People of SU / Society / Justice and Law

A New Approach

Written by Mike Thee

November 20, 2017

tulip magnolia blossoms in front of Garrand

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A political science instructor shares lessons he learned from teaching his first fully online course.

Political Science Instructor Patrick Schoettmer ventured into the unknown when he taught “People, Power and Politics” this summer. While the subject matter was familiar, the mode of delivery was new to Schoettmer—it was the first time he offered a course fully online. 

At a recent faculty showcase presentation hosted by the Center for Digital Learning and Innovation (CDLI), Schoettmer shared his approach to the course and some of the lessons he learned teaching the undergraduate Core class. 

“Building a sense of community is the thing I struggled with most during the summer,” he shared. Which is understandable, given that the 14 students taking the course were physically separated—with one of them connecting from Cuba.

Schoettmer (right) touched on other dynamics unique to online learning. For instance, “Saturdays seemed to be a better day for the students to (engage with the course).” So he adapted the syllabus in order to “break out of the Monday-to-Friday box.” 

The presentation had a thinking-aloud feel to it as Schoettmer and colleagues in CDLI and the School of New and Continuing Studies (NCS) together conceived ways to encourage more dialogue and interaction among students in fully online or hybrid courses. 

That’s precisely what CDLI does: it works with SU faculty on developing strategies for incorporating technology into online, hybrid and web-facilitated courses. 

As he reflected on lessons from the summer, Schoettmer also shared some of the philosophies and techniques he uses in all his pedagogy. He talked about getting students to consider “Why people have different points of view” and “What’s the source of conflict?” 

In a video introduction he shared with students at the beginning of the summer course, for instance, Schoettmer appeared with an American flag in the background and offered a prayer, even invoking the Trinity (“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”) and using language that veered from Evangelical to progressive. The purpose of these mixed signals, he said, was to make students of multiple worldviews and ideological persuasions feel comfortable sharing their convictions while at the same time encouraging them to analyze and question the very same. 

Later in the course, Schoettmer showed the class a series of photos of people at political protests and asked them to share their perceptions of the subjects in order to “explore the underlying functions that were playing out” in their psyches. 

The exercise was consistent with much of Schoettmer’s teaching and scholarship on political behavior. “Most people don’t make (political) decisions rationally, but rather emotionally,” he said. “And then they use rational reasons to justify their decisions.” 

And whether he’s teaching a traditional or online course, Schoettmer always makes a point of urging them to do this: register to vote and be civically engaged.

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