Theory can be a controversial element of an Introduction to International Relations (IR) course. Many undergraduate students have not been trained to think theoretically, and as a result many instructors find the abstract elements of IR theory difficult to teach, especially to students who lack the motivation provided by plans to major in political science or IR. But learning to think theoretically and to understand IR theory specifically is a valuable exercise for undergraduate students, particularly for nonmajors. Whether or not one believes IR theory to be good in and of itself, studying theory is a critical component of a complete liberal education, one that prepares students to be engaged global citizens. In addition to exploring effective ways to teach particular theories, instructors should work on making sense of the purpose of studying IR theory in ways that resonate with students. Learning IR theory requires students to think theoretically, something familiar to all who have survived the gauntlet of a doctoral program. Teaching students to think theoretically requires instructors, first, to empathize with the limited experience most undergraduate students have with academic theory, and second, to build learning environments that engage and authorize students as theoreticians. Utilizing active learning techniques and thoughtful assessment exercises, instructors can create environments more conducive to learning IR theory while engaging students in areas and media to which they are already connected. This approach to teaching requires adventurousness in the classroom and broader discussions about how to teach IR in general.
Jamie Frueh and Jeremy Youde
Kay Gibson and Carolyn M. Shaw
With the shift in learning objectives that were more focused on the development of skills and processes, new assessment techniques were required to be developed to determine the effectiveness of new active-learning techniques for teaching these skills. In order for assessment to be done well, instructors must consider what learning objective they are assessing, clarify why they are assessing and what benefits will derive from the process, consider whether they will conduct assessments during or after the learning process, and specifically address how they will design solid assessments of active learning best suited to their needs. The various types of assessment for active-learning strategies include written and oral debriefing, observations, peer- and self-assessment, and presentations and demonstrations. In addition, there are several different measurement tools for recording the assessment data, including checklists and student surveys. A final aspect to consider when examining assessment techniques and measurement tools is the construction of an effective rubric. Ultimately, further research is warranted in the learning that occurs through the use of active-learning techniques in contrast with traditional teaching methods, the “portability” of active-learning exercises across cultures, and the use of newer media—such as internet and video content—as it is increasingly incorporated into the classroom.
Mackubin Thomas Owens
Civil–military relations is an interdisciplinary area of research, reflecting the work of political scientists, military, sociologists, and historians. History and culture, the constitution of the state and the statutes and practices arising therefrom, changes in the international security environment, technology, the character of conflict, and the changing concept of “soldier-hood” all influence the civil–military relations of a state. There are many possible patterns of civil–military relations that provide different answers to the questions of who controls the military and how, the degree of military influence appropriate for a given society, the appropriate role of the military in a given polity, who serves, and the effectiveness of the military instrument that a given civil–military relations produces. Moreover, there is no “general” or “unified field” theory that successfully explains all of these patterns. For a variety of reasons, Samuel Huntington's institutional theory remains the dominant paradigm for examining civil–military relations. When it comes to the question of civilian control of the military, Peter Feaver’s agency theory corrects some of the flaws in Huntington’s theory. Morris Janowitz and the military sociologists also provide useful insights, especially regarding the question of who serves and related issues. In the case of concordance theory, critics argue that the definition of military intervention sets the bar too low to be meaningful. Ultimately, the patterns of civil–military relations affect national security because of their impact on strategic assessment.
Robert J. Beck and Henry F. Carey
The international law (IL) course offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in classroom debate on crucial topics ranging from the genocide in Darfur, the Israeli–Palestinian issue, or peace processes in Sri Lanka. A well-designed IL course can help students to appreciate their own preconceptions and biases and to develop a more nuanced and critical sense of legality. During the Cold War, IL became increasingly marginalized as a result of the perceived failure of international institutions to avert World War II and the concurrent ascent of realism as IR’s predominant theoretical paradigm. Over the past two decades, however, as IL’s profile has soared considerably, political scientists and students have taken a renewed interest in the subject. Today, IL teaching/study remains popular in law schools. As a general practice, most instructors of IL, both in law schools or undergraduate institutions, begin their course designs by selecting readings on basic legal concepts and principles. Once the basic subject matter and associated reading assignments have been determined, instructors typically move on to develop their syllabi, which may cover a variety of topics such as interdisciplinary methods, IL theory, cultural relativism, formality vs informality, identity politics, law and economics/public choice, feminism, legal realism, and reformism/modernism. There are several innovative approaches for teaching IL, including moot courts, debates, simulations, clinical learning, internships, legal research training, and technology-enhanced teaching. Another important component of IL courses is assessment of learning outcomes, and a typical approach is to administer end-of-semester essay-based examinations.
Lynn M. Kuzma
There is a body of evidence that suggests that young Americans are disengaged from communal life. Since the late 1980s, college students have been described as materialistic, self-absorbed, and self-interested, acting without regard for community interests. Scholars consider the “me generation” as symptomatic of an eroding democratic civic culture characterized by growing apathy, resentment, even anger. This trend continues today. In order to address this, proponents of higher education have made their attempts to develop civic engagement in young minds. Civic engagement refers to activities within a community, though in the academic setting, the definition becomes much more complex. There is a belief that through participation in a community, students will develop capacities that ultimately lead them to become more active citizens, which in turn benefits not only themselves but also the community. However, higher education’s recommitment to developing students’ civic engagement should be informed by a clear notion of what civic engagement entails. In addition, a certain amount of factual knowledge is a prerequisite for becoming an engaged citizen, as civic learning involves students coming to understand the democratic processes of a community, its history, the problems it faces, and the richness of its diversity. And civic learning opportunities can be taught both in and outside of the classroom, as co-curricular learning opportunities, projects embedded in a class, or as a requirement of a general education curriculum.
Jeffrey S. Lantis, Kent J. Kille, and Matthew Krain
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.
As human tragedies—such as armed conflicts, humanitarian crises, crimes against humanity, and genocide—continue to occur, early warning and conflict prevention are essential comprehensive subjects in any crisis and conflict prevention architecture. Early warning refers to the collection and analysis of information about potential crisis and conflict situations for the purpose of preventing the onset and escalation of such situations, preferably through appropriate preventive response options. Indeed, qualitative approaches to early warning and prevention have produced an impressive list of preventive mechanisms and tools, ranging from non-military—such as political and economic inducements, fact-finding, dialogue, and negotiations—to military ones, such as preventive missions. Meanwhile, a more theoretical and empirically guided approach has made extensive use of quantitative methods to create data-based predictive models for assessing risks of complex humanitarian crises, political instability and state failure, intrastate and ethnopolitical conflicts, and genocide and politicide, as well as other massive human rights violations. There are three types of analysis of risk assessment: the first makes use of structural indicators, the second of sequential models, and the third of inductive methods. However, there are challenges in early warning and conflict prevention posed by the warning-response gap and the issue of “missed opportunities” to prevent. At present, there is no U.N.-wide coordinated early warning system. Nevertheless, several efforts in establishing operational early warning systems on the level of regional and subregional organizations can be identified.