Travel Grant 2014-15: Lisa Mueller

Lisa Mueller, Political Science

Annual American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference
January 16-18, 2015
Washington D.C.

Nature/Type of the Event

The purpose of this conference is to develop and share cutting-edge approaches to teaching Political Science. In paper presentations and workshops, teacher-scholars will discuss experiences, techniques, and methodologies for enhancing classroom learning. "Teaching Research Methods" is the theme on which I will present a paper.

Relevance of the Event for Applicant's Teaching and LMU Community, the Applicant's Involvement in the Event, and Expected Learning or Outcome

Relevance to Own Teaching

This conference directly supports my teaching at LMU because most of the courses I teach are research methods courses (Empirical Approaches and Advanced Research Methods). LMU is one of the few universities and colleges in the country where all Political Science majors take a required research methods course. My ability to effectively teach research methods is therefore central to every LMU Political Science major's quality of education.

Relevance to Others at LMU and Beyond

Being an interdisciplinary field of study, Political Science attracts many students who are involved in other departments at LMU. Students who arc confident with research design and quantitative and qualitative data analysis make capable students in fields ranging from Women's Studies to Psychology to Economics. Methodological training also prepares students for graduate work and allows them to participate in numerous opportunities for independent research while still at LMU, including the Undergraduate Research Symposium and the SURP and UROP programs.

Beyond LMU, there is an ongoing public debate about the value of Political Science: Congress recently voted to eliminate almost all National Science Foundation grants to the field. This controversy often centers on how scientific Political "Science" really is or ought to be. Research methods courses and the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference provide venues for engaging in debates that are shaping the future of the discipline.

Involvement in Event

I plan to present a paper tentatively titled, "Research Design before Methods: Helping Students Ask Questions and Decide How to Answer Them." This paper will critique common pedagogy, which emphasizes the learning of statistical methods in isolation from basic research design. Using data and examples from my own LMU classes, I will argue that training in research design-starting with learning how to ask questions about theoretical problems or empirical variation-is a critical foundation for using statistics and other specialized research tools.

Expected Learning Outcomes

Most Political Science students do not encounter methods courses until graduate school, so little of the pedagogical literature addresses teaching methods at the undergraduate level. The APSA Teaching and Learning conference will introduce me to colleagues' diverse approaches to teaching research methods to undergraduates, including assignment ideas, textbooks, and syllabus design. The learning benefits for my students will be twofold: first, a more effective curriculum tailored to students' backgrounds as mostly second-year undergraduates; and second, a course that is enjoyable for students who often expect research methods to be dull and intimidating.

In sum, this travel will enhance my teaching and student learning at LMU by providing me with expert feedback on my pedagogical research and by lending me ideas for how to prepare students to use research methods in their interdisciplinary coursework and professional lives. The specific venue provides that opportunity by gathering teacher-scholars who are invested in this important but niche topic, i.e. teaching research methods to Political Science undergraduates. I agree to be available to share my experience with the campus at large in an appropriate format to be determined in coordination with the CTE Director.

Travel Report

The APSA Teaching and Learning Conference "provides a forum for scholars to share effective and innovative teaching and learning models and to discuss broad themes and values of political science education, especially the scholarship of teaching and learning." Please see further details here.

Topics or questions addressed/learned

The unusual organization of this conference into different learning "tracks" provided an excellent opportunity to learn from and network with professors from around the country who teach research methods to undergraduates. My fellow attendees and I spent all three days of the conference together, sharing papers and discussions about topics including the following: identifying appropriate learning objectives, making statistical programs accessible to students with vision impairments, helping students overcome anxiety about research methods, and integrating methods courses into broader curricula.

Relevance for my teaching and the department/university

This conference directly supports my teaching at LMU because most of the courses I teach are research methods courses (Empirical Approaches and Advanced Research Methods). LMU is one of the few universities and colleges in the country where all Political Science majors take a required research methods course. As an interdisciplinary field of study, Political Science attracts many students who are involved in other departments at LMU. Students who are confident with research design and methods make capable students in fields ranging from Women's Studies to Psychology to Economics. Methodological training also allows students to participate in campus opportunities such as the Undergraduate Research Symposium and the SURP and UROP programs.

Resources encountered at the event

I made several contacts with experienced teachers of research methods and agreed to lead them in writing a report on the conference to be published in an upcoming edition of PS: Political Science and Politics.

Recommendations for future participants

The American Political Science Association usually requests published write-ups from conference participants, so take detailed notes throughout the event if you wish to take advantage of this publishing opportunity.