From the Classroom to the TV Studio: A New Approach to Civic Education

Elizabeth A. Bennion, PhD, Indiana University South Bend, ebennion@iusb.edu

As a regular PSE columnist who writes “The Teaching Scholar” column, I have urged PSE readers to take risks inside and outside of the classroom while experimenting with a variety of approaches to active and experiential learning. In issue 15(1), I encouraged readers to give up the “sage on the stage” approach to teaching and assume a facilitator role in guiding students through active learning opportunities. In issue 16(1), I encouraged readers to more fully integrate their teaching, service and scholarship to maximize personal fulfillment and professional success. In issue 17(1), I urged readers to find new ways to teach outside the classroom, stressing the importance extra-­‐ curricular approaches to civic education and engagement. And, in issue 17(2), I noted the importance of challenging students’ current beliefs and worldviews to promote lasting learning. Throughout each column, I have stressed the importance of engaging students in political debates and political activity, particularly given the discipline’s surprisingly limited research on political engagement and skill development pedagogies (Bennion and Dill, PSE 17(2), 5-­‐6).

In this column I introduce you to a new approach I have undertaken in an attempt to follow all of the advice referenced above. This approach requires me to take risks and recast my role in the classroom in order to facilitate active learning, student research and important – though sometimes difficult – political debates. This approach requires that I fully

This essay is part of the Political Science Educator: Editor’s Reading List

integrate my teaching, research, and service, and connect classroom activities to off-­‐campus engagement with our local public television station and with local, state and national political leaders. The risks are substantial. The results of my work with students are broadcast live every week to a 22-­‐county viewing area containing 1.2 million people. Students’ video and fast facts are displayed on a show featuring members of the U.S. Congress, state legislators, mayors and other well-­‐known public officials. And yet, it is this risk – this real world application – of our work together that makes this approach so exciting and rewarding for me and my students – all of whom, at semester’s end, have offered enthusiastic endorsements of the course and its learning outcomes.

What: POLS Y380, Politically Speaking: Make Live TV!

When: Twice per week class meetings, plus call-­‐screening, camera work and video production.

Why: To gain new knowledge and skills in politics and mass media. To educate and engage the public in political affairs.

How: Through hands-­‐on experience producing a live one-­‐hour public affairs show on the local public television station. (WNIT-­‐TV Sundays, 2-­‐3 p.m., Mondays, 3-­‐4 p.m. and online.)

Who: Local, state and national elected officials, along with civic leaders and practitioners.

Topics: Indiana state legislature, Michigan state legislature, healthcare policy, economic policy, drug policy, gun control, immigration policy, education reform, school safety, same-­‐sex marriage, domestic violence laws, and more. . .

Requirements: Weekly episode reviews, weekly episode preparation assignments (i.e. background research on the topics and guests), plus call screening, camera work and citizen video clip production (two of each per semester).

Results: A high-­‐quality public television program featuring student-­‐produced “fast facts,” student-­‐influenced discussion topics and student-­‐produced video clips. A student research team, whose members report greater knowledge of national, state, and local politics, as well as an increased understanding of themselves, their political views, local opinions on politics and the need to stay engaged in the political process.

More information about this unique campus-­‐ community partnership will be available at the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference in February, and in a forthcoming book. In the meantime, you can contact me directly at ebennion@iusb.edu. Check out what my students and I have been up to lately and share your stories with me! You can also check out past episodes online at http://www.wnit.org/politicallyspeaking. And, of course, you can “like” us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WNITpoliticallyspea king.

Consider creating your own public television partnership. Use your research and teaching skills in service of the public good. Teaching beyond the classroom has the potential to be transformative. Transform your students into researchers, yourself into a public intellectual, and your campus into a critical community partner.

Works Cited

Bennion, Elizabeth A. 2013. “”Challenging Beliefs to Promote Student Learning.” The Political Science Educator 17 (2): 3-­‐5. http://community.apsanet.org/TeachingCivi cEngagement/additionalteachingresources/ new-­‐item

Bennion, Elizabeth A. and Hannah M. Dill. 2013. “What Are We Teaching When We Teach Engagement?” The Political Science Educator 17 (2): 5-­‐6.

Bennion, Elizabeth A. 2013. “The Importance of Teaching Outside the Classroom.” The Political Science Educator 17 (1): 3-­‐4.

Bennion, Elizabeth A. 2012. “A Teacher-­‐ Scholar’s Strategy for Success.” The Political Science Educator 16 (1): 3-­‐4.

Bennion, Elizabeth A. 2011. “Student Feedback [on Active Learning Strategies].” The Political Science Educator 15 (1): 3-­‐5.

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