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date: 10 December 2019

The State of the Active Teaching and Learning Literature

Summary and Keywords

Active teaching involves the use of instructional techniques designed for meaningful student engagement in the discovery of knowledge. It involves collaboration— a commitment on the part of instructors and students to enliven the educational environment and achieve educational objectives. In 1994, the Active Learning in International Affairs Section (ALIAS) of the International Studies Association was founded to foster the development of scholarship on teaching and to facilitate broader exchanges of ideas within the discipline. ALIAS has served both as an inspiration for innovative ideas in teaching and learning and as a forum for professional exchange and development. A review of the state of the literature on five key dimensions of active teaching and learning—case studies; alternative texts; simulations, games, and role-play; instructional technologies; and service-learning—show that there has been a significant evolution of the literature, including promising bursts of activity in many areas over the past decade. 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. A more comprehensive framework for organizing scholarship in active teaching and learning in international studies would better encourage such cumulation of knowledge.

Keywords: active teaching, collaborative learning, international relations, Active Learning in International Affairs Section, International Studies Association


The volumes featured in the International Studies Association Compendium illustrate the sheer breadth and depth of the discipline. Yet one key dimension of work in the field – teaching – has historically received relatively less scholarly attention than deserved. This is especially ironic given that for the majority of international relations scholars, teaching is a primary activity. Teacher-scholars often strive to create positive learning environments in the classroom, promote engagement with material to help students better understand international politics, and encourage responsible global citizenship. Such commitment to effective teaching techniques has been reflected in the dynamic and expanding scholarly studies published on active teaching and learning in international studies.

Active teaching involves the use of instructional techniques designed for meaningful student engagement in the discovery of knowledge. Philosophically, the approach has a long history, from Socrates to John Dewey to the teaching case method refined at Harvard University. The conscious selection of goals for the classroom and methods for teaching helps create a sense of purpose in the educational process. It also represents collaboration – a commitment on the part of instructors and students to enliven the educational environment. Active learning means that students are working together, and with the instructor, to achieve educational objectives.

An overview of the motivation and pedagogical emphases in the active teaching and learning literature leads off the essay. Five key dimensions of the active teaching and learning literature – case studies; alternative texts; simulations, games, and role-play; technology in the classroom; and service-learning – are then surveyed in order to evaluate the state of the scholarship in relation to these forms of exercises. This review illustrates the significant scholarship on teaching in international relations that has developed over time, but also addresses limitations in this literature. Across these five dimensions the analysis emphasizes four core areas – educational objectives, examples/range of applications, procedures or rules, and assessment (EEPA) – that represent best practices in international relations education. The essay returns to these themes in the conclusion and addresses the critical goal of the cumulation of knowledge about teaching in the discipline.

Motivation and Pedagogy

What are our educational objectives as instructors of international relations? How do we achieve these objectives in the classroom? And how might we best analyze and contribute to the cumulation of knowledge about teaching effectiveness? These and other questions about pedagogy have long engaged teacher-scholars. Works in higher education variously describe teaching as the pursuit of virtue through education and empowerment, as a vital connection between instructors and an audience through purposive exchange, and as a form of inspiration for new research and exploration of significant questions (Bain 2004; Filene 2005).

Scholars argue that techniques that engage students in collaborative learning practices can help achieve key educational objectives. The dynamic of collaboration can be fostered both among students themselves and between students and the instructor. Instructors who are able to establish strong connections and dialogue in the classroom effectively empower students in the learning enterprise. Key educational objectives of collaborative learning include: (1) promoting a deeper understanding of the concepts being taught; (2) allowing students to make conceptual linkages between theory and real world examples; and (3) increasing retention of knowledge. First, collaborative learning has been shown to promote a deeper understanding of key concepts in international affairs (Kolb 1984). This often can be achieved through “framing pedagogic content in ways that enable students to discover the relationship of academic concepts to their own life experiences” (Chandler and Adams 1997:24). Technology also has allowed more immediate links to global politics for both instructors and students and has become a more important dimension of the educational environment at many institutions. Studies from higher education have shown that engagement of students in the learning enterprise increases comprehension dramatically (Fox and Ronkowski 1997; Jensen 1998; Kuzma and Haney 2001).

Second, active teaching and learning approaches allow students to make conceptual linkages between theories and conceptual frameworks and real world examples. Teacher-scholars contend that active teaching and learning approaches can create powerful and effective learning environments by challenging students to take risks and express their views on complex and controversial issues (Lamy 2000). As Shulman (1997:151) argues, active teaching promotes critical thinking because it “resides in that never-never land between theory and practice, between ideas and experience, between the normative ideal and the achievable real.” Students may be empowered and even inspired to explore new questions and puzzles. Put simply, these exercises can help raise the level of student excitement and better engage the students in the class (Newmann and Twigg 2000).

Third, active teaching and learning exercises can promote student learning and retention. Retention studies show that student sensory experience during the learning process will increase long-term memory of experiences (Schachter 1996). Retention is also directly related to learning styles and information processing capabilities, which have been shown to vary by personality type and learning stage (Fox and Ronkowski 1997; Brock and Cameron 1999). Thus, Jensen (1998) emphasizes the importance of designing a classroom environment “with the brain in mind.” Paivio (1975) shows that a combination of approaches (both visual and verbal) will promote greater retention of knowledge, for example. According to Stice (1987:296), “students retain merely 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 30% of what they see.” Combining methods for presentation of information in the classroom may boost retention rates to around 50 percent, while team projects that include presentations to other students appear to increase retention to as much as 90 percent (Stice 1987).

Higher education has embraced the trend toward active teaching and learning in the United States. Robert Barr and John Tagg (1995) describe this as a transformation under way in higher education – a move from a traditional, lecture-oriented “instructional paradigm” to a new “learning paradigm.” They contend that the learning paradigm is a holistic, student-centered approach designed to produce learning, develop critical thinking skills, and elicit discovery and the construction of knowledge. Smith (1991:215) goes so far as to argue, “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.” The new learning paradigm sees learning as a process of discovery and places students in the position of generators of knowledge in an active classroom. Innovations in international studies education are also related to the ongoing transformation of the content and goals of global education (Applegate and Sarno 1997; Fischer and Suleiman 1997). Thus, the higher education literature sets an important foundation for active teaching and learning in international studies.

Dimensions of Active Teaching and Learning

The Active Learning in International Affairs Section (ALIAS) of the International Studies Association was founded in 1994 to foster the development of scholarship on teaching and to facilitate broader exchanges of ideas within the discipline. Members encourage teacher-scholars of all generations to consider pedagogical themes essential to the future of the discipline. ALIAS has served both as an inspiration for innovative ideas in teaching and learning and as a forum for professional exchange and development. While this trend has garnered significant attention in North America, it has begun to influence education in other regions as well. The scholarship on active teaching and learning has been catalogued in books and a growing number of academic journals such as PS: Political Science and Politics, International Studies Perspectives, Journal of Political Science Education, NEA Higher Education Advocate, Millennium, Simulations and Gaming, and Teaching Sociology. What follows is a survey of the state of the literature on five key dimensions of active teaching and learning.

Teaching with Case Studies

The use of case studies in the international relations classroom is a widespread active teaching practice. Teaching with case studies typically entails using stories or narratives to recount realistic events or problems, yet in a manner that leaves key themes open to interpretation. Educational objectives include case based content learning and the development of analytical and communication skills. The case method also may be seen as a prototypical form of problem based learning that has gained popularity in higher education (Lamy 2007). In the early 1990s, supporters of case teaching honed their craft through seminars sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and then went on to publish leading materials on the case method (Cusimano 2000; Golich 2000; Odell 2001; Erskine 2006). A distinguished group of these Pew Faculty Fellows later established ALIAS.

There are many examples of teaching case studies. Traditional case materials are formal written cases developed by academics for the purpose of class exploration of challenges or dilemmas in international relations. As Golich (2000:12) notes, “cases 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 appear in one of two key formats: first-person (decision forcing) and historical (retrospective) cases (Christensen et al. 1991; Lynn 1999; Duch et al. 2001).

As the scholarship on this method has matured, teacher-scholars have developed useful procedures for case teaching. For example, Holsti (1994) highlights the need for careful establishment of educational objectives. After preparing assigned materials, students should be guided through a series of questions and engaged in discussion of the issues raised by the case. 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. 1991:159). This involves careful monitoring of the flow of the case discussion/analysis and a basic investment in the material. Ultimately, instructors must be fully prepared to invoke the case perspective and then “ask a few good questions” (Holsti 1994). Analytical exercises including essays or research papers may follow class discussions (Lynn 1999; Golich 2000; Lamy 2000).

Case studies can be exercises in problem-solving, but are also exercises in critical thinking that derive from the student debate and discussion (Lamy 2007; Marks 2008). One variant of the traditional case study involves constructing a structured debate around a controversial issue in international affairs, which can be closely connected to encouraging critical thinking (Omelicheva 2006; 2007; Oros 2007). Indeed, any contemporary issue or challenge may serve as a useful case around which to develop structured debates and analytical exercises, and recent literature has endeavored to more carefully examine this pedagogical tool (Budesheim and Lundquist 2000; Walker and Warhurst 2000; Hess 2004). Examples of issues include the investigation of ethical dilemmas in foreign policy, including issues surrounding the International Criminal Court, or the application of the criteria of Just War Theory to analyze particular conflicts (Lantis 2004).

Case teachers are certainly not at a loss for useful and accessible materials today. Hundreds of 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 such as Ralph Carter’s (2008) Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Terrorism to Trade, as well as electronic archives, such as Columbia International Affairs Online [CIAO] ( and the Teaching Human Rights On-Line project (Tolley 1998). The development of rich case materials on international affairs has also diffused globally. For instance, according to Mori (2008b:4), “In Japan, the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development (FASID) launched its case method workshop in the field of international development in 1992, and has published the FASID Case Library series since 1995” (see also Mingst and Mori 1997; Mori 2008a). There remains a need, however, for further development of case materials that are both accessible and culturally relevant in different global contexts (Kille et al. 2008).

While the case literature is broad, authors only recently have begun to focus on the pedagogical value of the case approach and structured debates. The limited and often impressionistic evidence suggests that these approaches help students to better understand the complexities and ambiguities of world politics, and through a collaborative enterprise students are able to engage the issue from competing perspectives (Boehrer and Linsky 1990; Carter 2008). Teaching case studies also involves significant time investment for class preparation and a certain measure of confidence that the case discussion and analysis will be successful. Examples of evaluative approaches abound in educational research (Masoner 1988; Shulman 1990; Svinicki et al. 1996; Hoag et al. 2001; Olorunnisola et al. 2004), and could easily be adapted to help us better understand whether, how, and why case studies lead to more desirable pedagogical outcomes. Overall, the literature would benefit from a more systematic assessment of the pedagogical benefits (and costs) of the approaches to teaching international studies.

Teaching with Alternative Texts

A second dimension of the active teaching and learning literature focuses on the utility of “alternative texts,” or source material that can be drawn upon to support the teaching of international relations beyond standard case study materials, textbooks, or other readings. Educational objectives associated with their use in the classroom include enhancing the teaching of theory and ambiguous concepts, improving student understanding of global issues, building knowledge of historical, religious, and cultural dynamics, learning about primary actors, institutions, and processes in international relations, and enhancing critical thinking skills. Alternative texts can include film and video (Haney 2000; Kuzma and Haney 2001; 2002), television (Beavers 2002), music (Albers and Bach 2003), cartoons and political humor (Dougherty 2002; Symposium 2007; Baumgartner and Morris 2008), novels (Lang and Lang 1998; Morgan 2006; Nexon and Neumann 2006; Pappas 2007), memoirs (Deibel 2002), plays (Ciliotta-Rubery 2008), and news articles or editorials (Cusimano 2000).

For example, film and video are viewed as the most widely used form for teaching international relations. The literature on their use in the classroom has expanded over the past decade (Gregg 1998; 1999; Kiasatpour 1999; Lindley 2001; Weber 2001; Pollard 2002; 2005; Waalkes 2003; Weber 2005; Lieberfeld 2007). Given the evidence from educational research on the effectiveness of multisensory approaches to teaching and learning, film and video seem particularly 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 issues within a visual (and often emotional) context. Moreover, through film, students are confronted by new realities and perspectives on international relations, abstract ideas can be brought to life on screen, and students are engaged with knowledge of a subject in a medium with which they are comfortable (Haney 2000; Kuzma and Haney 2001; 2002). It is essential when using such approaches that the instructor emphasize the interactive nature of the medium, promoting dialogue and critical thinking in class about film images and their relation to key themes in international relations.

Although not as widely referenced in the literature as film, television shows and video clips have also been extensively used to teach and explore political and sociological concepts. Popular websites such as YouTube ( provide opportunities to show video clips that can enhance discussion or case analysis in class. Studies discuss the use of American television shows such as The Simpsons, Star Trek, The West Wing, or The Real World to Brazilian telenovelas – epic and often historically set soap operas popular throughout Latin America – for teaching purposes (Weldes 1999; Scanlan and Feinberg 2000; Misra 2000; Irwin et al. 2001; Beavers 2002; Davison 2006; Kille et al. 2008).

Indeed, the literature is replete with compelling examples of teacher-scholars employing a range of alternative texts, carefully linked to their desired educational goals. The literature also has begun to address procedures for connecting these alternative texts directly to the curriculum (partly in an effort to counter the potential concern that these are nothing but an enjoyable distraction for students). What is missing to date, however, is a careful assessment of whether and how well these alternative texts achieve these pedagogical goals. As a result, there are significant opportunities for expansion of this literature given the creative approaches that have been developed (and will continue to be developed) by teacher-scholars in international studies.

Simulations, Games, and Role-Play

Simulations, games, and role-play represent a third important set of active teaching and learning approaches. Educational objectives include deepening conceptual understandings of a particular phenomenon, sets of interactions, or socio-political processes by using student interaction to bring abstract concepts to life. They provide students with a real or imaginary environment within which to act out a given situation (Crookall 1995; Kaarbo and Lantis 1997; Kaufman 1998; Jefferson 1999; Flynn 2000; Newmann and Twigg 2000; Thomas 2002; Shellman and Turan 2003; Hobbs and Moreno 2004; Wheeler 2006; Kanner 2007; Raymond and Sorensen 2008). The aim is to enable students to actively experience, rather than read or hear about, the “constraints and motivations for action (or inaction) experienced by real players” (Smith and Boyer 1996:691), or to think about what they might do in a particular situation that the instructor has dramatized for them. As Sutcliffe (2002:3) emphasizes, “Remote theoretical concepts can be given life by placing them in a situation with which students are familiar.” Such exercises capitalize on the strengths of active learning techniques: creating memorable experiential learning events that tap into multiple senses and emotions by utilizing visual and verbal stimuli.

Early examples of simulations scholarship include works by Harold Guetzkow and colleagues, who created the Inter-Nation Simulation (INS) in the 1950s. This work sparked wider interest in political simulations as teaching and research tools. By the 1980s, scholars had accumulated a number of sophisticated simulations of international politics, with names like “Crisis,” “Grand Strategy,” “ICONS,” and “SALT III.” More recent literature on simulations stresses opportunities to reflect dynamics faced in the real world by individual decision makers, by small groups like the US National Security Council, or even global summits organized around international issues, and provides for a focus on contemporary global problems (Lantis et al. 2000; Boyer 2000). Some of the most popular simulations involve modeling international organizations, in particular United Nations and European Union simulations (Van Dyke et al. 2000; McIntosh 2001; Dunn 2002; Zeff 2003; Switky 2004; Chasek 2005). Simulations may be employed in one class meeting, through one week, or even over an entire semester. Alternatively, they may be designed to take place outside of the classroom in local, national, or international competitions.

The scholarship on the use of games in international studies sets these approaches apart slightly from simulations. For example, Van Ments (1989:14) argues that games are structured systems of competitive play with specific defined endpoints or solutions that incorporate the material to be learnt. They are similar to simulations, but 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 do not require that they take on the persona of a real world actor. Examples range from interactive prisoner dilemma exercises to the use of board games in international studies classes (Hart and Simon 1988; Marks 1998; Brauer and Delemeester 2001; Ender 2004; Asal 2005; Ehrhardt 2008).

A final subset of this type of approach is the role-play. Like simulations, role-play places students within a structured environment and asks 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 and 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). The reality of the scenario and its proximity to a student’s personal experience is also flexible. While few examples of effective role-play that are clearly distinguished from simulations or games have been published, some recent work has laid out some very useful role-play exercises with clear procedures for use in the international studies classroom (Syler et al. 1997; Alden 1999; Johnston 2003; Krain and Shadle 2006; Williams 2006; Belloni 2008).

Taken as a whole, the applications and procedures for simulations, games, and role-play 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 (Winham 1991; Smith and Boyer 1996; Lantis 1998; Shaw 2004; 2006; Asal and Blake 2006; Ellington et al. 2006). 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 an increasing number of simulation designs published and disseminated in the discipline, whose procedures can be adopted (or adapted for use) depending upon an instructor’s educational objectives (Beriker and Druckman 1996; Lantis 1996; 1998; Lowry 1999; Boyer 2000; Kille 2002; Shaw 2004; Switky and Aviles 2007; Tessman 2007; Kelle 2008).

Finally, there is growing attention in this literature to assessment. Scholars have found that these methods are particularly effective in bridging the gap between academic knowledge and everyday life. Such exercises also lead to enhanced student interest in the topic, the development of empathy, and acquisition and retention of knowledge. Debriefing discussions have also been found to be 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 lessons learned. Older studies failed to develop thorough ways of determining whether the exercise has met the initial educational goals, let alone whether the simulation provided any additional value beyond more traditional teaching techniques. More recent literature has done a better job, evaluating simulations, games, or role-plays for the international studies classroom more rigorously (Maddrell 1994; Syler et al. 1997; Alden 1999; Brown and King 2000; Mooney and Edwards 2001; Sutcliffe 2002; Krain and Lantis 2006; Krain and Shadle 2006; Shellman and Turan 2006; Powner and Allendoerfer 2008), though there is room for much improvement in this area.

Technology in the International Relations Classroom

The use of instructional technologies in the international relations classroom represents the fourth dimension of the active teaching and learning literature. Published studies in the 1990s began to explore the utility of the internet for international studies classes, detailing how basic web-page design exercises and e-mail and listserv-based discussions could achieve educational objectives and supplement classroom dialogue and reflection (Hall 1993; Kuzma 1998). The expansion of instructional technology has fostered a boom in the development of new teaching and research techniques for the classroom (Denton and Hallstrom 2005; Bitter and Legacy 2008) and even active learning in online classes (Wilson et al. 2007). It has promoted the integration of other techniques, as well, through technology. In addition, it has created an entirely new outlet, websites, for publications on the use of technology in international studies classes (Hamann and Wilson 2003; Selcher 2005).

Examples of instructional technologies for international studies education abound. Faculty and students can work with online archives, including the Electronic Hallway project (https:/, the Teaching Human Rights On-Line archive (, the Harvard Program on Negotiation (, and the web archive of the ALIAS Section ( (Tolley 1998; Golich et al. 2000; Hewitt 2001). Instructors can design and run online interactive games, exercises, and simulations (Asal and Blake 2006). They can also subscribe to online simulation programs such as the International Communication and Negotiation Simulations (ICONS) project (, the Project Intercultural Dynamics in European Education through on Line Simulation (IDEELS) (, the Middle East Politics Simulation (, and the International Conflict Simulation program ( Many other, newer applications are also available, including online exercises of the Prisoner’s Dilemma (, a Tragedy of the Commons project (∼rmitchel/commons), and Conquer Club, a world domination game similar to Risk™ (

Scholarship in this area has also begun to address virtual learning communities established by international relations teacher-scholars. By overcoming traditional boundaries of the learning space, programs for learning across distances such as interactive videoconferencing can enhance the international studies classroom experience (Garmer and Firestone 1996; McLellan 1997; Palloff and Pratt 1999; Cogburn and Levinson 2003; Martin 2007). Course management software also has the potential to reshape the “learning space” of the international studies classroom (Martin 2007; Payne and Reinhart 2008). Examples of course management software packages, several of which are free, open-source packages, include Angel™ (, Blackboard™ (, eCollege™ (, Moodle™ (, Sakai™ (, and WebCT™ ( This software provides a meta-structure for electronic transmission of information to student groups and may function in place of listservs or discussion groups. Instructors may post relevant readings, video, audio clips, and notes. Assignments can be posted, accessed, and uploaded. Professors may also interact with students through guided discussions.

Technological advances have clearly created new ways to foster and conceptualize active teaching and learning in international studies. Technology has also created new online formats for publishing exercises and procedures connected to a range of educational objectives. From this review, it is clear that the active teaching and learning literature has begun to evolve to incorporate these advances. However, up until now most efforts at assessment have focused on indirectly measuring student satisfaction with the use of technology, as well as student knowledge and skill development (Cogburn and Levinson 2003; Martin 2007). Careful direct assessment of the effect of these new technological tools on student knowledge acquisition, cognition, and development is limited. As we race to keep up with our technologically savvy students by enhancing the international studies classroom, we must also take the time to assess whether these enhancements help us attain our educational objectives. This represents the most important direction that this emerging and exciting area of the literature can take.


Service-learning is the final dimension of active teaching and learning approaches commonly addressed in the literature. 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; it differs from community service and other forms of civic engagement in that the former involves the interdependent linkages between coursework and volunteer activity (Barber 1997; Eyler and Giles 1999). Thus, coursework is informed by student action, and action is informed by, and occurs within the context of, the academic study of relevant topics. For successful pedagogy, studies show that the service activity must be directly linked to the course and its educational objectives and must be carefully interwoven into the learning process set out in the course (Weigert 1998; Howard 1998; Hepburn et al. 2000).

Educators have long recognized the benefits of service-learning. Beginning with 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 (Hesser 1995; Marullo 1996; Wutzdorff and Giles 1997; Lantis et al. 2000; Robinson 2000; McIlrath and MacLabhrainn 2007). Indeed, service-learning allows students to move beyond textbook examples and participate in actual cases. As Krain and Nurse note (2004:193), “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.”

The service-learning literature has generally provided more careful assessment of this pedagogical technique and its ability to achieve educational objectives compared to the other active teaching and learning dimensions. Contemporary studies have found that service-learning enhances conceptual and theoretical learning and an understanding of the relationship between theory and practice, factual learning, cognitive skill development, values education, and the tolerance and appreciation of diversity (Markus et al. 1993; Batchelder and Root 1994; Astin and Sax 1998; Hunter and Brisbin 2000; Krain and Nurse 2004; Hildreth 2006; Smith 2006). Service-learning helps students gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter while developing the skills necessary to transfer that knowledge to new, often complex and uncertain, situations (Eyler 2000; Hildreth 2006). Furthermore, the service-learning experience helps students actively apply their new knowledge. Studies show that it helps them develop social awareness and a sense of social responsibility, a sense of personal efficacy, citizenship skills, and community engagement skills (Rowe and Chapman 1999; Walker 2000; Krain and Nurse 2004; Smith 2006; Cabrera and Anastasi 2008). Together, these help students develop an enduring civic identity. Indeed, studies show that those who engage in service-learning programs have been found to be more likely to volunteer soon after the experience, as well as later in life (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Raskoff 1994; Youniss et al. 1997; Campbell 2000; Hunter and Brisbin 2000).

However, in comparison to previous areas discussed, there are fewer published examples of the service-learning method applied to teaching international relations, although those published do tend to have clearer descriptions of procedures employed and key design problems to avoid (Hondagneu-Sotelo and Raskoff 1994; Grusky 2000). The range of examples includes service projects used to teach about immigration and global citizenship (Patterson 2000), international environmental issues (Quirk 2003), human rights (Krain and Nurse 2004), and transnational justice (Cabrera and Anastasi 2008). 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.

Best Practices in Active Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-first Century

This essay has described developments in the literature on active teaching and learning in international studies. The review of key dimensions of scholarship suggests that there has been a significant evolution of the literature, including promising bursts of activity in many areas over the past decade. 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.

A more comprehensive framework for organizing scholarship in active teaching and learning in international studies would better encourage such cumulation of knowledge. As indicated in the introduction to this chapter, and traced across the five dimensions of active teaching and learning, the literature suggests four critical themes: educational objectives, examples/range of applications, procedures and rules, and assessment and debriefing (EEPA). This provides a valuable framework for conceptualizing advancement in the subfield and a step toward establishing “best practices” in active teaching and learning. Ideally, such an approach could be employed across the scholarship to centralize and standardize the literature.

The strongest work on active teaching and learning emphasizes that linking approaches to specific educational objectives is a vital first step in the process. An individual instructor’s objectives may vary as a function of the curriculum, the class, the institution, the departmental culture, or other factors, but active learning exercises must be selected in accord with educational objectives for maximum effect. Thus, teacher-scholars writing on particular approaches should be careful to detail the types of educational objectives with which these approaches best mesh, both in terms of the specific objectives of a particular exercise and more generally the types of objectives to which the approach as a whole best lends itself.

Second, 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 recognize innovations as potential value-added experiences for their classrooms. It is also important to consider examples from educational advances in different countries, challenging the misconception that active teaching techniques in international affairs are limited to North America. Indeed, broadening our exchange of ideas to many countries is another key element of developing a more comprehensive approach to active teaching and learning. Instructors everywhere should be encouraged to publish the results of their innovations in the growing scholarship.

Third, a clear set of procedures is necessary to guide instructors through active learning exercises. The procedures will vary greatly depending on the exercise. They may include a list of questions for discussion, a set of rules in a role-playing exercise, a list of required websites in a research project, or an essay assignment to guide students along. However, without clear procedural presentation in scholarly studies of active learning, the benefits of these activities will not be able to be adapted by other international studies instructors.

Finally, active learning experiences need to be placed within a theoretical context as part of careful assessment and debriefing. As the review above demonstrates all too clearly, however, assessment in particular is a critical yet under-studied element of the successful application of active teaching and learning approaches in international studies. In all applications, it is essential that instructors create opportunities for student-centered debriefing, in which students have the opportunity to discuss their individual and group experiences. Studies stress the importance of assessment given how experiential learning frequently occurs after rather than during the exercise (Lantis 1998; Cooper 1998; Mooney and Edwards 2001; Sutcliffe 2002). Assessment of these approaches is critical for the instructor as well; it helps us to reflect upon teaching successes and challenges, guide students toward specific educational goals, and channel student thinking about lessons (Angelo and Cross 1993; Lipka 1997; Filene 2005).

Experts suggest that several types of assessment may be employed. Direct measures assess what students have learned, while indirect measures help us to assess students’ perceptions of what they have learned (Angelo 1998; Walvoord and Anderson 1998). Quantitative measures focus on data collected as definite numerical or “quantifiable” amounts. Quantitative assessment measures can include scores on quizzes or tests, grades of written assignments, content analysis of student journals or other types of written reflections, and quantified performance assessment (Brualdi 1998; Brown and King 2000; Krain and Shadle 2006; Krain and Lantis 2006; Smith 2006). Qualitative measures focus on data collected as descriptive information or observations. Examples of qualitative assessment measures include participant-observation, impressionistic performance assessment, analysis of themes that emerge from class discussions, a qualitative review of student journals, debriefing or other structured reflection, analysis of open-ended survey questions, evaluations by peers, and even student overall self-assessment (Eisenbach et al. 1998; Palomba and Banta 1999; Krain and Nurse 2004; Smith 2006). Careful attention to assessment reinforces a systematic approach that can be taken to active teaching and learning.

In conclusion, the state of the active teaching and learning literature is strong, and seems poised for dramatic expansion in the twenty-first century. More instructors have turned to instructional techniques designed for meaningful student engagement in the discovery of knowledge. This has helped to enliven the international studies classroom and promote exciting collaborations. However, careful and conscious reflection on our approaches seems important for knowledge generation and refinement in the subfield. Such a scholarly path can be guided by the proposed best practices of explicitly referencing educational objectives, providing illustrative examples and practices, detailing procedures, and instituting meaningful assessment and debriefing.


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Conquer Club. At, accessed Feb. 2008. An online multiplayer world domination board game, similar to Risk™. The game is played on an electronic board depicting a map of the world, divided into territories, and grouped into continents. Players deploy armies, attack and defend territory. Multiple players and tournaments, and multiple strategy options, are possible.

Electronic Hallway. At https:/, accessed Feb. 2008. Online repository for case studies and other curriculum materials related to economic development, environment and land use, international affairs, public policy, and public administration issues. Many cases include teaching notes. Several have video of cases being taught by experienced teachers.

Pew Case Studies Center. At, accessed Feb. 2008. Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy [GUISD] houses an archive of hundreds of case studies written by international affairs scholars and practitioners. Cases are built around main decision makers, set up as either retrospective or as decision forcing. Instructors’ copies include teaching notes.

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International Communication and Negotiation Simulations [ICONS]. At, accessed Feb. 2008. Contains web-based role-play simulation exercises. Students negotiate with students in their own class, or with teams of students around the world. Simulations include scenario statement, negotiation questions, role sheets, an online research library, simulation mechanics and rules, and an instructors’ guide.

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GameTheory.Net. At, accessed Feb. 2008. Allows students to play interactive prisoners’ dilemma and other n-person strategy and probability games. Other resources on game theory include lecture notes, quizzes and tests, textbook reviews, references to game theory in the news and popular culture, and game theory and game links.

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The authors would like to thank Tess Morrissey for her assistance with this chapter, as well as Lara Pfaff and Stefanie Zaranec for their previous contributions in relation to this project.