September 26, 2016

Political science professor nationally recognized for teaching methods

Amanda Rosen’s method of teaching focuses on three things: reducing her students’ anxiety, tying her lessons to their lived experiences and taking an active approach in the classroom that goes beyond just lectures and discussion.

Rosen, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Webster University, recently received the CQ Press Award for Innovative Teaching from the American Political Science Association (APSA).

Rosen received the award for her use of games and simulations in her classes, particularly the Research Methods and Approaches in Political Science course, which is required for all political science majors. Rosen said the class, which focuses on statistics and applying the scientific method, can be intimidating for many students.

“They’re not used to having to incorporate scientific practice and study, and math,” Rosen said. “I try to think a little bit more holistically about what students are going to get out of that class.”

One major part of the class is the “Best Breakfast in Town” project.

In this part of the class, students learn about the challenges of defining terms in research by inventing their own criteria for the “best breakfast in town”, and then visit different restaurants to determine what it is.

“It’s a question that isn’t political at all, so students don’t come in feeling like they can’t do the project,” Rosen said.

Jesse Koons, a senior international relations and history major, works as Rosen’s research assistant and has taken several of her classes, including the Research Methods course.

“I think she expects a lot of her students, which is a refreshing change,” Koons said. “It was challenging, but worth it.”

When teaching complex political concepts, Rosen employs a method that has several steps.

First, students read about the topic on their own.

Then she lectures about it in class and gives them time to work through it on their own and practice in pairs.

After this, they have a homework assignment about the topic, and then a project. Only these last two steps are graded.

“This is not material that is easy to learn the first time you hear it,” Rosen said. “I don’t want the first time they practice it to be when they’re taking a test.

Rosen said she thinks her teaching methods help students understand that grasping these concepts is relevant to their own lives.

“Everything we do is somehow influenced by decisions and policies made by government,” Rosen said.

Koons said Rosen is skilled at both lecturing and involving the class through games and discussion, and is always available to her students.

“She really invests herself in her classes,” he said.

Gareth Anderson, a Webster alumnus who graduated in 2015, also enjoyed taking several classes with Rosen. He said her use of games and pop culture was helpful in understanding complex political concepts.

“She shaped the majority of my experience at Webster,” Anderson said. “She is a fantastic professor, and she really does deserve this award.”

Rosen, who uses a combination of lecturing and other methods of teaching in all of her classes, said that even professors at other universities with much larger classes than Webster’s can incorporate games and simulations into their teaching.

“College shouldn’t have to be a chore,” she said. “Material can be fun, learning can be fun.”

Rosen is currently on sabbatical and working on a number of different projects.

She is studying the impact of different teaching methods on political science students’ empathy and recently presented at an APSA conference in Portland, Ore.

She will return to teaching at Webster in the upcoming fall semester.

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