Jackson School of International Studies
University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Shrinking a large class with Catalyst Tools
Professor Joel Migdal has seen SIS 201: Introduction to International Political Economy grow from 200 to 300 students. In this popular course, Migdal and his teaching assistants, with the help of two Catalyst Tools, have worked hard to create a small-class environment for this large group of learners.
Small, active learning groups use Peer Review
Midgal envisions students who "think, talk, write, and work, and are not just passive recipients in the learning process " in this interdisciplinary course. To that end, he has broken down class sections into study groups of three or four students. Some of the groups have bonded so well, they continue to meet after the quarter has ended.
To actively engage students in learning, Migdal turned to the Catalyst Tools, refining their use over the years. Five weekly essays and a research paper are required. Each study group uses the Catalyst online collaboration tool Peer Review to post two drafts of their research papers for comment by others in their small study group. Focusing on a single country, they analyze political-economic events in their country that shed light on questions such as "how is the world structured?" and "how has it changed?" Part of their grade depends on their participation in reviewing and commenting on their group members' drafts through Peer Review.
With feedback through Peer Review, each member of the study group revises the first draft of his or her research paper, incorporating suggestions and criticisms, and posts a second draft for review not only by the study group members, but also by the teaching assistant. The students then submit the third and final draft resulting from those comments. "We check that group members make comments on Peer Review, so not only are they writers, they are thoughtful readers as well," explains Migdal.
Course Web site and readings
Key to making the course run smoothly is the handful of teaching assistants and the well-organized course Web site.
Students can go there to find requirements and assignments as well as links to articles, resources, and help with writing.
Students are required to read The New York Times every day and, as Migdal puts it, "to become intimately familiar with their atlas" since political and geographic sites are important in international relations. On top of the five weekly papers and three drafts of a research paper, students have about 1500 pages of reading, making it a "tough course" according to Migdal. That's where EPost comes in.
Sharing perspectives through EPostMigdal had been using class email, but found that students would accidentally send responses to the entire class. This prompted him to start using EPost, the Catalyst discussion board tool, which provided a way for students to read their classmates' different perspectives on the course readings, share events in the news that related to the course, and participate in class discussions. They also suggested readings and links to each other. In reviewing the EPost messages, Migdal says he is intrigued that the discussions often refer to obscure material and that he "can see minds at work, having opinions." With the appropriate structure and tools, Migdal has been able to provide a large class of students with active learning in what feels like a small group.
by Kay Pilcher
Computing & Communications
Please note: EPost has been replaced by GoPost, which offers expanded features to support online discussion and collaboration.
Peer Review is no longer available. Learn more about using other Catalyst Web Tools to accomplish similar tasks.