International service learning has become increasingly popular in higher education. Such trips focus on cultivating skills in students, including civic engagement and intercultural understanding, while also being key ways for students to achieve self-growth and learn to apply and contextualize the theories they learn in the classroom in the real world. The goals often outlined in the literature about international service learning tend to be student-centric. While pedagogical goals matter, faculty should also keep in mind the ethics of engaging community partners, especially given the often unequal power relationship at play in the practice of international service learning. Being more attentive to these ethical dilemmas may not eliminate them, but it will ensure that students are considering and learning from the gray areas involved in international service learning, including their own individual relationships to power and injustice. Additionally, faculty should consider how to avoid replicating neocolonial logics in their desire to expose students to the world beyond themselves. Specifically, faculty should be more mindful of the language they use to describe these trips and avoid reifying the notion that service learning is something to be done in the developing world while study trips tend to be conducted in the developed world. Engaging reciprocity with a community partner in both the design and practice of the trip, preparing for cultural complexity in advance by situating the students in larger sets of geopolitical and economic practices, being honest about the skill set students bring to the table, being aware of the cultural and gender dynamics at play, and building in time for reflection before, during, and after the trip are all ways to attend to the larger ethical considerations at play.
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.
Craig Douglas Albert
International relations (IR) theory is favorably described in almost every syllabus since 1930. The most important questions asked were: “What is theory?” and “Is there a reason for IR theory?” The most widely used texts all focus on the first question and suggest, among others, that IR theory is “a way of making the world or some part of it more intelligible or better understood.” We can gauge where the teaching of IR theory is today by analyzing a sample of syllabi from IR scholars serving on the Advisory Board of the International Studies Association’s (ISA) Compendium Project. These syllabi reveal some trends. Within the eight undergraduate syllabi, for example, a general introduction to IR theory is taught in four separate classes. Among the theories discussed in different classes are realism, classical realism, neo-realism, Marxism and neo-Marxism, world-systems theory, imperialism, constructivism, and international political economy. Novel methods for teaching IR theory include the use of films, active learning, and experiential learning. The diversity of treatments of IR theory implied by the ISA syllabi provides evidence that, with the exception of the proliferation of perspectives, relatively little has changed since the debates of the late 1930s. The discipline lacks much semblance of unity regarding whether, and how, to offer IR theory to students. Nevertheless, there have been improvements that are likely to continue in terms of the ways in which theories may be presented.
The intellectual foundation of modern experiential learning theory owes much of its roots to John Dewey’s educational philosophy. In his seminal 1916 work, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Dewey argued that human knowledge and education are rooted in inquiry, which in turn is rooted in human experience. His ideas, along with those of Jean Piaget, formed the basis of D. A. Kolb’s 1984 book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Kolb’s theory of learning, which he formulated to better understand student learning styles, became the starting point for the debate on the use of experiential learning. Kolb introduced a four-stage cycle to explain learning: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. His framework has been adopted to investigate how learning occurs inside the classroom. However, numerous criticisms have been leveled against Kolb’s learning styles approach. One type of criticism focuses on the importance of learning style on student learning, and another focuses on the construct validity, internal validity, and reliability of Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI). There are several avenues for improving the use of experiential learning techniques, such as the integration of service-learning into the classroom and an institutional commitment to designing a complete curriculum.
Gretchen J. Van Dyke
The United Nations and the European Union are extraordinarily complex institutions that pose considerable challenges for international studies faculty who work to expose their students to the theoretical, conceptual, and factual material associated with both entities. One way that faculty across the academic spectrum are bringing the two institutions “alive” for their students is by utilizing in-class and multi-institutional simulations of both the UN and the EU. Model United Nations (MUN) and Model European Union simulations are experiential learning tools used by an ever-increasing number of students. The roots of Model UN simulations can be traced to the student-led Model League of Nations simulations that began at Harvard University in the 1920s. Current secondary school MUN offerings include two initiatives, Global Classrooms and the Montessori Model Union Nations (Montessori-MUN). Compared to the institutionalized MUNs, Model EU programs are relatively young. There are three long-standing, distinct, intercollegiate EU simulations in the United States: one in New York, one in the Mid-Atlantic region, and one in the Mid-West. As faculty continue to engage their students with Model UN and Model EU simulations, new scholarship is expected to continue documenting their experiences while emphasizing the value of active and experiential learning pedagogies. In addition, future research will highlight new technologies as critical tools in the Model UN and Model EU preparatory processes and offer quantitative data that supports well-established qualitative conclusions about the positive educational value of these simulations.