Cleveland Teaching Collaborative

Teaching International Politics During a Global Pandemic: Creating an Enriching Online Experience

Course: PSC 231 International Politics

Department: Political Science

Institution: Cleveland State University

Instructor: Lana Mobydeen

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: 29 students

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Blackboard Collaborate (Synchronous and Asynchronous), Blackboard, PowerPoints, Blackboard Discussion Boards

Author Bio: Professor Lana Mobydeen is currently a PhD candidate at Kent State University. She also holds a Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland Marshall College of Law. Her current focus areas are transnational and comparative politics and conflict analysis and conflict management. Her current research primarily focuses on comparative immigration policy and political development. She recently published a book review of Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention in Peace Review.

Teaching International Politics During a Global Pandemic: Creating an Enriching Online Experience

Introduction

Teaching a university course in an online environment is a daunting task. Throw in a global pandemic and you have a formidable task with many lessons. Spring Semester 2020 for many university students will be synonymous with the word COVID-19. University educators, including myself, learned many lessons while teaching online during this pandemic. This case study of my International Politics course will show the lessons that I learned as an educator. Through the use of a combination of synchronous learning, recorded sessions, and discussion boards this course was brought to life in an online setting.

Background

Normally, my face-to-face International Politics course is multifaceted. It is based upon interesting discussions and lectures, textbook and scholarly readings, media clips, group exercises, and case studies to bring the theoretical components to life. We often discuss theories in international relations and apply those theories to our course through group activities such as exploring debt crises, regional conflict, sustainable development, and crisis decision making. Transferring this experience to an online format was an interesting and thought-provoking challenge; and one that turned out to be successful.

Right after spring break at Cleveland State University the faculty was asked to convert our courses into a remote environment. We had a week to prepare ourselves for this challenging and exciting task. Since I previously taught online courses, I understood the level of detail and patience that would be required in this type of environment. However, technology changed since I last taught online and I was prepared to accept the challenge.

I took the week that we were assigned to change our courses to an online format to organize my remote course structure. My goal was to make the course feel and appear as close to the classroom experience as possible. I also participated in a workshop titled “Blackboard Collaborate for Synchronous Sessions” given by the Center for Faculty Excellence. In addition, I spent a long time on the phone with the Center for E-Learning making sure that the transition went as smooth as possible and ironing out any issues. In the Political Science Department, the faculty was in touch via email and Zoom to brainstorm ideas about the rest of the semester. This support from the university and my department as well as countless hours on the internet exploring options for online course formats greatly helped me.

Decision-making Process

There were many factors going into my decision on which platform to use. I considered the information put out by the university, my colleagues, student feedback, and my ability to proficiently use the platform.

When we first found out about the closing of campus we received information from the university regarding a variety of possible methods of instruction such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Livescribe, Voicethread, and Blackboard Collaborate. I looked into a few of these options and decided that the best option for me was Blackboard Collaborate. I chose this route for a few reasons. First, because my students were already familiar with Blackboard as the learning management system for Cleveland State University. Second, before we transitioned to online instruction, I used Blackboard to communicate through mass emails and post information about assignments and past PowerPoint lectures. I figured it would be the best and easiest option for my students. I did not want them to have to learn a new platform especially during this challenging time. Once I decided to use Blackboard Collaborate, I sent a 12-question survey via Microsoft Forms to my students regarding their internet access, preference for live or pre-recorded lectures, availability, and opinion on discussion boards. I received responses from 23 out of the 29 students enrolled with examples of some of the responses included (Figures 1- 3). Luckily, all of the students who responded had reliable internet access and reliable devices (either phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop) to use for the course (Figure 1). To ensure that those that did not respond also had access to proper equipment, I sent email messages to all the students to reach out to me if they did not have any access to internet or computer equipment.

Components of the Course

Blackboard Collaborate-live and pre-recorded sessions: Based upon the responses (some are presented below) I decided the best options for my course. By the survey results, 18 of the 23 students that responded preferred to have pre-recorded lectures (Figure 2). However, I did notice that 5 students that responded wanted to have live sessions. I decided to do live sessions and record them for students that wished to view them later. This would allow the best of both worlds for students. Whoever wanted live instruction could join via Blackboard Collaborate during our normal course time and those who could not join could view the recordings at their own pace. I did not require attendance for live sessions. I made them optional because of the impact that the pandemic had on students who might have been sick, caring for others, working, or had other issues. Before our change to online instruction, my course met on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:20 am-12:10 pm. I held my live Blackboard Collaborate course sessions during our normal scheduled course time on Monday and Wednesday and allowed Friday to be for completion of a mandatory weekly discussion board. For the Blackboard Collaborate sessions, I used a combination of PowerPoint lectures and online media to illustrate specific topics. I posted all the PowerPoint lectures that corresponded to the Blackboard Collaborate sessions on Blackboard as well. I also conducted a final examination review session on Blackboard Collaborate and posted study guides for the quiz and final examination on Blackboard. This allowed the students to have access to the written materials that were discussed in the lecture as well as a recording of lectures and access to live lectures. I incorporated the case studies that we would have done in groups during class into my lectures so that the students had both the theoretical and practical applications of the material. I feel that this method of instruction covered all different types of learners, schedules, and life circumstances and remained in line with the preferences that the students expressed in the survey.

Figure 1. Student responses regarding internet connection from PSC 231 course survey
Figure 2. Student responses regarding lesson preference from PSC 231 course survey

Discussion Boards: Based upon the survey responses shown below I found that 11 out of the 23 students that responded preferred to have discussion boards and 10 out of the 23 students that responded wanted to have a combination of both Blackboard Collaborate and discussion boards (Figure 3). In lieu of Friday’s session the students were required to have a response to the weekly discussion board due by 11:59 pm. This was mandatory and counted for their weekly attendance/participation grade for the course since live sessions were not counted for attendance.

Figure 3. Student responses regarding Blackboard/Blackboard Collaborate from PSC 231 course survey

Content of Discussion Boards: The discussion boards that were required each week and graded for attendance included a media clip or news article and a question or questions for each student to respond to. I read through each of the students’ responses and would reply to each one. A couple of the discussion board questions that I posted are set forth below (Figures 4-5). When it seemed practical and helpful, I referred to the role of international politics in the current pandemic. Thus, the students could see how this pandemic also impacts international politics in a global sense. The student responses to the discussion boards were very thoughtful, insightful, and engaging. These discussion boards also allowed the students to explore the course material in a practical sense.

Figure 4. Example of weekly discussion board on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Figure 5. Example of weekly discussion board on International Trade and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping in Touch

In order to keep in touch with students I had a variety of different methods. First, I announced that I could respond to questions after the live weekly sessions through online office hours in Blackboard Collaborate. Second, I downloaded the Burner app to my phone from the App Store and shared the phone number with the students so that they could reach me or leave me a voicemail. Finally, I encouraged students to contact me via email or through Blackboard. In addition, I posted announcements on Blackboard that also contained graphics which were visually appealing and gave some idea of the contents of the announcements (Figure 6). The most utilized method of connection by students was through email. But having many options through online office hours, phone, email, and Blackboard gave students the flexibility to choose which method they preferred.

Figure 6. Example of Announcement

Student Feedback

I received some great emails from students about the course and the remote environment:

*Reprinted with student permission

*Hello Professor Mobydeen! … I just wanted to thank you for such an amazing semester! You truly made me fall in love with Political Science and I’m thinking of minoring in it too! Thank you for making the remote experience not as difficult, especially with everything that is going on. I hope you have a great summer! Thank you once again 🙂

*Hello Professor,

Thank you for being a great teacher this semester. It was a very weird one with this entire online learning situation. Your online lectures helped keep the ball rolling and continue my education. I had to take this class to fulfill my general education requirements, being a Civil Engineering student. Yet I truly did enjoy this class, I am very interested in politics and this class gave me a strong base of knowledge that I hope to grow upon. The discussions we had in class really got us all thinking and I loved that aspect. I hope you have a great summer and stay safe.

Final Thoughts

This was a challenging time for students, faculty, administrators, and universities across the world. However, it was also a time for great learning and an even better time to teach lessons about the world. International Politics was especially relevant during this turbulent time and was a great vehicle to teach about this pandemic as well as world issues. I faced many challenges including a learning curve and many hours of trying to make things very clear and accessible. However, through the support of the university, my department, my colleagues, and my students the final product was successful, and I learned quite a lot. 

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