Improving teaching



My aim is to make learning about political science relevant to the professional future of my students. It should be experience-based, learner-centered, and driven by the best practice of knowledgeable professionals, including researchers, security practitioners, and professional educators.

Experiential learning involves reflection on doing (Knobloch et al, 2003). It is important not just for retention, but for developing professional values, attitudes, and beliefs that are congruent with organizational objectives (Kolb, 2014). Getting cadets “out” of the classroom to engage in experiential learning about political science and conflict is constrained by the academic year. Internships, work study, and field studies only involve a minority of the student body. Giving cadets an opportunity to reflect on doing in the class means finding ways to bring experiences of the outside world into the classroom, through guests, telephone or skype conversations, or classes held off-campus engaging with real-world issues and problems.

Weimer (2013) suggests five key changes to classroom practice in order to put the focus on learner-centered teaching.  Teachers should facilitate learning, not lecture.  Teachers should share decisions about what and how to learn, drawing on the enthusiasm and existing knowledge of students, which will vary from group to group. Teaching should focus on developing and mastering specific, relevant skills, not on delivering content. Teachers should make students responsible for their own learning and the learning environment. Finally, teachers should allow students to make decisions about their learning.

  1. 1.I will facilitate, not lecture. We will use Moodle to manage collaboratively.

  2. 2.We will share decisions about learning

  3. 3.We will focus on skills, not content: what’s important is the student’s ability to read about, write about, understand and explain the subject

  4. 4.Students are responsible for their learning and the learning environment

  5. 5.Students will make decisions each week about their learning

Teaching should also draw on research about best practices. Ambrose et al (2010) report seven research-based principles for teaching to produce better learning outcomes.  Teachers should understand what students already know, and how they have structured it, in order to provide better frameworks for organizing knowledge. Motivation to learn is critical, and learning should be geared to future expectations. Mastery of knowledge entails building components, integrating them, and then practicing their application. Direct feedback from peers in the language and idiom of the student is important to polish written work and improve the critical sense of the student, but they must have the opportunity to correct and improve written work after the teacher has commented, too.

  1. 1.Prior knowledge - what do students already know?

  2. 2.Organizing knowledge - how will students structure it?

  3. 3.Motivation - why is this knowledge relevant and important for the students’ future?

  4. 4.Mastery = components, plus integration, plus practice, so individual assignments have to be cumulative and provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes

  5. 5.Feedback - students should receive feedback from their peers in their own language (writing partners provide this for written assignments)

  6. 6.Course climate - under supervision, students set the rules for engagement, and establishing classroom climate

  7. 7.Self-direction - take charge of content and questions

The practice of soldiering, or leading within the security professions, is the most important basis for the professional education of future officers, and every opportunity should be taken to bring cadets and students into contact with security professionals and those affected by them.  This can be done by getting them out of the classroom and bringing experts into the classroom whenever it is possible.


  1. Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W.m DiPietro, M., Lovett, C., Norman, M.K. (2010) How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

  2. Knobloch, N. A. (2003). Is experiential learning authentic? Journal of Agricultural Education, 44(4), 22-34.

  3. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

  4. Weimer, Maryellen (2013) Learner-Centred Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. San Francisco: John Wiley.

Additional resources and techniques

  1. Interleaving - incorporate material from different parts of the course in short, interspersed review sessions.

  2. The distinction between collaboration and cheating is that cheating aims to deceive the professor about the degree of understanding achieved by an individual, so the means of evaluation is the key to drawing the line.

  3. Brown University, Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning (with links to Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and other resources)

  4. Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching (resources for graduate education)

  5. Vanderbilt University, Centre for Teaching, Flipping the Classroom

  6. Betty Ann Buirs, “An Objective Approach to Grading,” Faculty Focus

  7. Maryellen Weimer, 2017, “How Good are your Discussion Facilitation Skills?”  (includes downloadable instrument to survey students)

  8. Lolita Paff, 2017, “Questioning the two-hour rule for studying,” (rather than telling students how long to study, we should tell them more explicitly what they need to do to improve their learning.)


Students and the environment within which they learn change regularly.  As recently as a decade ago, students had broadly comparable sources of information. Today they draw on more fragmented news feeds, often based on social media. Even five years ago, only a minority had smart phones; today, a majority do, and with wired classrooms, they can fact check a lecture in progress, or be distracted by anything that interests them more than the subject at hand.  

Experiential, learner-centered, and practice-driven