean how students came to class fully prepared to defend their positions because they expected to be pressed from different perspectives to offer evidence or examples from which they formed their opinions. This created the sort of intellectual climate every graduate seminar should strive for.

Trying to decipher what a professor is looking for in terms of writing style can take time. One challenge for me was trying to make sure I was adjusting my writing with each successive assignment to make the corrections suggested by both professors. Frankly, I was overthinking the whole grading situation because I had never experienced a classroom with dual professors, let alone professors with different focus areas.

I would recommend that in team taught classes, the two professors have different areas of expertise within the same discipline, as was the case with our class. I cannot stress enough how much having both the IR and American Government perspectives added to the depth of our seminar. Both professors Gibson and Wilking seemed to work cohesively. I think in a dual professor classroom, there is always the possibility that it can turn into a lecture class rather than a seminar so making sure you get professors that are willing to allow for significant amounts of dialogue is crucial to maintaining engagement.

Lastly, I’ll just add that it was a pleasure to be in class with the both Professors Gibson and Wilking, as well as that crop of students. It was easily among the most intellectually stimulating and participatory classes I’ve had thus far.

~Robert Alvarez

I was a student in a team taught graduate class last Spring. I ended up getting so much out of it because it was team taught. Two different instructor perspectives in class really brought out the expertise of both. This elevated the complexity of discussion and allowed for many connections. The result was a quality academic class where students had the benefit of twice as many instructional resources. This class was a new class and so it had the challenges of not being established. I would recommend the majority of the class meetings be co-taught rather than the instructors alternating every other lesson. In terms of format, discussion and participation were key to building on the diverse perspectives of instructors and students.

~ Ginger Alonso

Political Statements is the official newsletter of the Political Science Department at California State University, Chico.

With around 1,000 total majors, Political Science is one of the largest departments at Chico State. Students choose courses from a rich curriculum, providing close student-faculty contact in each of the following majors of study: general political science, legal studies, criminal justice, international relations, and public administration. The department also offers a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Arts in Political Science.

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