Active learning is simply the idea that students learn a great deal more through actively participating in the classroom experience. This means going from what one person calls being a "desk potato" --simply sitting and recording highlights of a professor's lecture -- to becoming involved through asking questions, role playing, debating, and engaging in analysis. Cases and case learning help facilitate active learning through providing the raw materials of International Political Economy and then leaving the rest to classes. One of the main ideas behind cases, then, is to leave the analysis, explanation and argument to the students and professor.
We will treat cases somewhat differently that other reading assignments. In the very first instance, I ask that students make an extra effort to attend class that day, but also to attend having gone over the reading with extra care. Often two or three readings are required in order to get a good feel for the case.
One strategy is to quickly read the case the first time to get a general sense of the main ideas and issues that are raised. A second, more careful reading is useful for digesting key facts, the chronology of events, debates among policy makers, etc. A third reading is recommended shortly before class to be assured of details. Taking notes (not just highlighting) while reading the case is also strongly encouraged. Finally, I'll provide you with study questions ahead of time that will serve as the initial basis for discussion in class sessions. Those sessions, however, may take us in several different directions. In many ways it's up to you.
Rules for Case Days:
- Come to class on time and be ready to discuss the case
- Do not participate in class if you have not read the case
- Engage in argument by referring to evidence available to all participants in class, and treat classmates with every respect
While cases involve a bit more preparation, they offer a nice break from regular class sessions. More important, they're fun. We often debate why policy makers take one action and not another--often, in fact, you are put in the position of decision makers: Faced with imperfect information, many choices, and uncertain outcomes, you must choose a course of action. In sum, cases provide an enjoyable and useful learning experience but require preparation and participation.
One final note: The idea of active learning is not confined to case days. We all get bored with lectures (including me!), but moving from a lecture format to one of active discussion by a wide range of participants requires you taking the initiative. I'll expect that you will come to all classes prepared and ready to go. Done correctly, your reward will be more interesting class sessions and an enhanced learning experience.