Inclusive Teaching Practices & Improving Remote Instruction
As a professor of instruction, Prof. Jean Clipperton is keenly focused on teaching and improving her teaching methods during the pandemic. The Weinberg College Distinguished Teaching Award recipient even compiled an entire textbook for one of her classes to cut textbook costs for students. Receiving the award was a big honor, she said, because she loves teaching. On top of instruction, Clipperton researches comparative law and the European Union and recently co-authored “Gender and Status in American Political Science: Who Determines Whether a Scholar Is Noteworthy?” in collaboration with Prof. Karen Alter and former NU political science undergraduates Emily Schraudenbach, Laura Rozier. In this interview, Clipperton discusses teaching during the pandemic, normative issues in political science instruction, and writing about women in academia. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Question: Can we hear a little bit more about your involvement in teaching and motivation for teaching?
Jean Clipperton: I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, I love thinking about course design. It was a really big honor for me to get that award because I put a lot of time and energy into how I think about course design and making the classroom a space for learning and moving through the content. It was really, really exciting for me. A lot of my time is spent both teaching in the classroom and also working on research projects revolving around teaching, such as thinking about effective course design and the like.
Q: You teach in both the political science and sociology departments. What excites you about specifically teaching political science or integrating the mathematical aspects as well?
How do those two disciplines and teaching expertise intersect?
JC: My favorite thing is quantitative social science. I knew that I didn't want to necessarily focus purely on math. I wanted to focus on the application side of things, thinking about, “why do we care?”. My whole approach to the things I like to teach is from this perspective of problem-solving. I have this question, and I want to be able to answer it.
Q: How do you engage your students remotely? What can be improved about teaching during a pandemic?
JC: It doesn't matter how good you think you are at teaching — it matters if the information is getting to the students in ways that are helpful for them. To me, it makes the most sense to actually ask the students, “what are you learning?”. So, I spend a fair amount of time thinking of ways to ask students what they are learning, like summarizing the key points of the class. It’s much more helpful than questions such as, “what did you learn?” or “did you learn?” and so, I try to figure out how students are perceiving the content.
To me, student-centered learning is the way to go. And sometimes students don't like things that are ultimately helpful. And so it's about thinking through how you get what students need to learn out of the content in a way that they can learn it. And that's how I tried to focus that lens. I try to help faculty understand that when I’m writing things like the blog posts for NU Digital learning.
Q: How can teaching be improved in a pandemic?
I do a lot of the zoom engagement things. I have everyone type in the chatbox but don't hit “enter,” until everyone has a chance to think it through. They’ll type the definition of a term, or type of research question they’re interested in, and then all 67 people hit enter at the same time, and you watch all these answers pop up, which is always fun. Then you can see, “Okay, here's 60-some people who responded, and we really have 30 different definitions of this thing. And why do we have these 30? Why does it matter?” So it is a pretty low-effort in terms of difficulty for the students. It's not hard for me to ask them, but we have a really good conversation about it, and it helps us all see where we are and can really improve learning.
Q: You identified financial accessibility as a barrier in the study of political science. What are other normative issues?
JC: In addition to the accessibility issues around the textbook (making it free and trying to ensure it works well with screenreaders if students want to use technology like that), I wanted the textbook to be broadly reflective of political science. This meant ensuring that we had different scholars studying more than just the US and Europe, which is what you see in a lot of examples. . We also try to balance co-authors or authors as well as paying attention to who we are citing and whose research is getting amplified.
I try to make things accessible to students in terms of gender, in terms of region, in terms of race, and in terms of barriers to start, because again, some students may not be as familiar with how research works, and they may be too intimidated to get started. It can be really energizing and exciting to read research that resonates with you and when a class covers a variety of research areas, that is more likely to happen for students.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the quarters ahead?
Next year, I'm co-teaching with a professor in engineering, which I think is going to be really fun. That new element has shifted things. And also, I think a lot more about local politics now, for example, seeing what was happening with Stacey Abrams, and how she was able to affect change. I just think a lot more about things at the local level than I think I did previously. In my problem solving and society class (PS 388/SOC 288), we think about things like this using local case studies. My joint appointment with sociology has definitely widened my perspective in terms of questions that I'm now more interested in answering because I have a lot more dialogue going on with people from different disciplines and can really appreciate how different research methods can help you answer your research questions.
Interview by Yunkyo Kim WCAS '22