Earlier today, I finished up my second day at the 2013 American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference in Long Beach, CA. I’ve attended the APSA annual meetings for quite some time. However, this is my first year attending the Teaching & Learning Conference, which utilizes an incredibly refreshing “working group” model. Participants are assigned to “tracks” and stay with the same conference participants throughout the duration of the conference.
I was assigned to the “Integrating Technology into the Classroom” track, so most of the papers I’ve been hearing this weekend have centered on useful technology-based strategies in approaching classroom teaching. The working group model is great because we have a group of interested political scientists continually commenting and offering up a diversified perspective to the research presented within the track. While I do have the benefit of discussing this type of research with my colleagues, the Conference has opened my eyes to a number of different uses of classroom technologies.
I presented a collaborative paper where we examined the utilization of Facebook study groups in political science courses. It was great to hear about other people’s experiences with Facebook groups, albeit in very different contexts. As the most popular social networking site, I learned that instructors have used Facebook groups for incredibly different purposes: study groups, microblogging exercises, reading assignments, etc. Although I’ve been utilizing Facebook in the classroom for years, it has opened up my eyes to several new uses. It was also inspiring to see an enthusiasm for integrating the medium into courses.
Because of the number of papers presented, we’ve covered a great deal of topics in the last two days. One paper evaluated the use of iClickrs in engaging classroom students, another raised concerns about the health risks of wireless technology on college campuses, and we had two papers of excellent simulations: one on a legislative system using the computer game SimCity and the Supreme Court. This morning, we had our social media session and had several explain how social networks could be utilized for teaching political science. In addition to our contribution on Facebook, other papers talked about using Twitter and blogs for similar purposes.
Perhaps the most useful part of the weekend is the ability of the working group to identify several themes throughout the course of the conference. In exploring new technologies, we implicitly refer to similar themes in all of our papers. In the multiple mediums and strategies we discuss, we seem to be constantly referring to things like privacy concerns, appropriate research methodologies, engaging students both offline and online, concerns about evolving technologies, etc. One of the most useful parts of this conference is how powerfully motivating it is to re-open and examine these ideas. Too often we immerse ourselves with our own work and forget about these looming, but important issues. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with this community and hopefully plan to attend future meetings at the TLC.