Sample a Course: The European Union

Sample a Course: The European Union


>>Hello, my name is Eric Hines, and I am an
adjunct assistant professor of political science at The University of Montana.
I currently teach an online course on the European Union. The course takes
about 15 weeks, and I am going to briefly give you an overview of how the
course works if you were a student taking this course with me. When you first
log-on to the course shell, you are presented with a welcome screen that briefly
introduces myself as well as some of the overall goals of the class. There
is a list of the various sections of the course, which you can access in the
course menu: there is announcements, there is a link to the syllabus, which contains
the entire structure of the class. I will briefly turn to the learning
units more here in a second, which contains the main bulk of the course. Students
can access their grades and the feedback that I give them on their weekly
assignments through this link. I am not a student, so I cannot access it because
I do not have any feedback for myself. Students also can access discussion
boards, where some weeks the assignment is basically to engage in a discussion
with other students in the course. Later on in the semester, students
are assigned to small learning groups where they work together to try to
resolve a problem facing the European Union, and they work on a number
of collaborative assignments in that goal. There is also a link to contact me,
the professor, and get my phone number. I have a widget so you can call me
directly for free. I also leave my office hours and my policy in terms of getting
in touch with me. There is a link to tech support as well as credits to some
of the photos. Students engaging in group work also do some peer evaluations.
But the main bulk of the course happens here in the learning units. Each week
students engage with different readings with a different topic or subject,
and I will just walk you through an example of a learning unit, then I will walk
you through an example of a problem unit. The ultimate end of the course is to
engage in these problem units. Each unit begins with a brief list of the
learning outcomes and tasks, both for the overall course subject as listed in the
syllabus, as well as specific outcomes for the particular module that we’re
looking at. At the end is a list of the tasks, the specific concrete things
that the students have to achieve by the end of the week or two-week period—either
reading certain chapters of the textbook or looking at a mini-lecture
online or taking a quiz or writing a paper. Typically an issue will begin with
a problem, some issue or challenge that students need to understand if they want
to have a larger understanding of how the political system of the European Union
works. I will establish criteria for resolving that issue—what exactly it
is that helps us understand this particular problem, and offer a tentative
solution to the problem. And then I offer some basic guidance: what are the most
important things that the students need to cover, or if there is anything missing
from the textbook or the readings, or if something needs to be updated, these
kinds of things. At the end they will be assigned a particular chapter of the textbook.
Often there will be small quizzes where students will reinforce the
reading assignments and see if they are getting what the text is trying to
get across to them. They are ungraded, but they are a nice consistency check for
both the students and for myself—is there something that I assumed students understood
that perhaps they did not? Again, I often have very small mini-lectures,
which are about a topic that is not necessarily directly taken from the textbook,
as a way of engaging with the students. They are usually not too long,
and I try to have lots of pictures and often will have a link at the bottom to
additional resources that students might use to understand a particular topic,
if they are unsure about some issue. Eventually the primary assignment each week
is either a short paper, as in this case, or a short discussion where students
are responding to questions that I have posed to them on the material
that I have covered over the course of the week. Students write these short papers
or short discussions and I grade them and give them a sense of feedback, and
then I often attempt to bring up certain things that they are sort of missing
later on in the semester. Once students have undergone, or sort of gone through,
a number of these learning units, they have a basic understanding of
the basic foundations of how the EU functions. And then we turn to a more collaborative
and more sort of independently driven assignment where students
take on the role of trying to resolve actual problems facing the European
Union. Just like in the previous units, it begins with a list of the topics
that people are supposed to engage with, some of the outcomes and ultimately
the tasks that students have to preform each week. It begins by giving them
some background on a particular problem—in this case it is the issue of
whether or not the European Union is democratic—and then assign them a couple
of readings addressing that particular question. I then present them with
a scenario: in this case they are being asked to examine democratic legitimacy
for the new president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, and considering
his needs as this newly elected leader of the European Union, how
can he use his office to promote democratic legitimacy? In order to do so,
they have to understand both why there are questions about democratic legitimacy
in the European Union, applying all sorts of concepts and issues
we have addressed in the earlier learning units, but also come up with feasible,
actionable solutions to a real-world challenge. Eventually students
develop a problem statement, what they really think is the true issue of
democratic legitimacy in the EU and why it is a challenge, why it needs to
be addressed, and then they develop a solution and eventually write or submit
a memo to me, as a group, a memo that identifies how to solve the problem. And that
is essentially the course in a sort of a nutshell. The advantages of the
sort of feedback students have given me so far in other classes that I have taught
using a similar method is that this mode is challenging because it requires students
to sort of think from someone else’s perspective, but by doing that it sort of
challenges them to understand the sort of real-world implications of the information
that they are receiving, as well as to actually have concrete solutions to real-world
problems—a skill that they probably are not going to be applying to resolving
the EU’s problems, but they can apply to actual political problems in
other places or in their own personal lives.

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