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. Ñusta Carranza Ko won the University of Baltimore’s 2020-2021 Mentor of the Year Award. View a complete list of APSAs 2020-2021 Campus Teaching Awardees here.
Ñusta Carranza Ko is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. She teaches MA seminars on global affairs and human security and undergraduate courses on human rights, international politics, and research methods. Her research interests include cross-regional human rights and transitional justice processes in Latin America and East Asia, including policies of memorialization in Peru and South Korea, questions of indigenous women’s’ rights in Peru, and historic women’s rights issues in South Korea.
Her political science education publications include Game of Thrones and International Relations with Laura D. Young (Roman & Little, 2019) and “Using Game of Thrones to Teach International Relations,” with Laura D. Young and Michael Perrin, Journal of Political Science Education, 2018 February.
What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
My teaching background has been in R1, liberal arts, foreign university, and public state university settings, with diverse ethnic, cultural, and academic groups of students at the undergraduate and graduate level.
My first teaching experience was at Purdue University in the Latin American Studies program, for an introductory course on Latin American/Latino Studies. I was fortunate to meet a group of students who were willing to not only engage in interesting debates about immigration, but who also volunteered to be a part of the service-learning initiative that we were a part of with a local Purdue extension elementary school. The service-learning program’s objective was to cultivate an awareness of Latinx cultures within Indiana, emphasize the importance of bilingual education, and ultimately help elementary school students of Latinx backgrounds feel empowered about their identity.
How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
The experiences of teaching in diverse levels of education, and multicultural and inclusive settings have led me to develop a pedagogical stance centered upon critical inquiry based on respect, active engagement, and critical thinking. By respect, I refer to respect for diversity of cultures and perspectives, which includes the instructor’s recognition that our own stereotypes may influence how we behave toward others. I try to foster an environment that is safe from the threat of stereotyping through pedagogical strategies that maintain fairness. To this end, I update all my class material to reflect a non-biased perspective in teaching politics. One of the key ways to achieve this goal from the instructor’s end is to revise and revisit course material, use sources for teaching that are less likely to be subject to prejudice (i.e., peer-reviewed journal articles that rely on empirical evidence), and reflect upon the email exchanges and course evaluations from students to see what they enjoyed, what worked, and what needs more work.
Related to this philosophy of respect for diversity of cultures and perspectives, I design in-class questions and simulations that allow students to approach social and political issues from diverse perspectives. In one activity that incorporated simulations, students were asked to think about covid19 responses from states. The main research question was for students to compare whether or not developed or developing countries had better responses to the covid19 outbreak. Students were assigned different countries to research the policy, assess the early responses, and relate it back to the Johns Hopkins University database on covid19 to see where they were ranked. In the discussion that followed, students reflected upon the similarities and differences of country responses, and what it revealed of their own stereotypes in examining world affairs. Most students started the research expecting developing countries to have a worse response to the virus outbreak. However, they found that not all developing countries had a bad record. Instead, developed countries, those that are considered to be part of the “first world,” were among the states with the worst records (i.e., United States). The students were pleasantly surprised to examine cases from East Asia where the control had been better, in addition to the often not discussed Oceania states—Australia and New Zealand—that had a good handle on the crisis. The discussion helped students understand the need to challenge their own stereotypes that categorized states in developed vs. developing countries’ performance.
Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
My favorite materials tend to differ for each course that I teach. To help students visualize and better grasp the variety of topics related to lectures and readings, in my course on human rights students have been assigned to read a testimonial-based literature from a Nobel Peace Laureate and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu. The way the book is written, as a personal reflection of the atrocities that took place in Guatemala helps students connect the bigger concepts of human rights to a case story. And, as a story of an indigenous woman, within a context of dictatorship and military abuse of power, it helps students draw parallels to other case studies of similar contexts throughout the world.
For my courses on international relations or international studies, I always go back to the simulation game developed by Dr. Laura Young and where I have also been able to make some input, “Game of Thrones.” This is an interactive game that is played on a google sheets (excel), where students are assigned countries (mirroring Game of Thrones territories) or political actors (such as NGOs or indigenous peoples’ autonomous regions), accompanied with information on their government type, economic status, population size, previous war experiences or conflict, ethnic groups, and etc. With this information in mind, students are presented with breaking international crises every week related to the concepts and theories from the course readings or lectures. For instance, during the week on the “global commons,” students are provided with a scenario of an environmental disaster that they have to then formulate a response, which would depend largely on their geographic location (based on the Game of Thrones), government type, economic status, relationship with other countries, and what current crisis their countries are facing. This interactive game gets students actively engaged in thinking about strategies, diplomacy, negotiations, and interdependence at the international level.
For my graduate level policy courses on global affairs and human security, we also go back to the drawing board and examine the latest human security crisis from Amnesty International’s news releases.
What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?
My most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom has been using pop-culture, novels, and interactive simulations.
What aspect of your teaching approach do you think resonates most with your students?
My students often mention how the respect that I provide for them in being able to have diverse opinions is one of the reasons why they appreciate my courses. Additionally, they enjoy the historical novels, the interactive games, and the updates I give on the course material each semester.
Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
When I was an undergraduate student at McGill University in Canada, I had two professors whose ways of teaching influenced who I am as a teacher today. Professor Marc Lanteigne and Professor Sam Noumoff were careful about addressing “positionality.” Before beginning their courses, they would specify how they were positioned from an outsider’s perspective in examining East Asian affairs, while also pointing out their own personal efforts and experiences at approaching the study of the region. This approach helped me understand the meaning of “teaching” from an outsider’s view and what it meant for students to understand the instructor’s positionality.
On the topic of respect, I was also influenced by Professor Harry Targ at Purdue University. As a professor identifying with leftist thought, Professor Targ was often under heavy “opinion-based” attacks by students attending his course. But he never once rejected these attacks. Rather, he welcomed them and allowed students to express dissent or agreement. It was his way of building a democratic classroom, which I have come to respect and also learn from.
Moreover, all of these professors would teach without notes. They had internalized the material to the extent that the entire course would be interactive, with students asking questions, and discussions being raised. My colleagues and I would often remark how we were fortunate to take courses from them, particularly during a time when there were many courses that relied so heavily on PPT usage only, lacking that dynamic interaction with students. Although I have yet to reach that level of wisdom, I do believe that this is something that I try for every course I teach. I put the effort to prepare for class, internalize the material, and come ready to share the knowledge but also interact with my students.
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.