Category Archives: Centre College

Results published from 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll

To all my GOV 110 and GOV 336 Centre College students who helped design and field Boyle County exit polls on Election Day in 2011: some of the results from this project were finally published in an academic journal! I used the social desirability and immigration attitudes questions from the 2011 exit poll as part of the empirical analysis in an article that was published online today in Social Science Research. And I made sure to include a “shout out” to you all in the Acknowledgements section of the article.

Thank you to my students who have been participating in this project over the last two years. The Exit Poll project simply can’t run without you! In addition to providing valuable information to the community, these surveys gather valuable data that can eventually become part of the world of scholarly knowledge.

For those who participated in the Fall 2012 exit poll, I’ll be presenting a paper that discusses the results from this survey next spring and hopefully sometime in late 2014 or 2015 it will see the light of day in an academic article. (The peer review process is agonizingly slow sometimes!)

So thank you all again for your assistance with these exit polling projects. Slowly but surely, your efforts definitely pay off!

“Online learning” and higher education

A nation-wide conversation is currently taking place about the efficacy and value of “online learning” and “MOOCs” in higher education, a conversation that permeates to us here at Centre College where we value personal, “transformative” educational experiences. There are lots of people who know a lot more about these topics than myself, so I’m not going to try to “pick a side” one way or another or to offer a brilliant new perspective on the issue. I’m merely going to describe a recent experience with online learning.

I’ve spent the last several months participating in an online course offered by “Open Yale Courses.” I picked a class based on a topic I was interested in and wanted to know more about. I downloaded 24 separate MP3 files, each an hour long, that contained recordings of the class lectures given by the professor from the first day of class to the end. I did not do any of the assigned readings and I certainly didn’t bother doing any of the assignments. But over the course of several months I listened to the recorded lectures on my MP3 player while out jogging in the mornings.

On balance, I found it to be a positive experience. The lectures were interesting and kept my attention. The professor presented the material in an engaging way that challenged how I thought about the topic. Some of the things that I learned sparked me to go online and search out additional information. I learned about the approaches and methodologies of an academic discipline different from my own. 

On the other hand, I didn’t have a thorough experience with the subject. I didn’t learn the material as well as I would have if I had been required to take an exam on the subject. The professor often cited material from the readings (that I hadn’t done) so I didn’t follow the details of the lecture as well as I could have. And sometimes it was boring so I skipped to the next topic. If pressed, I probably could regurgitate maybe 10%-20% of the actual “pieces of knowledge” that the professor presented throughout those 24 lectures. 

I can also say, however, that I have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject now. While I don’t recall 100% of the facts and pieces of evidence presented, I feel like I have a good handle on the major paradigms and the overall “narrative” and key “take away” points of the class. Listening to the lectures over a series of weeks has definitely changed my perspective on the subject matter and the way I interact with it. It challenged some of my very strongly-held assumptions about how the world works. And I know where to go if I want to learn more about the topic and I will understand it better given that I can now think within the “paradigms” of the scholarly approach of the topic. Given all that, I think it’s fair to say that I experienced a “transformative” learning experience.

I can compare that experience to another that I had while an undergraduate student. I took an online course that countered toward one of my minors. It was a topic I was interested in and so I was motivated to learn the material. The course, however, was perhaps one of the absolute worst I have ever taken, speaking from a pedagogical perspective. The method of delivery was ineffective and the assessment tools were, at best, a joke. I learned very little and felt that it was a complete waste of my time and inefficient use of resources. 

So from my very limited experience (N=2), I can offer the following observation: Some online learning experiences are good and others aren’t. It’s not that different from in-class experiences. Some professors are better than others. Therefore, we shouldn’t automatically dismiss the usefulness of an educational experience simply because it’s presented electronically. 

Rep. Guthrie’s take on Congressional dysfunction

As I reported in my last post, U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY2) visited my U.S. Congress class here at Centre College on Friday afternoon. Rep. Guthrie spoke to my students for about fifteen minutes and then fielded questions for the remainder of the hour. 

Rep. Guthrie began by addressing a topic that he said tends to be on everyone’s mind when he meets with constituents: “why can’t Congress get anything done?” He gave a short and concise answer: there aren’t a lot of cross-party mutual interests that form the foundation of bipartisan solutions. He explained that a few generations ago, there were several liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and that with a few exceptions, they’re all gone now. So now there are no conservative Democrats for the Republicans to reach out to, and conversely, no liberal Republicans for the Democrats to reach out to. Hence a great deal of partisanship and inability to compromise and find common ground.

What impressed me most about this is that this is the same basic answer agreed upon by most academics and political scientists. It’s often the case that academics spend their time combating “conventional wisdom” popularized by both politicians and the media. In this instance, Congressman Guthrie’s answer was right on the mark in line with what I teach my students.

How should we fix the problem? He offered: “We haven’t figured that out yet.” It was an honest answer, which I appreciated. The most effective way of “fixing” it immediately would require substantially shifting the ideological constituencies that make up today’s partisan coalitions, and then having them elect representatives accordingly. That’s not something that’s going to happen any time soon.

I very much appreciate Rep. Guthrie visiting my students and we look forward to future visits here on Centre’s campus.

The story behind Paul Ryan’s water in the 2012 VP debate

My GOV 334 U.S. Congress class was privileged to receive a visit from Congressman Brett Guthrie this afternoon, who now represents Boyle County in Kentucky’s 2nd congressional district. Rep. Guthrie was an excellent guest and shared several insights about how Congress works from an “insider” perspective.

One interesting tidbit he shared was the story behind why Paul Ryan took so many sips of water during the 2012 vice presidential debate here at Centre College a few months ago. This was famously lampooned in the Saturday Night Live skit that came out later that weekend.

It’s no secret that Paul Ryan is an exercise enthusiast and he drinks a lot of water every day. This necessitates several trips to the “facilities.” According to Congressman Guthrie, on the day of the debate, Congressman Ryan’s staffers would not let him drink any water after 2:00 P.M. so that he would have no need to excuse himself in the middle of a national debate. Apparently, when the debate finally started at 9:00 P.M., Congressman Ryan had had nothing to drink for seven hours. So when he was presented with a glass of water during the debate, he took advantage of it!

My fall 2012 semester, by the numbers

  • 89 students between 3 different courses
  • 2 new course preps = 55 separate lesson preps
  • 521 assignments graded, including 178 exams and 208 essays/papers
  • About 100 hours in the classroom
  • 50+ regular office hours (who knows how many additional unscheduled visits!)
  • 53 blog posts (now 54)
  • 1 Vice-Presidential debate (with 20+ media interviews)
  • 1 county exit polling project (with 1,461 respondents!)
  • 1 internship supervision
  • 2 independent studies directed
  • 2 search committees (100+ applications read, about 15 phone interviews conducted, and 3 on-campus interviews so far)
  • 2 substantial committee report to the Dean produced (between 5 committee meetings)

It was a fun and exciting semester… but I’m ready for a break!

My students give America’s electoral system a C+

This semester at Centre College I taught a course entitled “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections.” We covered a wide range of topics, from the organization of political parties, campaign finance laws, campaign strategies, presidential debates, the elections of 2008, 2010, and 2012, congressional and local campaigns, and things like judicial elections and direct democracy.

For the last day of class, we evaluated the American electoral system against some fundamental democratic standards: (taken from Table 13.1 and Chapter 13 of Campaigns and Elections by John Sides, et al. 2012)

  • Free choice: 1) a choice between two candidates, 2) no coercion of citizens
  • Equality: 1) all votes counted equally, 2) all candidates be able to disseminate information equally
  • Deliberation: 1) citizens have access to information from diverse sources, must be opportunities to deliberate

I asked my students to give America’s electoral system (at the national, state, and local levels) a letter grade based on how well it matches up against the criteria outlined above. Here is the distribution:

  • A: zero
  • A-: zero
  • B+: zero
  • B: 4
  • B-: 12
  • C+: 6
  • C: 2
  • C-: 3
  • D: zero
  • F: zero

The average was a high C+. While we seem to do a fair-to-good job of meeting those standards for presidential elections, several students noted the Electoral College (which gives citizens of smaller states and swing states a disproportionate influence in the outcome of elections) as the key barrier to a more democratic system. Also, they noted that many of these ideals are not being met at the state and local levels, where many seats often go uncontested and information about candidates is lacking.

While the American political systems is certainly more democratic than that found in many places in the world, my students came away with the conclusion that there is still much that can be improved before we can confidently match the ideal norms of representative democracy.

WEKU interview and post-debate analysis links

My summary Huffington Post article on the vice presidential debate at Centre College:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-knoll/2012-vice-presidential-de_b_1961279.html

The podcast of my Thursday WEKU interview with NPR’s Don Gonyea, BBC’s Bill Simon, and McClatchy’s Lesley Clark is available here:

http://weku.fm/post/students-nation-engage-weku-vp-prebate

Downloadable MP3 file: http://cpa.ds.npr.org/weku/audio/2012/10/PREBATE.mp3