Teaching Philosophy: Why are we in the classroom and where does it lead us?

| Dr. Michael Dartnell | Department of Political Science | University of Windsor | Windsor | Ontario | Canada |

My pedagogy has developed around several principles during my teaching career at Concordia and York universities and the University of Windsor. While at Concordia University, each course outline related my approach to the university's philosophy of "real education for the real world". I have used this general reference to the "real world" to develop two overarching pedagogical goals that continue to influence my classroom activities. The first goal is to provide an overview of the literature for particular subject matters. In a seminar on terrorism and political violence, for example, this overview would be divided thematically according to theories of political violence and contextual analyses. This division would then be used to facilitate a critical assessment of institutions, political forces, ideologies, movements, and historic evolution as they pertained to the subject. At the same time, I emphasize that course material is geared to a conceptual analysis of politics, not solving political problems nor advocating a particular point of view.

A second and equally important course goal that I pursue in my teaching concerns student skills development. My treatment of skills development has evolved over the course of my teaching career to match student needs and available materials. For instance, I became especially interested in Internet and World Wide Web skills development that is adapted to Political Science research in 1997-99. I strongly encourage students to conduct research on the WWW, emphasize proper citation forms for electronic sources, and help them to develop critical skills for assessing the sources that they come across (whether institutions, governments, news media or others). This approach provides exposure to Political Science issues and concepts and gives substantial skills for careers in academia, government or business. To help students explore new Internet media, I developed a "cyber" research centre, the Online Research Guide to Political Inquiry. My original interest in teaching actually influenced my research, as it was at this time that I developed the Insurgency Online project.

The teaching goals in my course assignments typically emphasize several types of target skills: organizational ability, synthetic, analytical and critical thinking, writing skills, oral expression, listening skills, initiative and leadership. These skills are encouraged through course workloads that variously combine: short quizzes, in-class or take-home examinations, research papers, individual seminar presentations, short (two page) weekly summaries of readings, in-class discussion, group discussion of particular issues as well as more formal evaluation through final examinations.

No single university course completely achieves either set of goals. Instead, university education provides students with tools for individual development, personal enrichment and pursuit of excellence throughout their lives and careers. In this light, my classes are environments in which students can express ideas and develop skills. University study is a great privilege, an opportunity for reflection, and, ideally, a space in which to hope and envisage a better future. To this end, I encourage debate and commentary at the same time as I caution as to the values of words: taking positions on potentially controversial subjects opens individuals to reaction and criticism and necessitates careful reflection.


Further information available on request: mdartne@uwindsor.ca

| Michael Dartnell's Curriculum Vitae | Online Resource Guide to Political Inquiry |