Global Issues Research Practicum
Winter Quarter, 2018
By Kate Tennis
I have been teaching the Global Issues Research Practicum course at the Korbel School of International Studies for almost two years. The course has been successful, and students have usually (grudgingly) accepted that they benefit from learning research methods. However, they never took ownership of the methods, and I always had the feeling that they were only engaging with the material at a very surface level. Their final projects were research designs, but because most students had no intention of ever carrying out independent research, the designs were often profoundly uninspired.
For that reason, I overhauled the course in the Winter Quarter of 2019. Instead of having students produce a research design for their final project, I had them actually produce a very small piece of original research. And I asked them to work in groups to turn their research into a blog or a podcast that was shared on an ePortfolio page.
I wanted to make students accountable both to each other and to themselves for creating high-quality work. To encourage them to be accountable to each other, the entire quarter was organized around their final group projects. Students organized themselves into groups of 2-4 in week 3, at which point they committed to an overarching research question or theme that would unify all of the projects. They then broke off and did the original research independently. We practiced different methods in class, and I allowed them to choose from four different options for their final papers: quantitative analysis, case study analysis, quantitative content analysis, or qualitative textual analysis. Finally, after turning in their final research papers, they came back together to produce a more publicly-accessible presentation of their findings in the form of a blog, a podcast, or a video. To encourage students to be accountable also to themselves, these final projects were posted publicly on an ePortfolio page (though students had the option to opt-out if they didn’t want to share their work).
“The results were very impressive. Many students got really inspired about their projects and worked with me, the course TA, and each other throughout the quarter to produce really original and interesting research. And not only were their original projects much more inspired than their previous research designs, but they also really engaged with the final group projects. “
Many students got really inspired about their projects and worked with me, the course TA, and each other throughout the quarter to produce really original and interesting research. And not only were their original projects much more inspired than their previous research designs, but they also really engaged with the final group projects. Many students created high-quality blogs and podcasts that effectively addressed challenging questions in international relations. Many were posted to our course’s ePortfolio page.
I learned a lot from this experience. First of all, Heather Tobin at OTL helped me a lot with the design and launch of the ePortfolio page. Prior to this, I had never created a blog or webpage, so this was an exciting and empowering learning experience. I also learned that students were much more engaged when they were put in the “driver’s seat” of developing their own research rather than just imagining a hypothetical project.
Unfortunately, the entire project was a bit too extensive for a one-quarter course. With all of the work learning basic research methods, we almost ran out of time for the group blogs/podcasts, and I felt I wasn’t able to support them as much as I would have liked in this segment of the course—or to give them enough time to celebrate their work. But while I probably will have to let go of the group work portion of the course moving forward, I am definitely going to continue having them produce original research for their final project. And I will try to give them an audience for their hard work by organizing a poster presentation in the last week of class instead of posting their work online.
However, I also took my new knowledge of ePortfolio into my other course (Current Issues in Human Security) where students were already creating podcast final projects, and I created an ePortfolio page for this course as well. This was more successful as we had more space for the final segment of the project and for celebrating student work within the context of a short DU quarter.