Niva Golan-Nadir: 2020-2021 Campus Teaching Award Winner Interview Series

Excellence in teaching political science is essential to the discipline. This interview series highlights campus teaching award winners who have been recognized by APSA for their achievements. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here. Niva Golan-Nadir won the Reichman University’s (IDC Herzliya) Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy Excellency in Teaching Award. View a complete list of APSAs 2020-2021 Campus Teaching Awardees here.

Niva Golan-Nadir earned her BA and MA degrees in Political Science and Diplomacy (Magna Cum Laude) from Tel-Aviv University, Israel. She received her Ph.D. in Government from the school of Political Science at the University of Haifa in Israel, where she further completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Public Administration and Policy. Currently, she is a Research Associate at the Center for Policy Research, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, The University at Albany, SUNY, as well as part of the teaching faculty at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya), and the Open University of Israel in Israel. Her main research interests are within the realm of Comparative Politics and Public Administration, specifically, gaps between the policy as designed and its implementation, discretion in the process of policy implementation, and street-level policy entrepreneurship.

Her additional realm of expertise includes the study of the relationship between the state and religion, which she investigates through the lens of public administration theories, two realms of study that are rarely combined. Her aim is to establish that within public administration, religion may be considered a paradigmatic case study – a public service provided to citizens just as any other service.

Niva’s recent studies were published in peer-reviewed journals: The American Review of Public Administration, The International Review of Administrative Sciences, Policy Studies, and The Australian Journal of Public Administration. Her book, Public Preferences and Institutional Designs – Israel and Turkey Compared is forthcoming by Palgrave Macmillan in December 2021.

In addition to her interview, Dr. Niva Golan-Nadir also shared three related teaching resources with Educate. Have a look at each here:

  1. PostGraduate Qualitative Research Methods Syllabus
  2. PostGraduate Qualitative Research Methodology Assignments
  3. Introduction to Government and Comparative Politics – Undergraduate Syllabus

What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?

For the past three years, ever since obtaining my Ph.D. in late 2018, I have been teaching “Introduction to Government and Comparative Politics,” as well as Methodology courses at the Lauder School of Government Diplomacy and Strategy, specifically in the Rephael Recanati International school at Reichman University Reichman University (IDC Herzliya).

My teaching experience began in 2006 when I was a teaching assistant during graduate school in the School of Political Science at Tel-Aviv University (M.A). I was teaching research Methodology for the Social Sciences and I remember that it was the least favorite course amongst undergraduates despite efforts made by every T.A. to make it as interesting as possible, while using various examples from the political realm. Personally, that experience had sowed the seeds to design hybrid, highly engaging methodology courses (both for undergraduates and graduates), more than a decade later.

The first time I was handed a course along with the freedom to design and polish its structure was in 2019. The course is titled “Introduction to Government and Comparative Politics,” which is also my primary expertise. I teach it specifically in the International School of Government at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya). In fact, I am teaching the course for the third time this year and I am extremely proud to have won a teaching award due to overwhelmingly positive student evaluations. I also teach Methodology courses for undergraduates and Qualitative Methods for postgraduates. I have also designed a course titled “Introduction to Approaches and Methods in Political Science” for postgraduates, at the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, at the Open University of Israel.

How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy? 

My teaching style is based upon two elements – providing the students with constructed knowledge via PowerPoint presentations that include the core of the material per each class, and secondly, allowing them to express themselves in class. Zoom and hybrid teaching added an important third element – making them engaging using videos and active participation elements such as the PADLET and MENTIMETER apps, which provide anonymous input and participation.  Based on anonymous evaluations, I had learned they enjoy these activities. Since receiving such positive feedback during the Zoom and hybrid teaching phase, these tools are now implemented in my frontal teaching to date as well. Adding to that, I believe in keeping a precise balance between these elements to eliminate the risk of not completing each week’s material. I also soundly believe in a warm, accessible relationship with the students. This involves making them feel that they matter, especially making sure that their questions are heard and that what they think is being recognized. I usually reply to their emails within the hour while clearly elaborating on their concerns.

Also, I firmly believe that students should receive the most elaborated comments on their papers to cultivate their overall academic experience and potential. Hence, I employ the grading rubric method (taught at an APSA Pedagogy Workshop) that provides clear instructions and grading per each component. The rubrics consequently allow constructed and clear comments by graders.

Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach? 

Without a doubt, “Introduction to Government and Comparative Politics” is my favorite course to teach. The course examines main topics and research methods in Government and Comparative Politics. I run a canonized syllabus with the basic materials within the respective realm. As I often tell students, although the material may be considered old – they are not dated by any means.

The topics include theories of democracy, development, historical evaluation of the state, nationality and ethnicity, the dynamics of regime change, study of institutions, bottom-up (civil society) and top-down (elites) processes, and finally the new challenges of globalization faced by the nation-state. Examples are brought from different regions of the world, and different periods in history give the students a basis for comparative analysis. I must admit I enjoy teaching democratic theory and transition to democracy the most.

The course goals are to provide an overview of the field of study of government and comparative politics, as well as the comparative method. Consequently, the course provides students with the necessary tools needed to analyze case studies using different theoretical frameworks.

In this course I enrich the students with multiple comparative examples, making it highly interesting and appealing to them. In fact, it was my favorite course as an undergraduate, and I always pictured myself teaching it.

What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?  

As students of politics, studying current events using taught materials, theories and concepts seems to be the most effective tool for engaging with them. At the beginning of each semester, I guarantee the students that by the end of it – they will be sure to know how to analyze reality using different points of view. Doing so keeps them highly attentive throughout the semester.

Further, as an international school, we have students from all around the world (92 states!). When I analyze their states as case studies in comparative politics – they are enthused and hence participate and contribute a lot to the discussion. Subsequently, we find highly relevant realms (e.g. how governments manage the pandemic), and use varied theories (e.g. top-down elite theories vs. bottom-down social society ones, and also structural considerations) to examine how it may be analyzed in different states. It is fascinating. De facto, this can be done using a mere class discussion, or using the different abovementioned apps. They usually love using the colorful apps that allow them to see their response on the projector screen. This also eliminates shyness, or inconvenience of answering vocally in front of a crowd.

What aspect of your teaching approach do you think resonates most with your students? 

To answer this question, I have reread previous teaching evaluations and asked some former students of mine which approach has resonated with them most. The results of my inquiry highlighted three tools I use in my teaching.

The first tool mentioned pertains to the activities I give in class. In these activities, I usually present a case study involving current events using a YouTube video or newspaper article. Following, I ask an implementation question, meaning the student needs to analyze the case in point using class material. The answer is sent by students to a PADLET app that presents all answers (anonymously) to all students in class. At the final stage of the activity, I comment on their replies and emphasize topics I feel were less understood by the students. This allows students to test their knowledge, regain attention and learn/reassure that they were on the right track. Students stress that it kept them engaged as they knew throughout most of the classes, it wasn’t a viable option to just sit in the back and listen to a lecture for hours. The benefit gained from participating was extremely important and it also allows students a platform to express their own perspectives/personal experience regarding the question in point. It allowed them, as they have professed, to anonymously be wrong and not feel ashamed in any way by what they said. Indeed, using different methods of direct engagement such as polls (using MENTIMETER), and other live tools in class (PADLET, YouTube), ultimately keeps the class interesting, engaging, and different from other lecturers according to the students.

The second tool, similar to the first, are the group activities I assign, where students are asked to discuss an inquiry in groups and come up with answers/designs for a study, etcetera (this is usually more prevalent in the research methods class). While not taking up too much class time (15-20 min), it allows for dialogue between students to also take into consideration different understandings and explanations of the material. It also helped them to become better classmates, and consequently, friends.

Last but not least, I sometimes directly engage with students to ensure that they are on the same page and are properly absorbing the material. This helps my teaching experience as well, knowing that students are tuned, and understand the material.

Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now? 

This is a very interesting question as I strongly believe the initial classroom experiences that influenced how I teach, are those of my own. While reflecting on the ways I would have preferred to have been taught, I vividly remembered the frustration I used to experience in several courses where I was not able to leave each class with clear notes. This is due to the lecture being associative rather than constructive. I do not think students can solely rely on syllabus readings when studying towards the final exam. It must be mitigated in class.

Furthermore, I learn from my students with each new semester on how they experience my teaching, analyzing what is better for them and ultimately assists them to reach better results. Hence, reading teaching evaluations, talking to students and even noticing their expressions during class is the only way to improve teaching over time. I came to realize that students are always aware of the degree to which their professors pay attention to them and implement their requests (e.g. as in the mid-semester teaching evaluations). This is evident in the teaching evaluations at the end of the semester, and much more importantly in the thank you emails and good words from the students personally.

While the campus teaching award initiative is new to Educate, it is a long standing APSA series. Your can find all of the 2017-2020 campus interview series publications here.


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