Article: “Five Tips for Using Multiple-Choice Tests to Bolster Learning”

Well, if this is correct, then I need to make the textbook questions easier. Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me. In my view, the purpose of multiple select questions is not to get students to use higher order thinking skills, but, rather to assure they are not getting an answer correct simply by process of elimination. Also, by making the questions difficult to answer by process of elimination, we are enabled to let them take multiple attempts at a quiz (for full credit) without putting too much pressure on them. If we let them take multiple attempts for full credit with easy quizzes, then they can pass easily without knowing anything. (Think, for example, of the student in an online section a few years ago who admitted he didn’t even read the Soomo Get the Gist questions; I suspected many students didn’t read the sections, but even I, cynical as I am, assumed they at least read the questions!) But if we give them only one or two attempts for full credit at an easy quiz, then we put more pressure on them. Personally, I like unlimited attempts at difficult-but-low-pressure quizzes. But I’m always open to following what the research says. I know students don’t like the difficult multiple select questions, and this research shows that students who make an earnest effort at answering correctly after reading a section will learn from missing the quizzes if they are relatively simple. Plus the easy quizzes are easier to write, so that’s another reason I wouldn’t mind following what this research seems to suggest. Any thoughts on this?

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread

Article: Why America urgently needs to improve K-12 civic education

And, don’t forget, some of our students will one day be K-12 educators, so if we can reach them in POLS 1101, we can have an impact on the students they someday teach. Furthermore, when K-12 education is not up to par, we need to step in and do our part in higher education, by providing quality civic educational experiences for our own students.

Link to article

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Gallows Humor from Another Time Nuclear War Feared to be Imminent

Current events highlight the need for teaching about the Cold War, the logic of nuclear deterrence, the nature of high-level diplomacy, arguments for and against disarmament, the continuing challenge of nuclear arms control, and simply the utter horror of these weapons of mass destruction. I have long thought Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, and The Day After  are useful films for teaching those topics. But I just heard this Tom Lehrer song for the first time, and think it could be great for teaching the fear that was felt during the height of the Cold War and the impact of the specter of nuclear war on attitudes toward war in general.

Bowdoin College’s Civic Education Videos: “Founding Principles”

“Narrated by Bowdoin College Government Professor Andrew Rudalevige, [Founding Principles] provides an introductory overview and basic understanding to American government, but one that is crucial to building citizen-leaders, promoting civic engagement, and working toward the common good.”  The Founding Principles website is located here.

Here’s a Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: American Governance in Theory and Action
  • Chapter 2: Federalism
  • Chapter 3: Congress

Continue reading

Organization Aims to Reinvigorate Civic Education

“The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools was created to expand and improve civic learning in our schools, K-12 and in Higher Education. The Campaign works with its 60+ coalition partners, the Campaign’s Steering Committee, to bring about changes in state, local, and national policy that promote civic learning and implement the recommendations in “Guardian of Democracy: the Civic Mission of Schools” report published by the Campaign in 2011, an update and expanded version of the Civic Mission of Schools report, published in 2003 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on civic Learning and Engagement ).”

Their website provides a lot of useful information for civic educators. Of particular interest to me is their list of “core competences” (broken into the categories of Civic Content Knowledge, Civic Skills: Intellectual, Civic Skills: Participatory, and Civic Dispositions); their endorsement of the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement’s call to action entitled A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Failure; their searchable repository of civic learning resources; and six recommended “proven practices, that, together, constitute well-rounded civic learning.”

Teaching the Principles of American Government with China’s “Charter 08”

News of the tragic death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo–who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in the writing of the democratic reform document called “Charter 08“–led me to read an English translation of that remarkable expression of yearning and advocacy for liberal democracy. Charter 08–publicly released in China on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on December 10, 2008)–begins by identifying “democracy and constitutional government” as “the fundamental framework for protecting” the “universal values” of “freedom, equality, and human rights.” It then goes on to advocate for the establishment in China of laws, practices, and institutions that have long been hallmarks of the American system of government and politics. Among other things, it advocates for rule of law and constitutionalism; the separation of powers (especially an independent judiciary); free and open elections; protections for the freedom of speech, Continue reading

How Not to Report on Social Science Research

The Seattle experiment with a very high minimum wage has presented a rare opportunity for economists to study the impact of large minimum wage increases. This, in turn, could potentially contribute to a better informed public debate over the costs and benefits of minimum wage increases. Unfortunately, a report today in the Hutchins Roundup (published by Brookings Institute) provides a glimpse into how the interaction between social scientific research and media reporting is likely to play out. Based on that glimpse, I would have to say the likelihood of that interaction resulting in a better informed citizenry is negligible.

It is important to keep in mind that Brookings is a think tank, and therefore is more likely to report on the social science in a responsible manner than is a typical news Continue reading

Sites for Exploring Government Through Data

I’m going to begin a post dedicated to curating sites that are aimed at facilitating learning about government through data and/or data-driven simulations.  I will update this as I find more sites. I’m aiming here at quality more than quantity. For starters, I know of only three:


Bright Line Watch – Monitoring American Democratic Health

Four political scientists — John Carey, Gretchen Helmke, Brendan Nyhan, and Susan Stokes–have started a group devoted to monitoring the health of American democracy. The group is called Bright Line Watch. The following is an excerpt from their Mission Statement …
“One of the greatest threats to democracy is the idea that it is unassailable.
The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign taught us not to assume that the country’s political leadership will follow the practices and norms that help guarantee American democracy. In the wake of a campaign in which candidates sometimes showed disrespect for an active, investigative press, demonized immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities, and failed to discourage grassroots political violence, we established Bright Line Watch. Our overarching goal is to use our scholarly expertise to monitor democratic practices and call attention to threats to American democracy.The danger to our democratic norms and institutions has not subsided since the election. It is thus more urgent than ever for scholars to remind leaders and the public how democracy works and to highlight the risks to our system of government. In this spirit, BLW brings together a core group of political scientists to monitor democratic practices, their resilience, and potential threats…”

Teaching ‘Public Goods’: A useful exercise

I think a good discussion / activity to go with Chapter 1 of my textbook is to have students come up with a list of “public goods” and then ask if they are truly, strictly speaking, non-excludable. You don’t want to confuse them, but it might be worth thinking about the concept more closely and, it the process, ingrain in them the understanding that the technical definition of “public goods” means less than by what people often say are public goods. For example, a lot of things that most agree are socially beneficial (e.g., parks or roads) actually are excludable and therefore not actually “public goods.” We just choose not to exclude because we want “public” (i.e., universal) access. But it is only because of this strict definition of “public goods” as non-excludable goods that we can say that providing public goods is someting that all governments purport to do. Not every government makes a priority of providing public parks or universal literacy. But all governments claim to provide non-excludable goods like “national defense” and “order.”

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Tip for first-day lectures: ‘Sell’ the class

After my first day of class yesterday, I remembered (too late) how important it is to “sell the class” to the students very early on the first day. I saved my “sales pitch” for the last part, whereas it would have been better, I think, to tell them why the class is the most important damn class they will ever take at the beginning. (I normally say this to all of my classes, so it can’t literally be true, but it helps, i think, to speak with that kind of conviction about why the class is something they should be excited about within the first ten minutes of class on the first day.)

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion thread

Disturbing American (and Global) Decline in Support for Democracy

Polyarchy, a political science blog now at, recently summarized data showing a disturbing decline in support for democracy in the United States and around the world. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans  to say that living in a democracy is “essential.” Americans overall (but particularly those who are among the top 15% of income earners) are increasingly likely to agree that Americans would be better off with “a strong leader” instead of “elections.” Americans, and democratic citizens throughout the world, have become more likely than in the past to say that “army rule” would be a good way to run the country. Clearly, education about the advantages of democracy, and the abundant disadvantages of nondemocratic alternatives, needs to become a top priority of civic educators.