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Dr. Katherine Boothe, Political Science 2M03: Comparative Politics of Advanced Industrial Nations (approximately 75 students)

Dr. Boothe had students complete a short activity in most classes, and every other week students completed a longer activity.  The activities were mini-research tasks, which involved each group of students answering a discussion question, and then sharing their results with the rest of the class.  For example, each table might research the platform of a different political party.

She developed the activities by taking a MacPherson Institute active-learning orientation course, and also getting advice from colleagues at McMaster and other universities.  She found the main challenge was finding the time to implement the activities, as her classes were scheduled in 50 minute blocks.

The fairly simple activities did not take long to develop.  She found  that sometimes it look less time than if she were lecturing on the same topic, since she compiled suggested links and resources but asked students to explore them in their small groups.  In this course, students were generally enthusiastic participants.  She thought it was helpful that she asked them to sit at the same table each week, as they developed a sense of community and ease with one another.

Katherine did not change her methods of evaluation, as the course grade is still based on short essays completed outside of class, a midterm, and a final.   A portion of the participation grade was based on attendance in lecture.

In terms of advice for other instructors, she found that the relatively small adjustments she made to adapt her course to the active-learning classroom paid off in terms of student engagement.  She encourages instructors who are not ready to completely overhaul their course to start small – she was really encouraged by her “initial investment” in active-learning methods, and will be looking for ways to expand them the next time she teaches the course.