Active Teaching and Learning: The State of the Literature
Summary and Keywords
The literature on active teaching and learning in international studies has developed significantly in recent decades. The philosophy behind active teaching approaches focuses on the goal of empowering students and promoting knowledge retention through engagement and experiential learning. Teacher-scholars in many different disciplines have contributed to a wide and increasingly deep literature on teaching with purpose. They identify best practices, including the importance of designing exercises that have clear educational objectives, exploring examples and alternative ways of engaging students, detailing clear procedures, and implementing assessment protocols. Examples of popular and successful active teaching and learning approaches include teaching with case studies and problem-based learning in international studies, where students confront the complexities of an issue or puzzle, and reason through potential solutions. Other instructors employ structured debates in the classroom, where students are assigned common reading materials and then develop arguments on one side or another of the debate in order to critically examine issues. More teachers are engaging students through use of alternative texts like literature and films, where reading historical narratives, memoirs, or even graphic novels may help capture student interest and promote critical thinking and reflection. In addition, simulations and games remain very popular—from simple in-class game theory exercises to semester-long role-playing simulations of international diplomacy. Studies show that all of these approaches, when implemented with clear educational objectives and intentionality, can promote student learning, interest, and retention of knowledge and perspectives. Finally, teacher-scholars have begun to embrace the importance of assessment and thoughtful reflection on the effectiveness of active teaching and learning techniques for the international studies classroom. Evidence regarding the achievement of learning outcomes, or potential limitations, can help inform improvements in experiential learning program design for future iterations.
This article surveys the rich literature on active teaching and learning in international studies and celebrates the spirit of innovation in the classroom. Active learning involves teaching with purpose, engaging students with exciting challenges, issues, problems or puzzles, and careful assessment of learning outcomes. Ideas about innovative pedagogies have been shared more frequently in recent decades through a wider variety of outlets, including academic journals and books, panels and exhibitions at professional conferences, and blogs and social media. This has helped to foster a dynamic and expanding community of pedagogical innovation in international studies.
This article proceeds as follows: first, it highlights the value of teaching with purpose through active engagement of instructors and students in the discovery process of learning. Next, four exciting dimensions of active teaching and learning in the early 21st century are surveyed, including: (a) innovations in teaching with case studies, problems, and debates; (b) the value of alternative texts in both written and visual form; (c) simulations, games, and role-playing exercises for the international studies classroom; and (d) engagement beyond the classroom. The article also examines the role of assessment and thoughtful reflection on the effectiveness of active teaching and learning techniques in the international studies classroom.
Teaching With Purpose
Active teaching and learning employs instructional techniques designed for meaningful student engagement in the discovery of knowledge. The approach has a long history, from Socrates to John Dewey (1938) to modern applications of Benjamin Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy in the classroom. Innovative teacher-scholars consciously select goals and methods for teaching that reflect a sense of purpose (Hutchings, Huber, & Ciccone, 2011). They are committed to collaboration with other instructors and their own students, to enliven the educational environment and achieve educational objectives. Moreover, these teacher-scholars are always experimenting—teaching students about classical perspectives on strategy by playing interactive online strategy games, providing valuable lessons about cross-cultural communication and understanding through service projects in the local community, teaching diplomacy and international negotiations through role-playing simulations, or leading critical interpretations of television series.
There are four critical dimensions for successful active teaching and learning in international studies today. These four dimensions reflect best practices for effective student engagement and can be identified in the scholarship of teaching and learning. First, teaching with purpose means pursuing specific educational objectives and employing creative approaches to achieve them. Instructors approach the enterprise with intentionality, devising new assignments or practicing innovative pedagogy to help students reach learning goals. Some are motivated in this effort by the pursuit of virtue through education and empowerment (Mårtensson, Roxå, & Olsson, 2011; McKinney, 2007). Some use these approaches to test hypotheses or foster new research questions (Bain, 2004; Filene, 2005). Other teacher-scholars consciously consider both the process and product of instruction to promote a deeper understanding of the concepts being taught (Chandler & Adams, 1997; Fox & Ronkowski, 1997; Kolb, 1984), allow students to make conceptual linkages between theory and real-world examples (Lamy, 2000; Shulman, 1997), and increase retention of knowledge (Brock & Cameron, 1999; Jensen, 1998).
A second important dimension of innovative pedagogy is that teacher-scholars survey creative examples or options for teaching and learning. This includes identification and exploration of new means of instruction—seizing a teaching moment or harnessing new technologies for broader objectives. For example, in the 1990s, published studies began to explore the utility of the Internet for international studies classes, such as detailing how basic e-mail and listserv-based discussions could supplement classroom dialogue and reflection (Hall, 1993; Kuzma, 1998). Today’s online university classes and interactive online simulations of global politics reflect a bold leap in instruction that has been embraced and advanced by a new generation of teacher-scholars in international studies (Raymond, 2014). Overcoming traditional boundaries of the learning space has changed what it means to be innovative teachers and learners (Cogburn & Levinson, 2003).
Third, best practices in active teaching and learning means clear articulation of procedures or rules for any interactive approach in the international studies classroom. At the heart of many published works on innovative pedagogy are detailed discussions of guidelines that help provide clear boundaries for student engagement, as well as help instructors to effectively employ these methods in the classroom. For simulations and games, for example, instructors commonly develop rules that guide players’ moves or options. In service-learning projects, conscientious instructors are mindful of both the possibilities for experiential learning and the reasonable limits of engagement. When using alternative texts to stimulate classroom discussion, teacher-scholars help guide students through critical linkages between theories and case material. Ideally, procedures are transparent and clearly understood by the participants, and the scholarship on teaching and learning naturally emphasizes these dimensions.
A fourth critical dimension of innovative pedagogy is assessment. This reflects a commitment to critical reflection on achieving learning objectives through a cyclical learning process. This approach recognizes the value of interactive teaching and learning. As Smith (1991, p. 215) argued, “true education must involve response. If there is no dialogue, written or spoken, there can be no genuine education. The student must be lured out of their passivity.” More holistic, student-centered approaches have been designed to generate learning, develop critical thinking skills, and elicit the discovery and construction of knowledge. Assessment highlights the reflective responses necessary for interactive learning. For example, studies have demonstrated ways that active teaching and learning can promote critical thinking skills, as well as deeper understandings of and engagement with content (Bok, 2006; Freeman et al., 2014) compared to traditional means of instruction (Tayyeb, 2013; Yuan, Williams, & Fan, 2008).
In summary, best practices in active teaching and learning require a systematic approach to innovative pedagogy: (a) identifying educational objectives and establishing goals for teaching innovations; (b) surveying different examples or the range of applications; (c) clearly articulating procedures or rules; and (d) assessing the success of the approach relative to objectives. This framework, termed EEPA, offers a guide for both innovations in the classroom and effective publications or dissemination of one’s ideas. Active teacher-scholars strive to incorporate and balance consideration of these critical dimensions of pedagogy. In the sections that follow, this framework is employed in the examination of the various schools of literature in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and these themes are then returned to in the conclusion of the chapter.
Dimensions of Active Teaching and Learning
This section explores best practices across four areas of the active teaching and learning literature. First, it examines innovations in teaching with case studies, ‘problems’, and debates. This approach highlights the value of connecting students to real-world challenges through assignments that promote engagement and critical thinking. Second, the value of ‘alternative texts’ for instruction is detailed, exploring the wide range of materials and circumstances that can produce exciting innovations in teaching and learning. Third, this section explores the progress in the development of simulations, games, and role-play exercises for the international studies classroom. Fourth, it addresses the value of engagement beyond the classroom and links these to best practices in the discipline.
Engaging Issues: Teaching With Cases, “Problems,” Debates
Real-world developments and controversial issues present many opportunities for teaching and learning. Issue-based learning can create educational spaces for students to grapple with complex real-world challenges. This has proven very effective in fostering critical thinking and cooperative learning (Colbeck, Campbell, & Bjorklund, 2000; Floyd, Harrington, & Santiago, 2009). Instructors can identify common events, challenges, or so-called teaching moments that give students a chance to confront important issues and analyze or synthesize the information in creative ways (Hermann, 2013; Machemer & Crawford, 2007). Three variants of issue-based learning are discussed: case studies, problem-based learning, and structured debates.
First, the use of case studies in the international relations classroom is a popular active teaching practice. Lynn (1999, p. 3) described a teaching case as, “a story, describing or based on actual events and circumstances, that is told with a definite teaching purpose in mind and that rewards careful study and analysis.” Educational objectives include case-based content learning and the development of critical thinking and communication skills (Lamy, 2007). This approach has a long history, dating back to case studies developed for legal training in the 19th century and later for business and medical school educational programs (Krain, 2010). The value of this instructional strategy is in requiring “students to engage in problem-solving . . . [allowing them] to develop skills and knowledge transferrable to similar future scenarios” (Addy et al., 2018, p. 2). Contemporary instruction with case studies typically entails using stories or narratives to recount realistic events or problems, while intentionally leaving key themes open to interpretation (Cusimano, 2000; Erskine, 2006; Odell, 2001).
There are many examples of teaching case studies. Kunselman and Johnson (2004) suggested that cases can range from simple narratives to more detailed reports of a real-world problem or situation. Case studies are often designed for the student to evaluate, conceptualize, discuss, apply, and solidify concepts and theories learned in class. Traditionally, these are thought of as formal written cases developed by academics for the purpose of class exploration of challenges or dilemmas in international relations. As Golich (2000, p. 12) noted, cases can “illustrate issues and factors that affect political decision making; reveal realistic complexities and tensions; underscore prevailing disciplinary assumptions and principles; and capture the rationale behind theoretical frameworks.” Case narratives are developed as a foundation for critical exploration of decision-making processes, and they typically appear in one of two key formats: first-person (decision forcing) and historical (retrospective) (Christensen, Garvin, & Sweet, 1991; Duch, Groh, & Allen, 2001). Addy et al. (2018) also suggest that “serious games” can be treated as case studies, especially those designed for educational purposes.
Best practices in the application of the case method highlight the EEPA framework. For example, educational objectives should drive explorations and critical analysis of case studies. Case studies offer stimulating exercises in critical thinking that derive from student debate and discussion (Marks, 2008). Nkhoma, Sriratanaviriyakul, and Quang (2017) argued that case studies can greatly enrich student learning and the achievement of learning outcomes. They conducted a controlled experiment and found that interactions with peers during case discussions yield more emotional engagement, more intensive group interaction, and higher individual learning performance. Cooperative learning in case analysis aids in generating new ideas or creative solutions and increases student understanding of alternative perspectives (Machemer & Crawford, 2007).
A second variation of issue-based learning is problem-based learning (PBL). Savery (2006, p. 12) described PBL as “a student-centered approach that empowers learners to conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem.” PBL is an inherently interdisciplinary approach to education that can promote engagement and creative thinking (Majeski & Stover, 2005). Instructors advance particular problems or puzzles for students to try to solve through creative exploration (Stentoft, 2017). According to Barrett and Moore (2011), PBL often includes framing complex, real-world problems at the center of the learning process, fostering an atmosphere of student-centered engagement with the issues, while also promoting critical thinking and group problem solving, or teamwork. In many cases, instructors play roles as facilitators of the process, not generators of substantive knowledge. Stentoft (2017) argued that this approach helps students to achieve educational objectives and develop cognitive and metacognitive skills. Krain (2010) showed how problem-based learning, and the introduction of puzzles or challenges, can promote collaboration and deeper understandings of key concepts.
A third variant of issue-based teaching involves constructing a structured debate around a controversial issue in international affairs, which also encourages critical thinking (Omelicheva, 2006, 2007; Oros, 2007). Teacher-scholars have adapted a wide range of issues or challenges to develop structured debates and analytical exercises, and studies suggest the value of these debate formats in enhancing critical thinking and engagement (Budesheim & Lundquist, 1999; Hess, 2004; Walker & Warhurst, 2000). Examples of issues that can generate successful debates in international studies classes include the advent of autonomous weapons (killer robots) (Horowitz, 2016), the investigation of ethical dilemmas in foreign policy, like humanitarian intervention (Lantis, 2004), and economic development solutions (Fischer, 2009).
Building on educational objectives, instructors should consider the wide range of accessible materials available for issue-based teaching. For example, hundreds of formal case studies have been published for application in the international relations classroom, such as the Pew Case Studies Series sponsored by Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Additional outlets for these materials include edited case volumes (Beasley, Kaarbo, Lantis, & Snarr, 2012; Carter, 2014) and electronic archives, such as Columbia International Affairs Online [CIAO] and the National Security Archives project . The development of rich case materials on international affairs also has diffused globally. For instance, the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development (FASID) has established a Case Library series that incorporates different international perspectives (Mingst & Mori, 1997; Mori, 2008).
Best practices in active teaching and learning also encourage careful articulation of procedure (Boehrer & Linsky, 1990). Teaching case studies often involves significant time investment for class preparation and a certain measure of confidence that the case discussion and analysis will be successful. Instructors assign common materials for consideration by students and sometimes require students to complete study questions on readings in advance. Procedures for effective issue-based teaching include case-teaching mentoring, guiding the class through a set of questions designed to describe, investigate, and analyze issues. Experts emphasize that instructors need to have clear procedures in place in advance and must be fully engaged in the process, since paying “simultaneous attention to process (the flow of activities that make up a discussion) and content (the material discussed) requires emotional as well as intellectual engagement” (Christensen et al., 1991, p. 159). Structured debates often involve dividing students into groups or “sides” and directing them to develop arguments in support of their position. Problem-based learning invites cooperative engagement, discussion of the challenge or puzzle, and informed investigation of alternative outcomes or solutions.
Finally, while the literature on issue-based teaching is broad, there are fewer systematic efforts to assess the impact of case studies and structured debates. Critical reflection on ways that issue-based learning can help students to better understand the complexities and ambiguities of world politics and, through a collaborative enterprise, engage the issue from competing perspectives. For example, case studies promote active learning; the application of case studies helps students to understand complex and complicated issues, as well as to parse descriptions of interrelated processes. This approach can be beneficial to teachers and instructors, helping them to rethink their approach to teaching, renewing instructors' interest in course material, and creating a higher level of enthusiasm that can be projected from teachers to students (Kunselman & Johnson, 2004). Instructors often follow up with analytical exercises including essays or research papers to help students process lessons and insights (Golich, 2000). The literature demonstrates that active student engagement in the international studies classroom can help achieve powerful educational results (Hoag, Brickley, & Cawley, 2001; Masoner, 1988; Olorunnisola, Ramasubramanian, Russill, & Dumas, 2004; Shulman, 1990; Svinicki, Hagan, & Meyer, 1996).
Teaching With Alternative Texts
Another dimension of active teaching and learning focuses on the use of alternative texts, or source material that can be drawn upon to support teaching beyond standard case studies, textbooks or other readings (Glover & Tagliarana, 2013). Such material frequently taps into the power of popular culture to connect students to subjects in the classroom (Sachleben, 2014; Stump, 2013; Van Belle, 2018). Teacher-scholars have explored theories and concepts in international studies through science fiction (Allen & Vaughn, 2016; Dixit, 2012; Dyson, 2015; Fey, Poppe, & Rauch, 2016), fantasy (Deets, 2009; Nexon & Neumann, 2006; Ruane & James, 2008), superheroes (Costello & Worcester, 2014; O’Roark & Grant, 2018), and the supernatural (Blanton, 2013; Buus, 2009; Morrissette, 2013). They have applied lessons from studying these fictional realms to real world politics.
Educational objectives associated with the use of alternative texts include enhancing the teaching of theory and ambiguous concepts and improving understanding of global issues. Furthermore, they can help students build knowledge of historical and cultural dynamics; learn about actors, institutions, and processes in international relations; and enhance critical thinking and communication skills. Alternative forms of reading texts include news articles and editorials (Cusimano, 2000), novels (Dreyer, 2015; Lang & Lang, 1998; Morgan, 2006; Vachris & Bohanon, 2012), memoirs (Deibel, 2002), and cartoons and comics of different forms (Dougherty, 2002; Juneau & Sucharov, 2010; Worcester, 2017).
Alternative texts also can encompass the use of visual and audio media, such as film and video (Haney, 2000; Corrigan, 2014; Franklin, 2017), television shows (Beavers, 2002), music (Soper, 2010; Levy & Bird, 2011; Hawn, 2013), video games (Hayden, 2017), dance (Rösch, 2018), plays (Ciliotta-Rubery, 2008), and art making (Alexander, 2018). Among these, film and video are some of the most widely used alternative texts for teaching international relations (Gregg, 1998, 1999; Gibney, 2013; Giglio, 2014; Cooley & Pennock, 2015). Given the evidence from educational research on the effectiveness of multi-sensory approaches to teaching and learning, film and video are well-suited to the active teaching and learning classroom. Indeed, proponents argue that films often provide a deeper understanding of world politics—a visual expression of important themes for a new generation of students, and even a common bond or language for discussion of the issues within a visual (and often emotional) context (Kuzma & Haney, 2001; Lantis, 2013). A wide variety of television programs also can be used to teach and explore political concepts, including genres like comedy, dramas, soap operas, and reality shows (Beavers, 2011; Davison, 2006; Dreyer, 2011; Foy, 2008; Kille, Krain, & Lantis, 2008; Salter, 2014). Many of these are now more accessible for classroom use through a variety of online streaming methods but, of course, must be selected and used carefully (Andrist, Chepp, Dean, & Miller, 2014). Critical analysis of films and television as alternative texts can themselves be supplemented by interpretations published in other alternative texts, such as blogs, podcasts, and social media (Wells, 2018).
The use of alternative texts is a rich and diverse dimension of active teaching and learning materials that can be employed to achieve educational goals. While some published works on these approaches reflect only conceptually, there has been progress in addressing procedures for connecting these alternative texts more directly to curricular needs. The literature also will benefit from careful assessment of whether, and how well, the use of alternative texts achieves particular pedagogical goals, and this area of the scholarship of teaching and learning is likely to continue to expand.
Simulations, Role-Play, and Games
Simulations are a popular active learning approach in the international studies classroom (Brynen & Milante, 2013; Dahlgren, Fewnwick, & Hopwood, 2016; Glasgow, 2014; Usherwood, 2015; Wheeler, 2006). Educational objectives include deepening conceptual understandings of a particular phenomenon, institutions, or socio-political processes by using student interaction to bring abstract concepts to life. Students are placed in a structured environment where they act out a given political situation, and simulations often create memorable experiential learning events that tap into multiple senses and emotions by utilizing visual and verbal stimuli.
The literature on simulations has greatly evolved and expanded over time, from early works on Harold Guetzkow’s Inter-Nation Simulation in the 1950s to contemporary studies of online interactive exercises (Saiya, 2016). Exercises have been developed to be employed across a range of timing, from only one class meeting (Meibauer & Nøhr, 2018) to across an entire semester (DiCicco, 2014). Simulations address fictional scenarios (de Jong & Warmelink, 2017), as well as real world cases (Langfield, 2016). Alternatively, simulations may be designed to take place outside of the classroom in local, national, or international competitions (Taylor, 2013). Some of the most popular simulations in and outside of the classroom are model international organizations, in particular for the United Nations (e.g., Chasek, 2005; Engel, Pallas, & Lambert, 2017; Matzner & Herrenbrück, 2017; Obendorf & Randerson, 2013; Ripley, Carter, & Grove, 2009) and the European Union (e.g., Brunazzo & Settembri, 2015; Elias, 2014; Evans, Tse, & Baker, 2016; Kröger, 2018). However, simulations address many different realms of international relations, ranging from decision making (Butcher, 2012; Stodden, 2012) and conflict resolution (Kempston & Thomas, 2014; Powers & Kirkpatrick, 2013) to regional trade (Kerevel, Hultquist, & Edwards, 2017; Switky & Aviles, 2007) and international relations theory (Mendenhall & Tutuji, 2018; Sears, 2018). Along with traditional in-person simulations, technological advances allow instructors to design and run computerized exercises or subscribe to existing simulations (Cuhadar & Kampf, 2014; Nishikawa & Jaeger, 2011).
Given their prevalence, the applications and procedures for simulations are well detailed in the active teaching and learning literature. Experts recommend a set of core considerations that should be taken into account when designing effective simulations (Asal & Blake, 2006; Asal & Kratoville, 2013; Bartels, McCown, & Wilkie, 2013; Boyer & Smith, 2015; Glazier, 2011; Kollars & Rosen, 2016). These include building the simulation design around specific educational objectives, carefully selecting the situation or topic to be addressed, establishing the needed roles to be played by both students and instructor, providing clear rules, specific instructions and background material, and having debriefing and assessment plans in place in advance. There are also a number of simulation designs published whose procedures can be adopted (or adapted for use) depending upon an instructor’s educational objectives (e.g., Enterline & Jepsen, 2009; Kille, 2002; Lantis, 1998; Shaw, 2004; Tessman, 2007). At the same time, there remains debate about the proper ways to employ simulations (Carvalho, 2014; Hartley & McGaughey, 2018; Keller, 2014).
Teacher-scholars are increasingly devoting attention to the assessment of simulations (e.g., Biziouras, 2013; Giovanello, Kirk, & Kromer, 2013; Jones & Bursens, 2015; Krain & Lantis, 2006; Pettenger, West, & Young, 2014; Raymond, 2010; Shellman & Turan, 2006). They have found that these methods are particularly effective in bridging the gap between academic knowledge and everyday life. Debriefing discussions represent an essential element of the design, giving students and instructors an opportunity to reflect on the role that participants played, the negotiation strategies employed, and the lessons learned. That said, further development of rigorous assessments of simulations is needed (Baranowski & Weir, 2015; Raymond & Usherwood, 2013).
Like simulations, role-play exercises place students within a structured environment and ask them to take on a specific role. Role-plays differ from simulations in that, rather than having their actions prescribed by a set of well-defined preferences or objectives, role-plays provide more leeway for students to think about how they might act when placed in the position of their slightly less well-defined persona (Sutcliffe, 2002). Role-play allows students to create their own interpretation of the roles because of role-play’s less goal-oriented focus. The primary aim of the role-play is to dramatize for the students the relative positions of the actors involved and/or the challenges facing them (Andrianoff & Levine, 2002). This dramatization can be very simple (such as role-playing a two-person conversation) or complex (such as role-playing numerous actors interconnected within a network). How real the scenario seems, and its proximity to student experiences, is also flexible. Some examples of effective role-play exercises with clear procedures for use in the international studies classroom include Krain and Shadle (2006), Williams (2006), and Belloni (2008).
Games represent a slightly different active teaching and learning approach for the international studies classroom. Van Ments (1989, p. 14) argued that games are structured systems of competitive play, with specifically defined endpoints or solutions that incorporate the material to be learned. They are similar to simulations, but often more abstracted, and they contain specific structures or rules that dictate what it means to win the simulated interactions. Games place the participants in positions to make choices that affect outcomes but, unlike simulations or role-play, do not usually require that they take on the persona of a real-world actor.
In the early 21st century, international relations teacher-scholars have documented the use of off-the-shelf games (Asal, 2005; Kollars & Rosen, 2017), adapted games (Darr & Cohen, 2016; Lee & Shirkey, 2017), custom-built board games (Hoy, 2018), short game-like exercises (Asal, 2005; Orsini, 2018), or computer games (de Zamaróczy, 2017) to achieve their educational objectives. Such games have been very useful for demonstrating how rules, norms, institutions, and context shape decision making and outcomes, as well as for making complex theoretical concepts accessible. For example, Darr and Cohen (2016) reported that playing an adaptation of Monopoly to teach how international institutions and rules affect who benefits and who loses in market liberalization increased student interest in, and understanding of, key concepts about the global political economy. Games can also help achieve other key educational objectives, such as teaching empathy with historical or contemporary actors because they “allow students to experience structural constraints and social norms first hand” (Hoy, 2018, p. 127). Games that allow negotiation, collaboration, or group play can encourage peer collaboration, group learning, and problem-solving (Crocco, Offenholley, & Hernandez, 2016; Gressick & Langston, 2017; Kollars & Rosen, 2017). However, as with all types of active teaching and learning, games are only effective in achieving educational objectives when designed with those educational objectives in mind, with clear rules and procedures to guide instructors and students through the experiential exercise, and with a structured debriefing or reflective assessment component (Asal, 2005; Hoy, 2018; Orsini, 2018).
Engagement Beyond the Classroom
Many teaching and learning techniques engage students in active and reflective educational experiences that extend beyond the traditional classroom. Study-abroad programs are perhaps the most widely used method to enable students to move beyond their own experiences and engage with the world around them. The literature on study-abroad programs is too extensive to summarize here, though, like the rest of the active teaching and learning literature, it also emphasizes the need for intentionality in identifying educational objectives, selecting appropriate options, implementing clear procedures of best practice, and the need for ongoing structured reflection, debriefing, and assessment to yield academic success (Lantis & DuPlaga, 2010; Plaza, 2016).
Alternatively, to enable students to interact with others around the world without leaving their home classroom, some international relations teacher-scholars have established virtual learning communities, while others have used interactive videoconferencing. By overcoming traditional boundaries of the learning space, programs for learning across distances can enhance the international studies classroom experience. These programs bring students in contact and collaboration with peers, experts, and issues from around the world, closing the gap in distance, access, and knowledge (Cogburn & Levinson, 2003; Martin, 2007; Zeiser, Fuchs, & Engelkamp, 2013).
Still others connect students directly to the wider community via service learning. Service learning is experiential learning designed to provide a needed service to the community while allowing students to learn and apply course concepts in the real world. Educators have long recognized the educational benefits of service learning. Beginning with John Dewey (1938), a range of academics have pointed out that the most effective way to teach concepts is through active learning strategies involving real-world application (McIlrath & MacLabhrainn, 2007; Robinson, 2000). Service learning allows students to move beyond textbook examples and participate in actual cases. As Krain and Nurse noted:
immersing themselves in a real-world environment helps them to see the complexity of situations faced by the people with whom they interact. Acting within their own community while learning about broader and less proximate issues helps students see the relevance of [these] issues globally and locally, in theory and in practice.
(Krain & Nurse, 2004, p. 193)
Ultimately, coursework is informed by student action, and action is informed by, and occurs within the context of, the academic study of relevant topics. Educational objectives must be carefully interwoven into the learning process set out in the course (Eyler & Giles, 1999).
In comparison to previous areas discussed, there are fewer published examples of the service-learning method applied to teaching international relations, although those examples do tend to have clearer descriptions of both the procedures employed and any key design problems to avoid (Hondagneu-Sotelo & Raskoff, 1994). Most of these examples are course-embedded, though recent work has also examined alternative break service-learning experiences (Niehaus et al., 2017). The range of course-embedded examples include service projects used to teach about immigration and global citizenship (Dallinger, 2017; Patterson, 2000), international environmental issues (Quirk, 2003), human rights (Krain & Nurse, 2004), transnational justice (Cabrera & Anastasi, 2008), movements for social change (Mitchell & Coll, 2017), and business strategy problem solving for charitable non-governmental organizations (Gerholz, Liszt, & Klingsieck, 2018). However, the development of additional service-learning approaches to teaching and learning about international relations concepts and issues is a growth area for this part of the field.
The service-learning literature has generally provided careful assessment of this pedagogical technique and its ability to achieve educational objectives. Contemporary studies have found that service learning helps students enhance conceptual and theoretical learning and understand the relationship between theory and practice, factual learning, cognitive skill development, values education, and the tolerance and appreciation of diversity (Dallinger, 2017; Smith, 2006). Students also gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter and develop the skills necessary to transfer that knowledge to new, often complex and uncertain, situations (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Niehaus et al., 2017). Moreover, students can actively apply their new knowledge while developing social awareness, a sense of social responsibility and personal efficacy, citizenship and community engagement skills, and a greater likelihood of volunteerism later in life (Gerholz et al., 2018; Hondagneu-Sotelo & Raskoff, 1994; Smith, 2006). Thus, when employed systematically as part of the international studies curriculum, service learning can help students develop enduring global civic identities and enhance educational experiences while providing needed services to communities.
Best Practices in Active Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century
This chapter has described developments in the literature on active teaching and learning in international studies. The review undertaken suggests that there has been a significant evolution of the literature, including promising activity in many areas. Teacher-scholars are devoting greater attention to pedagogy and more academic journal articles and books are detailing the value of active teaching and learning methods in international studies. Less clear, however, is the degree to which the literature has contributed to the cumulation of knowledge in the discipline and a truly international perspective on teaching and learning.
One of the most promising avenues for advancing the scholarship on teaching and learning in international studies for the 21st century is to take this literature truly international. That is, work should intentionally seek out and promote a more global viewpoint while encouraging cross-national engagement and understanding of active teaching and learning across different areas. This advancement is not only promising, it is necessary to counter a Western/Northern-centric bias in the literature, and to help move this part of the field toward a truly global international relations (Acharya, 2014). The international studies discipline will benefit from examination of different teaching contexts across the globe (e.g., Ferreira, 2016; John, 2018; Tan, 2017), consideration of the impact of students transitioning from one teaching context to another (Hammersley-Fletcher & Hanley, 2016), and teaching dimensions of cross-cultural competence (Raymond, Tawa, Tonini, & Goma, 2018). To date, efforts to evaluate the utility of exercises that cut across different national and cultural contexts have been limited (Inoue & Krain, 2014; Pettenger et al., 2014; Shaw, 2016), even though many of the international relations courses analyze similar phenomena.
Exploring cross-cultural active teaching and learning dimensions will also promote understanding of how different student learning styles, expectations, perceptions of the learning experience, and levels of comfort with interactive learning may be recognized. This could help open pathways in the scholarship of teaching and learning for approaching cultural context with intentionality and awareness, along with promoting cross-cultural sensitivity and diverse viewpoints (Krain, Kille, & Lantis, 2015). Teacher-scholars from different backgrounds could better engage with central questions, such as what teaching approaches have been employed, why these approaches are being used, how well these are working, and what advantages and challenges does this evaluation reveal for the various uses of active teaching methods in different situations.
A more systematic and intentional approach to the development of scholarship on teaching and learning is also recommended. A comprehensive framework that includes educational objectives, examples and range of applications, procedures and rules, and assessment and debriefing (EEPA) will help promote standardization of best practices for the field. Some of the most compelling work on active teaching and learning emphasizes that linking approaches to specific educational objectives is a vital first step in the process. Along with clear objectives, teacher-scholars should consider the range of options or examples for application. Teacher-scholars should be familiar with the scholarship on active teaching and learning and should recognize innovations as potential value-added experiences for their classrooms. Again, it is important to consider examples from educational advances in different countries to promote a more comprehensive approach to active teaching and learning. Instructors everywhere should be encouraged to publish the results of their innovations. A clear set of procedures is necessary to guide instructors through active learning exercises. While procedures may vary greatly depending on the exercise, from a list of discussion questions to rules for role-play, their discussion is essential to promote success and the cumulation of knowledge.
Finally, active learning experiences need to be placed within a theoretical context as part of careful assessment and debriefing. Experts suggest that several types of assessment may be employed. Direct measures assess what students learned, while indirect measures help us to assess students’ perceptions of what they have learned (Angelo, 1998; Walvoord & Anderson, 2010). Quantitative measures focus on data collected as definite numerical or “quantifiable” amounts. Such assessment measures can include scores on quizzes, rubric-based assessment of written assignments, content analysis of student journals or other types of written reflections, and quantified performance assessment (Brualdi, 1998; Grussendorf & Rogol, 2018; Macdonald, 2005; Smith, 2006). Qualitative measures focus on data collected as descriptive information or observations. Examples of qualitative assessment measures include participant observation, project portfolios, oral presentations, instructor analysis of themes that emerge from class discussions, a qualitative review of student journals, debriefing or other structured reflection, reciprocal peer review, analysis of open-ended questions, “minute papers,” and even student overall self-assessment (Angelo & Cross, 1993; Boyer & Smith, 2015; Eisenbach, Curr, & Golich, 1998; Macdonald, 2005; Palomba & Banta, 2015).
Assessment is critical for the success of active teaching and learning and for thoughtful advancement of the field. From student-centered debriefing to the use of written reflections to process the experience, these techniques reinforce studies that show that learning frequently occurs after, rather than during, active learning experiences (Boyer & Smith, 2015; Cooper, 1998; Williams & Smith, 2017). By carefully aligning assessment with learning goals, and by pushing students to reflect on and engage in assessment of deep learning of underlying theories, concepts, and processes, instructors can guide students toward specific educational goals, channel student thinking about lessons, and reflect upon teaching successes and challenges (Grussendorf & Rogol, 2018; Luna & Winters, 2017; Wehlburg, 2008; Yaylaci & Beauvis, 2017). Carefully designed systematic assessment can even lead to publishable research on pedagogy (Bennion, 2015) and further advancements in the field. In conclusion, the state of the active teaching and learning literature is strong, and seems poised for ongoing expansion.
The authors would like to thank Matt Mayes and Sydney Maureen Hanes for their research and editing assistance on this article.
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